Buying a Wedding Dress When You Hate Yourself And Love Money

A Practical Wedding (a great site full of smart, feminist women, and not just about weddings) has a guide to wedding dress shopping up today that is reasonable and informative. It talks about how much dresses actually cost and how not to lose your mind while finding one:

The best way to deal with it is to just be your confident self. Be the woman that you are, and say, this is what I’d like to see, can you help me with that? If they ask if you’re going to lose weight for the wedding, just look them in the eye and say no, and it’s none of their business.

I am supposed to be getting married at some point in the near-ish future—or you know, plan to, want to, will eventually—so I have done this dress trying thing exactly once, wanted to die, and have avoided facing it again for the past six weeks. I should say that my experience was as lovely as it could have been, considering a woman I have never met before was putting clothes on me and taking them off of me, and then stood there with my family and watched me as I faced myself and the chasm between how I imagined this would feel and how it does feel, all in a three-way mirror. Which doesn’t even factor in paying for it.

We will be footing the bill for our hypothetical wedding ourselves, so while I suppose we could technically afford something insane, I think I would rather spend money on something like a house or a honeymoon or a $429 blender. When I think of what is a “reasonable” amount of money to spend on a wedding dress, I imagine something between $200 and $800. Not that I begrudge anyone who loves dresses and wants to spend big money on one whenever. But I am happy to see that a $500 dress is not impossible:

You can get a super cute dress, that totally looks like a wedding dress in that traditional sense, that has some embellishment for under $500. You will be buying poly. You may or may not be buying domestically produced. So you have to pay attention if it matters to you. The only thing you typically won’t get is an underskirt. It’s the weight of the dress that translates into a really stunning fit that you won’t get until you hit probably $800.

Once you hit $1,000, you’re typically going to get a train. You’re going to have more structure. The dress will have more layers of lining. You might get into lace.

You might get into lace! Actually I love lace in theory but I look like a chubby doily in practice. I may have a poly blend in my future, underskirt or no, which I am totally okay with, mostly because I don’t know what it means. The confident self who knows what she wants, though? More of a long-term project.

Photo: two stout monks


48 Comments / Post A Comment

antheridia (#2,995)

Check out David’s Bridal! I got a beautiful lace dress from there for $400!

DickensianCat (#971)

@antheridia Yes! I know plenty of women who found their dresses there with very reasonable pricing for alterations as well.

I also found DB to be a great launching pad for trying gowns outside my comfort zone; they offer a bunch of different styles and silhouettes, a good variety of sizes (VERY important, as the article emphasizes–for me there was no bigger bummer than showing up to a boutique to discover there were only 2-3 dresses in the whole place I could even get over my head, much less in my favored style) and no judgy salespeople clucking “oh that won’t look good on you.”

I ended up buying mine at a small, family-owned boutique in my hometown in Western NY and was super relieved to work with people who returned my phone calls, patiently assuaged any worries I had during fittings, and just generally made me grateful I didn’t surrender myself to the whole “Kleinfeld experience” and pay much more than I ended up paying.

@antheridia Yep, that was my advice! I just survived my wedding (ugh, thank god it’s over!) and I got my dress for $150, online, on clearance, from David’s. It was the only dress I tried on and it fit well enough, so I kept it and had it taken in/hemmed a bit for about $75. I’m not a clotheshorse and I hated wedding planning, so spending about the same amount on a single-use wedding dress as I might have on a single-use prom dress seemed about right. If I were taller and hadn’t lost some weight between the time I bought the dress and the time I got married, I probably wouldn’t even have spent so much on alterations.

The best part, aside from the money, was the fact that I still have yet to set food in a bridal boutique. And you know what? I felt pretty good in that cheap dress, I got a bunch of compliments (and don’t much care if they were genuine – it was my wedding!), and when it wound up balled up in the bottom of my closet after, I didn’t feel bad at all.

combledore (#5,138)

@antheridia Definitely. I was so scornful of that store until I actually went in, and found exactly what I was looking for. The accessories and all that are a bit of the worst of wedding culture, but they treated me well and it’s hard to beat the price. (Getting married Saturday, here’s the dream dress: )

snowe (#4,421)

I got a nice dress for around $300 at a local store because it had been a sample.

Fig. 1 (#632)

@snowe +1 I also did this. I’m also not a sample size but I went to a small boutique that brought in the median North American dress size for samples. $1000+ dress for $500.

Megano (#739)

I tried on dresses for the first time this weekend, and I felt the same as I did when I chose an engagement ring. All the dresses are lovely, and all the dresses look the same. How on earth do you pick one? Sure, some are more flattering and less flattering, but about 80% were perfectly acceptable looking. It’s incredibly frustrating, and also makes me feel like a defective bride since I doubt anything will ‘speak’ to me.

DickensianCat (#971)

@Megano You are not defective! I blame stupid television shows that lead us to believe that 15 of our loved ones will all start bawling in happiness with us once we find “the one,” when in reality a lot of times it’s just like “yeah, I think this will work.”

Do you find yourself thinking back to one you tried that you liked more than the others? Or a detail on it that you would like to see on other ones you tried? That is sometimes helpful in whittling them down.

antheridia (#2,995)

@Megano That whole “special feeling” thing is nonsense. Just choose one that you like! I like lace and very simple dresses so that is exactly what I went with. I tried on a few that were all pretty and I went with the one that was the cheapest and the lightest (so I could dance in it all night@!).

Beaks (#3,488)

@Megano Clothes don’t really every speak to me- if they fit my needs and look good I’ll get them, but I’ve never really, say, stalked a piece until it hit the sale rack or purchased something way out of my budget because I loved it so much or anything.

So when I gave up searching the internet for the perfect dress and just went to Nordstroms, I walked out in an hour and a half with a dress that looked good on me and fit what I was looking for, but I never was in love with it. That love is reserved for my perfect stretch wool pencil skirt. Which I can wear regularly, unlike my wedding dress.

(I also ultimately didn’t have an engagement ring because I couldn’t find one I liked enough to keep forever. So I know these feels.)

@Megano I literally bought the first dress I tried on because I hate trying on clothes and I figured that it fit well enough. No magical feeling and no regrets. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

@Beaks Now I want to hear about the perfect stretch wool pencil skirt!

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Megano GO TO SAJA.

Beaks (#3,488)

@mirror_father_mirror I found it at Nordstrom Rack when I was supposed to be buying slacks for work, and I impulse bought it because I have a pencil skirt problem. When I got it home I realized it was a) lined, b) not only lined, but lined with a material that stretches, and c) made me look like a totally put together professional basically instantly. It also works great with tights, but is a tweed-type texture that I can get away with mostly year round. I wear it every time I need to feel extra put together (or, well, always). It is my favorite piece in my entire wardrobe, basically.

Megano (#739)

@DickensianCat @Beaks @bowtiesarecool @TheDilettantista Well, in truth, my mum (who worked as a seamstress for many years) is making my dress, and is very excited to do so. This means that the usual parameters (like cost, availability and fit) are not going to apply to whittle down the choices. She’s super stoked to do this too, but it means that I’m not going to ever try something on and have it feel magical, because I won’t EVER be buying anything.

wendyleigh (#3,537)

I have a friend that bought a very lovely white, full length gown at Nordstrom’s for $300, alternations included. She got it from the “special occasion” department, or something like that.

aardvark (#3,451)

@wendyleigh Nordstrom will let you try on non-bridal dresses during a bridal appointment in addition to “real” wedding gowns if you want–it’s awesome. That’s what I did and I ended up in a wedding dress that was so very awesome and pretty and comfortable. (And $300!)

I got my dress at J Crew for $332.50 during a 30% off sale. It was poly and I think made in China and it had a lining and a train but basically no structure (Gail, my seamstress, added cups and chopped off most of the train). I went to the store to try dresses on, and found their sizes to be pretty consistent with their street-clothes dress sizes.

My dress was Not Perfect but I also didn’t care about it that much! You can see some photos here, if you want.

PS LOVED A Practical Wedding. Found our venue and a couple of vendors through there, too– all of whom were super cool.

Katze (#5,053)

@cuminafterall Yes! And Ann Taylor had an awesome bridesmaids selection which also offered dresses in white, wink, wink.

antheridia (#2,995)

@cuminafterall Your ring is awesome!

tuntastic (#2,769)

@cuminafterall beautiful photos! i love all the dresses, including your sisters (?) !

Meaghano (#529)

@cuminafterall J. Crew is next on my list! I am mentally preparing. Also your dress looks amazing on you and you look so happy. Also the rings! Also the library! And the Quaker circle thing is all I want for our ceremony. I basically just want everyone to cry and be ruined by it, in a good way.

@antheridia @tuntastic @Meaghano Thanks, guys! We came across the ring in the Hairpin comments section, actually. It’s from Hazel Deeps on Etsy. I think my sisters’ dresses are from Delia’s or Modcloth. My best friend’s coral dress is J Crew from a few years ago. I cried a little, my mom cried a LOT, everybody spent the last 5 minutes scream-singing “I Had the Time of My Life.” And it was true.

DickensianCat (#971)

@cuminafterall Beautiful! That dress is FANTASTIC, very chic, with an added bonus of it seeming like you were easily able to breathe/eat/dance! Seems like it was a very fun wedding. Congrats :)

bgprincipessa (#699)

@cuminafterall oh my gOD your wedding is beautiful!!

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@cuminafterall Your wedding looks so lovely and fun and the genuine happiness of the situation is so evident and also I love your dress. AND RUNNING THROUGH THE ROW OF HIGH FIVES IS BRILLIANT WOW. (APW is still terrible though, avoid it people, or else you’ll become a hate-reader like I am).

DickensianCat (#971)

Also, Meaghan, I’m not sure how many more places you’re planning on browsing before crying UNCLE! but if there is one thing I’d recommend in general, it’s having an open mind at each place even if you stick to certain guns (the “no pouffy gowns” was non-negotiable for me). There were definitely dresses I wasn’t a big fan of both on the rack and on my body, but other dresses I was all set to write off for one detail or another ended up pleasantly surprising me.

Meaghano (#529)

@DickensianCat This is what I am quickly learning. I like the idea/aesthetic of vintage lacey, drapey things but I think I probably look better in more structured things. Even a — gasp — big old poufy skirt or something.

Katze (#5,053)

I got my $2000 dress for $212.84 by buying a “damaged” sample of it. The “damage” was a broken eye hook at the top of the zipper and a missing decorative button. Cost of repair was a low double digit number. I highly recommend this course of action, if you have lots of time to look at samples and access to a good seamstress.

RachelW (#2,605)

How not to buy a wedding dress:
1. Decide that you are going to lose 40 pounds before your wedding.
2. Realize that your wedding is 6 months away and you have not lost any weight. Order a $400 dress from BHLDN in a size 6 (you are a size 14) in the hopes of motivating yourself.
3. Realize your wedding is 3 weeks away and you have lost 5 pounds.
4. In desperation, go to David’s Bridal. Try on two dresses, try not to cry.
5. Buy the least ugly dress you can find, on sale for $150.
6. Realize that you hate that dress, because it is a giant white gown, and you are not really a giant white gown kind of girl. Decide that you just have to get over it and be ok with your body the way it is and find a dress that makes you happy.
7. Find a cute little white dress from J. Crew for $250.
8. Get married, feel beautiful, but slightly ashamed that you bought THREE dresses for one wedding (but nobody knows except your husband, and he already knew you were nuts so it’s ok).

Basically, my point is, shopping for a wedding dress is a nightmare, and even for women who consider themselves to not be susceptible to wedding industrial complex nonsense, it can end up being a point in the wedding planning process where you end up focusing many of your anxieties. I guess what I learned is that I had to buy the right dress for who I am, not the person I wish I was. I wish that lesson had not cost me $800.

readyornot (#816)

omg. i still get anxiety about the wedding dress search and i’ve been married over three years. i hated the experience of bridal boutiques from my sister’s wedding, and i vowed to have a dress custom made. (which can end up being cheaper! how is that for misaligned costs.) but i hemmed and hawed and procrastinated so long that no seamstress could do it in my eventual timeline.

i had to buy one from a regular shop. i agree with Megano that they can all look the same! endless parade of strapless mermaid gowns. i defiantly took a reactionary no-more-of-that stance with some vintage-y tea-length circle skirts, short straight minidresses, and lace-embellished sheaths, but then they can be disagreeable and not easily understandable to other people who think they have vested interests in your dress. (weird thing about weddings: other people think they have vested interests in what you put on your body). and it can also be harder to fit them. i ended up with a very beautiful, very expensive dress that did not look like every single other dress out there the year i got married and it was falling off of me the whole day…whatever. if there is some artificial choice between loving your husband and loving your dress echoing emphasis on “marriage” verus emphasis on “wedding day,” then i’m glad i ended up on the long term side.

clo (#4,196)

i had such a hard time with this too! i bought two dresses cause my mother told me i looked fat in my first dress and then i felt bad and didn’t wear it. it was only like $350 though. my second dress was like $600 plus alterations and it was really pretty and i was happy with it. it definitely wasn’t some life altering experience finding it. i just went to the local store and the ladies there knew what they were doing and picked out the one dress that met my requirements in my size and at my price. i tried going to other bridal salons and they were either wanting me to make appointments way in advance, or mean, or judgey or just plain didn’t have my size. david’s bridal is pretty meh and local stores will give you better attention, but you can probably go cheapest at david’s bridal. definitely do buy for the size you are and not what you hope you will be.

painterstape (#1,169)

I am one of those annoying people who made my own dress, but I was disorganized enough that I didn’t finish hemming it until the day before the wedding. The pattern cost $10 from ebay, the fabric was about $35, and I put in probably 20 hours of cutting and fitting and pinning and putting pieces in backwards and tearing them out and putting them back in the right way (very easy mistake to make with white-on-white fabric). If I hadn’t gotten pregnant immediately afterwards, I could have reworn the dress in my normal life.

lemonadefish (#3,296)

I went to Dillard’s by myself and tried on a couple dozen dresses (some of which were white, some not). I bought six or seven to take home and show my family, and then chose an $80 turquoise cocktail dress, that I paid $10 to have the hips taken in on. It was awesome. Also I’ve worn it twice since. (Several of the white dresses looked quite weddingy, and none were over $200.)

punzy (#160)

I am excited to fall on the reasonable side of things! My dress was $740 plus another $200 for alterations (from a tiny Russian grandmother, she was amazing). But I have also worn it 4 times so that works out to less than $250. And I am sure I will figure out more times to wear it even if it is just swanning about my house.

I did not get that “oh this is THE ONE!!11!” feeling. It was more of a “Yes, this dress is very pretty and I look very good in it.”

sariberry (#4,420)

I have so much to say on this topic (wedding dress – weddings – money – all of it). But I will keep it to constructive suggestions.

I got my wedding dress from Dolly Couture for $700. That’s on the more expensive end of your range, but it’s worth looking into (they specialize in short, vintage-style dresses).

I have friends who just bought white dresses for their weddings – not wedding dresses, but white ones, and sometimes they got GREAT deals.

Also, there are used wedding dresses – check out Although the crazy thing is that the used ones often still cost more than my new one did.

A Practical Wedding is a great wedding blog, I read her book before my wedding. For some reading that will truly help you keep your priorities straight when it comes to weddings and marriage, I highly recommend “The Conscious Bride” by Sheryl Paul.

Meaghano (#529)

@sariberry Ooh I will check out that book. Thank you!! Also yes, the once wed thing seems like a great way to go. I feel like I would first have to figure out what the hell looks good on me and what size I am first, because god only knows.

JCrew Bridal for the win:

I bought my dress there on sale for ~$500 (after applying a 20% discount code which they seem to pass around fairly liberally)

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

While I think this post was fine (the commenter who say GO TO SAJA is right, I got my dress at Saja and it was the easiest wedding planning decisions I have made thus far) I want to call foul on APW being a great wedding site. I write this as someone who used to think that APW was a great wedding site, but watched it slowly devolve into a shitshow with a self-obsessed main editor and a totalitarian comment policy where anyone who disagreed with a main post in the comments was attacked the APW editorial staff and legions of readers–even if the disagreement was presented in a calm and respectable fashion. I was actually banned (!!!) from commenting on the site for disagreeing publicly with the editor on a post about utilizing friends as labor in your wedding. They have this ridiculous comment policy that doesn’t really hold true at all–it is their way or the high way.

Normally I am not down with bashing another site publicly on the Internet, but the fact that I was BANNED for disagreeing in a calm and respectable manner, and the fact that the editor of the site has gotten so crazy, makes me want to warn anyone planning their wedding away from the site. I found it as someone who was about to get engaged (I knew the ring had been bought) and I thought I had found a safe haven, but in reality I found a place that was, in its own way, just as crazy and Wedding Industrial Complex centric as websites like the Knot.

Also, the posts have veered away from wedding planning–there are a lot of family and baby-centric posts and many sponsor pieces, so be aware of that if you were expecting ALL WEDDING ALL THE TIME.

Offbeat Bride and eastsidebride as much saner and more welcoming places for your wedding planning needs, in my humble opinion.

sheistolerable (#2,382)

@TheDilettantista I share your discontent with APW. I was mostly reading it before it got really big, and did get some important insights (importance of the ceremony, focus on your relationship rather than one day) but hooooooly schneikies Meg does not like to be disagreed with.

combledore (#5,138)

@TheDilettantista And all the sponsored posts. My god.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@combledore I am a regularly contributor to the 103 page APW thread on Get off My Internets. There are a lot of people who used to love and now loathe the site.

@TheDilettantista That’s a good point. I read APW for a couple of years before I got engaged, because I really enjoyed some of the more thought-provoking stuff (the Reclaiming Wife series in particular), but by the time I was planning my own wedding, the site had become very sponsor heavy and combative. I remember the kerfuffle over friend labor! I agreed with you! I made a conscious decision to spend money/eliminate details/avoid friendor offers so that nobody who wasn’t being paid would lift a finger at our wedding and wow is that choice not okay at APW.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@bowtiesarecool A) Great username (bye Matt Smith sniiffff) B) EXACTLY (as they say at APW). It was such a bizarre kerfuffle too, and it really embittered me that Meg seemed to have this stance that my friends were “bad” friends just because I didn’t want to inconvenience them by making them perform manual labor at my wedding! They will already be buying plane tickets and paying for hotel rooms, I just want them to show up and have a good time! (This attitude extends to much of my life btw–I’d much rather pay for movers than make my friends carry my furniture, I love my friends, I don’t want them to throw out their backs! But evidently this makes all of us BAD FRIENDS).

I still hate read APW though. Can’t help it, I am the worst.

combledore (#5,138)

@TheDilettantista Wow. That thread is now my everything.

hellonheels (#1,407)

This is extremely relevant to my interests. Before I was even engaged, I made the mistake of falling in love with one specific, very unique dress that turned out to retail for $5,200(!). In the months since the proposal, I’ve been monitoring pre-owned wedding dress sites in an effort to buy it resale, but because I am a giantess, I’m limited to dresses that have never had the hem taken up, so it hasn’t really been working out. This very morning I decided that I am just going to go to David’s Bridal and buy a Vera Wang White gown, which would be $1500 at the absolute most…even if I could buy a sample of the other one, it would be absolutely insane to spend 20% of my budget on a dress.

cryptolect (#1,135)

You guys inspired me to look up my wedding pics on our photographer’s blog! I found my dress in a secondhand shop for $60. I had to lose a little weight to fit into it, and my bosoms completely vanished, sad to say. But I had a fantastic time and felt like I actually spent negative dollars on the dress, since I had budgeted for several times that amount.

if you’re in LA, check out Bride boutique in Echo Park. They have really reasonable prices on indie designers and vintage dresses. Plus, the owner is a wizard at alterations.

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