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Wedding dress for less

Searching for a wedding dress on a budget in Atlanta
Bob Andres / AJC

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The average wedding this year will cost $28,427 -- the highest it's been in five years -- according to a  survey of 20,000 brides from the Knot.com. Part of the increase can be attributed to our growing aspirational desires fueled by the many blogs and websites that put high style weddings on display.

For women searching for the perfect dress, you may think the sky is the limit, but at $1,211, the average wedding dress accounts for only 4 percent of the total wedding cost.  It helps that there are so many ways to find an affordable wedding dress -- from big brands launching wedding lines to the old standby, a dress borrowed from a family member.

I recently embarked on an affordable wedding dress journey with AJC staffer Yvonne Zusel, who hoped to find a dress under $1000. "I decided early on that I'd rather put more money toward things like food and venue," says Zusel, whose wedding is in October. "Plus, I think there are some really beautiful dresses that cost less than $1,000, so why should I pay more?"

And of course she is right. While she studied bridal mags and watched TV shows to get an idea of her likes, she was open to getting a new or pre-owned on consignment, online or at  wedding dress central, David's Bridal. We visited Carrie's Bridal in Chamblee where all gowns are under $1,000 and some are as low as $99 during special sale events. You can check out photos from our journey as Zusel tried on at least a dozen dresses.

In the end, she went with a dress that came in under budget and requires minimal alterations. It's not too trendy and satisfied both her taste and her mom's. Total hunt time? One month. Total stores visited? More than a half dozen.

Here's a guide to help you to find the affordable wedding dress of your dreams:

Join the masses: Many national retailers have jumped into the affordable wedding dress market. Ann Taylor, Anthropologie/Urban Outfitters (BHLDN), J. Crew and now, Target all have affordable wedding dress collections with prices ranging from $99 to about $4,000, with a big chunk in the $200 - $800 range. Target has four new bridal gowns by Tevolio priced from $99 - $129 in sizes 2 - 28. In keeping with the many designer collaborations at mass market stores, David's Bridal has a lower priced line of gowns by Vera Wang.

Shop online: It is no longer considered strange to shop for a wedding dress online and the options are endless. You can buy new, pre-owned or even rent from a range of websites. Brides.com for example, offers a searchable database of dresses. There are dresses listed for sale on Amazon.com  and eBay.com.  Atlanta-born site Oncewed.com, links brides to gently worn dresses. Sites like Nearlynewlywed.com allow you to purchase a dress and re-sell it to the website post-wedding. There are shops that rent gowns, and some traditional bridal shops may also have an option to rent.

Consignment/ thrift shops. Look for consignment shops that specialize in wedding dresses such as Fabulous Frocks of Atlanta in Senoia. They also sell new and sample gowns. While it may be a bit of a hunt and you may have to travel well beyond the metro area, anyone looking for a non-traditional dress may find a hidden jewel in thrift stores.

Something borrowed. Make your dress your something borrowed by asking your immediate family and friends for their old gowns. Have it cleaned, tailored or re-worked to suit your body type and style.

You've got it made. Having a dress made by a family member or even a design student could present an affordable option as long as you keep your expectations in check. The key is finding someone who understands your aesthetic and can deliver a quality garment on time.

Other money saving tips for finding the perfect wedding dress:

  • Consider buying damaged dresses and having them repaired.
  • Buy in winter. It is low season for dresses, new styles are coming out and many retailers are making room by offering deep discounts.
  • Don't look at dresses above your price range. The last thing you want to do is fall in love with a too-expensive dress.
  • Don't leave your dress with a seamstress without getting a price quote on the cost of alterations (even if the seamstress is at the store where you purchased your dress).
  • Minimize alterations by adjusting your heel height. You may envision wearing a certian shoe, but taking your heel height up or down can help you avoid hemming of your gown.

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