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Buying a Wedding Dress Online vs. In-Store

Real Simple reports that most brides still purchase their gowns at a physical store, according to a fashion editor at The Knot. Not surprisingly, many women prefer to try on a gown before purchasing to get a feel for the material and see whether the look and fit are right.

And for some the in-store experience is integral to the wedding romance. But shopping for a cheap wedding dress online has grown in popularity, perhaps because consumers are making more and more online purchases in general, lured by the web's convenience and boundless selection (and perhaps because some women just don't want to deal with the whole bride thing). Shopping for a cheap wedding dress online also seems to appeal to brides who prefer something less formal or simply need a dress on short notice.

Whatever the reason, some retailers, including all those on our list, are hedging their bets by offering cheap wedding dresses online as well as in their stores. J. Crew, for instance, features 10 cheap wedding dresses online (starting at $298 for a knee-length lace dress). Most of the cheapest styles are available only online or in the catalog; only a couple are carried by the 11 stores with the wedding collection. The store has a $175 threshold for free shipping, so all the wedding dresses qualify. Gowns bought online or through the catalog can be returned to any J. Crew store for a refund or exchange within 60 days.

Nordstrom features 14 gowns for less than $500 on its website (the cheapest priced at $178), as well as a wide selection of "little white dresses." It operates wedding suites at 18 locations. Nordstrom provides free shipping and free returns and exchanges by mail. Brides who buy a cheap wedding dress online can also return it to a store. Both Nordstrom and J. Crew require an appointment if you want to physically inspect the goods; don't count on a walk-in unless the shop is not busy and you can sweet-talk the staff into cutting you some slack.

The Bloomingdale's website houses 28 long and short low-cost wedding dresses, starting at $248. All styles qualify for the company's free standard shipping on orders of at least $150. The store will accept returns or exchanges but does not pay for shipping on returns by mail, except in case of an error on its part. Dresses purchased online can also be returned to most of the more than 40 brick-and-mortar stores.

If David's Bridal is on your list of preferred vendors, you can shop from the comfort of your couch or at one of its hundreds of retail locations (by appointment, please). Most of the stock at David's Bridal is designed in-house, and we counted nearly 200 styles with price tags of $500 or less featured on the website. For $99 there's a long, charmeuse dress with a halter neckline or a short, sleeveless, chiffon dress with ruffles in the front and tiered layers on the skirt. Sales bring even a few styles from the much-touted White by Vera Wang line into our price range. A good number of David's Bridal designs seem suited for larger women. Some gowns are available only online, some only in stores, and a few at either source.

Ann Taylor offers most of its cheap wedding dresses online only. Four of the 20 gowns in the line sell for less than $500 and eight others come in at $550, just beyond our budget range. Gowns ordered online can be returned by mail but not to Ann Taylor stores. A couple of moderately priced wedding dress labels, including Alfred Angelo and Casablanca, sell only through authorized retailers (and warn of the perils of buying online) but let brides search their websites and enter a ZIP code to find a nearby store. Unlike most designers, Alfred Angelo also lists prices online; they start as low as $259.

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One factor to consider if you go the online route is whether you feel comfortable ordering a cheap wedding dress online without trying it on. Bear in mind that you typically have the option to return the dress for whatever reason, although you may have to pay for return shipping and wait for a replacement.

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