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Wedding Dress Quality and Selection

Our picks for the best cheap wedding dresses -- Nordstrom and J. Crew -- are noted for high-quality gowns at affordable prices and for styles that are elegant and modern.

The downside is the relatively small sizes of these standout collections: Under-$500 gowns currently number 14 at Nordstrom and 10 at J. Crew. The entire J. Crew line includes more than 50 different styles, but prices reach $3,000. Other budget vendors, such as Jessica McClintock, carry no more than a dozen wedding dresses in total.

And yet, brides seem quite satisfied with the choices. Nordstrom earns praise for the look and fit of its dresses in bridal gown reviews on the company's website. Nearly 50 brides favor a flowy, empire-waisted gown with beading and sequins, especially for a destination or second wedding. They note that the $178 dress is lined and the material produces a slimming effect.

Bridal gown reviews on Project Wedding are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the J. Crew line. Customers comment on the luxurious feel of the material, quality construction, and flattering fit. The unpretentious styling draws in brides who disdain the frou-frou look of many more traditional wedding gowns, according to reviews on Yelp, and the limited range of offerings appeals to some shoppers because it's not overwhelming. But be forewarned: Some shoppers say the fabrics and designs tend to show off whatever pudge you may have and seem geared toward women with toned bodies.

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Bloomingdale's carries 61 bridal dresses, including 28 under $500 and a few of the same styles as Nordstrom. Some may not fit many brides' vision of wedding gown, though. For instance, on the company's website, a couple of customers applaud a Sue Wong dress with a short petal skirt and beading detail, but one wore it as a guest at a wedding, not as a bride. There are also almost no other reviews of current designs. However, we found very positive reviews of discontinued styles at Bloomingdale's. Brides rave about a silk jacquard beaded gown, which delivered a show-stopping look that could easily be trotted out again for a future event. A tea-length dress with a black sash was even more beautiful in person than in the picture, according to brides who wore it in their weddings and posted reviews on the Bloomingdale's site.

Jessica McClintock offers a limited bridal line made of taffeta, satin, and charmeuse. The gowns are described by some shoppers as worth their low prices (which start at $190) even if they're not the best wedding dresses in terms of quality. Many are more typically "bridal," with fuller skirts and other architectural features, although most have no train. These might appeal to frugal brides who can't find what they're looking for among all the sheath dresses at other budget outfitters.

While Ann Taylor offers only a few wedding dresses in our range, eight fall just outside it, at $550, and no gown commands more than three figures. Many are made of silk, and bridal gown reviews dub the line attractive and affordable. On Wedding Wire, a couple of brides find the customer service lacking, but others say the gowns are well-made and pretty in their simple elegance. An editor at Brides magazine lauds the spring 2012 collection for its range and value. Several bridal gown reviews note that Ann Taylor dresses are unfussy and practical.

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David's Bridal claims about one-third of the U.S. market, and some of those many customers talk up the selection, quality, and value of the mega-chain's dresses, most of which sell for less than $1,000. However, some brides posting wedding dress reviews on sites such as Wedding Wire say the dresses are made from low-quality fabric and lack any design panache. You can buy an off-the-rack dress at David's Bridal stores, but it's likely to have been tried on by many other shoppers and may be torn or dirty.

Wedding Dress Fabrics.

Before committing to a gown, be sure to feel the fabric and read the label. The best wedding dresses in any price range are made from quality fabric. There are dozens of options, from lightweight chiffon to luxurious lace. Don't be afraid to question a fabric. Italian satin is not silk, for example -- it might be a fancy name for Chinese polyester. If you have your heart set on silk, be on the lookout for fabric nubs -- these are natural, but there should be very few. A quality satin is smooth and flexible. Chiffon should be soft and free-flowing. Gowns made from chiffon, organza, or tulle should have thick layers -- you certainly don't want to parade around in a see-through dress. The best wedding dresses are beautiful but also sturdy. Your gown shouldn't snag, run, or tear as you walk down the aisle or dance with your groom.

Wedding Dress Details.

For a gown to lie properly, the seams must be precise. Be sure to inspect a dress for seams that are straight and evenly spaced, especially if it's lightweight or form-fitting. If you're shopping for an off-the-rack or sample-sale dress, be on the lookout for pulled threads or ripped seams.

For some women, a wedding is not complete without something in the way of sequins, beads, ribbons, or rhinestones. But that doesn't mean you have to go over your $500 budget. We looked at plenty of inexpensive wedding gowns online that feature at least some decorative detail, be it beading, appliques, ruffles, or embroidery. On cheaper gowns, the detailing is stitched by machine rather than by hand.

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