If your experience of clothes shopping is generally limited to the high street, you probably turned paler than the wedding gown you were standing in when you clocked its price tag. That’s because the average wedding dress costs around £1300, and it’s not unusual for boutiques to carry dresses worth £5000 or more. If this equates to your entire wedding budget rather than the portion you were planning on spending on a gown, it might be a little harder to find ‘the one’.
Don’t reach for your credit card until you’ve read our tips on snagging bargains, cutting deals and snipping zeros from that price tag!
Rework a classic
It doesn’t matter if your dress costs as much as a family car – if it doesn’t fit you, it’s a waste of money. A made-to-measure dress isn’t going to be cheap, but it will fit you like a second skin.
Dragonfly Dress Design in Glasgow, which specialises in retro dresses, carries over 100 original vintage gowns, as well as made-to measure dresses, with vintage styles starting at just £300 and vintage-inspired gowns costing from £500. These can be completely reworked into a unique dress. “It’s a budget-friendly service that offers a truly original dress at a much lower price point,” says founder Lisa Cochrane. “We’re happy to try to source a particular style if we don’t currently have it in stock in your size.”
Seek out a big designer’s diffusion line
“And the bride wore Vera Wang!” … and then you woke up. But does it have to be a dream? Heaps of big-name designers also offer a more affordable diffusion line that pushes the stars’ fave names into your orbit. Head to David’s Bridal, recently opened in Glasgow, and you can try on gorgeous gowns from starry collections such as White by Vera Wang or Truly Zac Posen.
You’ll be in great company – Mariah, Victoria Beckham and Kim and Khloé K all got hitched in Vera Wang gowns, so don’t forget to name-drop. We can bet they didn’t bag their dress for a bargainous £675, which is the lowest price in the White collection. Fans of British designers will be delighted to discover that David’s Bridal is also carrying styles by the brilliant Jenny Packham, under the guise of her Wonder collection.
Snatch a bargain at a sample sale
As bridal gowns tend to be released in annual collections, or at most twice a year, wedding boutiques don’t have the high stock turnover of ordinary clothes shops and therefore have less need to hold sales. This makes it even more important to go to the annual sample sales. Eleganza Sposa has its event in Glasgow in January.
“Depending on the age and condition of the gown, you can get up to a 75% discount,” says owner Anna Cirignaco. What do you need to know about sample sales? “Dresses are sold as seen, so dry-cleaning and alterations need to be organised, and purchases are non-refundable.”
Hit the high street
There are pros and cons to buying a dress that has not been designed specifically for brides. On the one hand, you won’t get the experience and one-on-one attention of shopping in a boutique – your postman dropping off the parcel really can’t compete – but if money is tight, the high street offers a wide range of dresses for under £500.
You won’t find any massive ballgowns that make you feel like a princess, though, but plenty of styles that are perfect for a low-key or destination wedding. If the dress is available in other colours, you do run the risk of one of your guests turning up in it, so be wary of this when shopping.
Consider a compromise
You might have to change tack if your heart is set on a particular dress. If it’s from a couture designer, it’s possible they may be able to make a less costly version of the dress by substituting expensive natural materials like silk for man-made alternatives. This can be organised via a boutique, or directly from a designer. They may be willing to reduce time-consuming embellishment, another factor that drives the price up.
If that doesn’t work out, ask yourself what it is about the dress that you love so much. Is it the cut? The colour? Knowledgeable boutique staff can suggest something similar. “If a dress is out of your budget, most designers have similar designs, within reason,” confides Amy Clancy of L.A. Bridal.
A reputable seamstress will hesitate to make a direct copy of a designer dress, but it’s worth asking for small tweaks that will take a similar gown a step closer to your ultimate dream dress.
Keep an eye on designer days
If you’ve spotted signs saying ‘trunk show’, ‘designer day’ or ‘collection preview day’ and wondered what they meant, it’s pretty simple. It’s a day/weekend that boutiques hold to showcase a particular designer they stock. Sometimes the entire new collection is available for a limited time, and occasionally the designer attends (a one-on-one appointment can cost up to £500 in a London boutique).
That all sounds very exciting, but even better are the discounts and freebies offered on the day. You can expect to save around 10%, and you might end up with complimentary accessories.
Helen Walker of Anne Priscilla Bridal has this advice: “More brides should purchase at a designer day. I picked my own dress this way. It’s great to see limited-edition styles, but saving 10% on a £3000 dress is fantastic. We don’t discount our dresses outwith the designer days, and when you throw in the chance to speak to the creator of your dream dress, it’s a very special experience.”
Give a pre-loved dress a new time to shine
Ever had an eBay purchase arrive and instantly know that the ‘only worn once’ description was a blatant lie? Luckily, with bridal gowns it tends to be true. If you can get past the ‘is this creepy?’ vibes that wearing someone else’s gown might bring up, you can bag a serious bargain.
There are a few specialised reselling sites – Bride2Bride has the most Scottish listings – but Gumtree and Preloved also have a small selection. Oxfam has a dedicated online wedding store, and the Red Cross has a bridal shop in Edinburgh – and buying from them gives the money to charity.