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In this review:
  1. Cheap Wedding Dresses
  2. Wedding Dress Reviews: Customer Service
  3. Best Wedding Dress Selection and Quality
  4. Wedding Dresses Online
  5. Wedding Dress Alterations, Used Wedding Dresses

Cheap Wedding Dress Buying Guide

As a little girl, you might have dreamed of the day when you'd don the perfect white gown to walk down the aisle and say "I do" to the love of your life. But now you're all grown up and well aware of the budget constraint.

A survey by The Knot and WeddingChannel.com found that brides spend an average of $1,121 on their dresses; many spend far more. For some brides, a wedding gown is the most expensive dress they'll ever own. As you begin your search, remember that you're in charge here. There's no reason to go into debt for a fantasy gown from Monique Lhuillier or Vera Wang. These days, there's also no reason to settle for a cheap wedding dress that's dowdy-looking, poorly constructed, or made of shoddy material. Choose the dress you want at a price you can afford.

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.

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.

Review continues below

by Kara Reinhardt (Google+ Profile)

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Filed in: Beauty, Diet, Wedding Dresses,

Best Cheap Wedding Dresses

Nordstrom Wedding Dresses
Gold Medal

Nordstrom Wedding Dresses

Lovely gowns and well-regarded customer service earn this department store a top spot on our list of best cheap wedding dresses. You can order online or buy at any of the 18 stores with a "wedding suite." Brides rave about dress quality, quick delivery, helpful consultants, and an easy return policy.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
J. Crew Wedding Dresses
Gold Medal

J. Crew Wedding Dresses

This retailer sells cheap wedding dresses of excellent quality online and in wedding boutiques at about a dozen locations. Shoppers say the consultants are helpful and the return policy is quite generous compared with other bridal retailers'.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »

Good Cheap Wedding Dresses

Bloomingdale's Wedding Dresses
Gold Medal

Bloomingdale's Wedding Dresses

Budget-savvy brides have been looking to Bloomingdale's for years for high-quality evening gowns that work as wedding dresses. The retailer made an explicit foray into the bridal market in 2011, launching a Wedding Shop on its website.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
 

Don't Bother

David's Bridal Wedding Dresses

A national chain that sells cheap wedding gowns from its own line, along with some designer labels, David's Bridal claims a large chunk of the market but not brides' hearts. Customers complain about poor service and the high price of alterations.

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