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Cheap Wedding Dress Buying Guide

Certainly all the excitement and fantasy surrounding a wedding isn't lost on the bridal industry. But retailers have become highly attuned to the new frugal zeitgeist.

Our research found several national apparel chains that feature lines of cheap wedding dresses or collections of evening gowns that could easily pass for wedding attire. Even Costco, the discount mass merchandiser, has crashed the wedding party, as has Urban Outfitters, with its BHLDN line. Both retailers, however, showcase wedding dresses at prices that surpass our definition of "cheap."

So what does qualify as cheap? A long silk chiffon or tricotine gown for $425 at J. Crew, for example, or a one-shoulder satin gown for $288 at Nordstrom. These aren't upmarket designer duds, mind you. At this price point, you'll be shopping by store or vendor, rather than searching for specific dresses by big-name designers. Unless you wear a size 6, 8, or 10 and can score a high-end gown from a sample sale (which normally happens only a couple of times a year, when bridal salons look to clear their racks to make room for a new season's stock), you'll be looking at cheap wedding dresses from retailers including department stores, mass-market apparel brands, and, of course, David's Bridal.

There are also scads of independent wedding boutiques and online-only vendors that sell cheap wedding gowns, most showcasing lines designed specifically for the budget end of the market. Other sources of cheap wedding gowns are wholesale warehouses located abroad (usually in China) that sell through the web and ship gowns and accessories at cut-rate prices; AphroBridal.com is one example. Comments on Wedding Wire and elsewhere suggest that such sites do have some satisfied customers. However, complaints abound from brides whose dresses didn't match online photos or never arrived at all. Others don't like that many of the dresses are replicas, for which the original designer gets no credit or compensation.

Review continues below

Instead, we recommend embracing one of the many stylish and well-made wedding dresses available at reputable retailers. We found Nordstrom and J. Crew to be the best sources of cheap wedding dresses, followed by Bloomingdale's, which aggregates wedding apparel on its website and sells bridal dresses in stores but doesn't offer the same specialized service. Ann Taylor's wedding line just missed our list because it carries only a few dresses under $500 -- although many for $550 -- and most of the few reviews we found concern bridesmaids' dresses rather than bridal gowns. We walked away from David's Bridal because reviews indicate it comes up short on customer service.

The trick to finding the perfect cheap wedding dress is to spend time shopping and learning about gowns, rather than make a snap decision. Bridal sales associates are notorious for aggressive selling. Try to keep your emotions at bay and focus on the practical -- you'll have a much better chance of loving the dress you choose.

by Kara Reinhardt (Google+ Profile)

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