April 11, 2012 at 10:35 AM ET
It used to be that bridal salons, in all their finery, stood alone on a pedestal. But in the past several years, bridal entourages have turned their attention to mass-market apparel chains, which show off more affordable styles. While American women spend an average of $1,121 on their wedding gowns, according to a recent survey by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com, elegant dresses go for less than half that amount at department stores and other off-the-rack retailers.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for brides-to-be on a budget.
Price isn’t the only advantage of shopping at these stores. When you order a dress, it ships right away -- often arriving within a week -- instead of taking months to come in. And if you change your mind, you’re not stuck with a special-ordered dress. All our picks offer the option to return a gown to a store or by mail, if you order online. That’s one luxury a fancy salon doesn’t afford.
Before you commit to an off-the-rack gown, be sure to inspect it carefully. The seams should be straight and the fabric free of pulled threads. Be on the lookout for high-end material such as silk, which is uncommon but not unheard-of at this price point. You can also find intricate detail, although embellishment is sewn on by machine rather than by hand.
Opting for a less expensive dress doesn’t have to mean forgoing fashion-forward style. The collections on our list feature many of the season’s top wedding trends, as identified by The Knot. At Bloomingdale’s we saw slits and high-low hemlines, and Nordstrom features illusion necklines with jewels and beading atop sheer fabric.
Not all mass-market wedding collections offer the same level of savings. Much has been made of the Kirstie Kelly line at Costco, for instance, but those gowns start at about $700. That’s more than a majority of the dresses available at Ann Taylor, which has won favor for its affordable wedding collection. Designs by the Urban Outfitters brand BHLDN start at $600, but most fetch four figures.
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