My big, fat, bargain wedding: The dress

This is the fourth part of a series on wedding planning on a reasonable budget. I hope you will join me on this journey of orchestrating the ideal wedding — without overspending.

It’s the part of the wedding process brides are the most attached to. The one thing we want to be absolutely perfect and the product on which we’re most likely to overspend.

The dress.

I actually didn’t know if I’d buy a dress when I began — three different women had offered to lend me theirs. And this appealed to me, because I think some women become irrational over a dress they’re only going to wear for one day, and that irrationality results in a hefty price tag.

The average U.S. bride spends somewhere from $875 to $1,458 on a wedding dress, according to, while Atlanta brides spend between $916 and $1,526.

But we’ve all seen (and maybe salivated over) dresses in much higher ranges. At lunch today a woman told me about her friend’s $7,000 wedding dress — and the divorce that occurred a year and a half after the wedding.

I did some Internet research on a whim one weekend and found a dress strikingly similar to my ideal dress — a little lace, with a keyhole back — available near my house. My mother and I showed up the next day without an appointment (don’t do this), but we were able to squeeze in between time slots. I only tried on two dresses. The first was very close to perfect. But not quite.

The second I thought I’d never take off. I just kept walking around the store in it. And then came the stream of tears when I realized I was standing in my wedding dress.

In the end, I ended up paying more than the $0 I thought I was going to spend. But it was a reasonable purchase based on my income and the cost of the wedding as a whole, and inexpensive enough that I could make a couple of small sacrifices in other areas of my budget.

Plus, it was on sale.

How did you find your dream dress? Did it fall within your budget, or did you have to adjust?

Percent of budget spent so far: 49

Coming next: Decorations and entertainment

Dresses: Under $1,000 in Chamblee | Be creative to win money for your wedding

My big, fat, bargain wedding: Find a venue | Choose a caterer | Combining finances

More: I’m using this wedding spreadsheet | The cost of the royal wedding |
Say ‘less!’ to the dress
| Clark Howard: Don’t go into debt for your wedding

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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11 comments Add your comment

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Smart Money

May 8th, 2012
4:45 pm

If you don’t need a huge, cupcakey princess wedding dress, check out the dresses in the bridesmaids’ section – they often come in white and are WAY cheaper. For my wedding seven years ago, I bought a beautiful, simply elegant Vera Wang bridesmaids dress in white for about $300 plus the cost of alterations. They had practically the same dress in the brides’ section for about 10 times as much. Also, check eBay for great prices on veils. I found a gorgeous, brand-new cathedral veil for only $15!

Lauren Davidson

May 8th, 2012
4:46 pm

@Smart Money: Great tip!

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May 8th, 2012
10:52 pm

More than 3 decades ago, I had the perfect gown picked out for my big day and the money in my pocket to purchase it. I walked into a store at Phipps Plaza and finally got the attention of one of the sales women. She took one look at me and told me they didn’t have anything that would suit me and turned around to help someone else. I wound up with a custom designed dress and a MG Midget. I loved that car.


May 8th, 2012
11:07 pm

The rest of the story: We had a great wedding and are still married. The dress cost less than $100 and is still in its box in the attic. The car ran great for years till the baby came along and we had to get one that would accommodate a car seat and I still have not spent a penny in that store.


May 9th, 2012
7:36 am

I spent $125 for a $200 dress “on sale” at Macy’s, wore it for the day, and then sold it at consignment for $100. I think the accessories cost me about another $50.


May 9th, 2012
7:39 am

Then again, the entire wedding cost about $1,000. That included 3 airfares (freq flyer points), 2 nights’ hotel for the out-of-towners, hors d’oeuvres, and dinner for 20.


May 9th, 2012
1:24 pm

got my beautiful vintage lace wedding dress at Stefan’s Vintage Clothing in L5P for $50! i promised my husband i’d wear it every year on our anniversary.

Eloped on Leap Day 2012

May 9th, 2012
2:35 pm

After wandering Lenox all day, I found the dress at BCBG Max Azria for less than $300. A beautiful evening dress for my non-traditional wedding that I can wear for years to come. Not buying an outrageously-priced wedding gown allowed us to spend more on our planned elopement and reception. (I stressed out too much while planning and we chose the easy route.)


May 10th, 2012
1:46 pm

Would recommend doing a bit of shopping around on the internet – you can find some amazing value dresses. I bought a gorgeous silk wedding dress with lots of romantic chiffon on the skirt from for £600, and got it made to measure for free :)