Bride on a Budget: The Dress, Part I

Setting ground rules and sticking to them can keep you from going crazy

There are two questions most women ask about your wedding: When are you getting married? And have you found your dress? I usually tried to sidestep the dress question with a shrug and a passive “I have lots of time” comment.

In fact, I was slightly nervous about the dress-shopping experience. I avoid stressful shopping trips, such as Christmas shopping at malls. And I hate being pressured to buy anything, even Girl Scout cookies. I’ve found myself stressing out while watching Say Yes to the Dress.

Plus, I was concerned about my budget. Bridal gowns aren’t cheap. Just consider that J. Crew sells some of its wedding gowns for more than $2,500. We’re talking about a lot of money for a dress I’ll wear once.

So how did I find my perfect gown on a budget and without the stress?

To prevent myself from becoming a dress-induced bridezilla, I created a plan. My mom and sister volunteered to visit in early September to help me purchase my dress. I decided to find three or four options I liked before they came. To get some ideas, I looked at magazines and at The Knot’s online wedding-dress gallery. I initially fell in love with a gorgeous gown by Allure Bridal. With some style ideas in mind, I started my hunt.

I tried David’s Bridal because I knew the prices were great. But I really couldn’t find anything similar to my favorite styles in the stores. David’s Bridal is a better option for clean, simple silhouettes, not more intricate gowns such as the one I wanted.

And I nixed the annual Filene’s Basement wedding-dress sale. The thought of waiting for hours to fight other women over dresses wasn’t appealing.

Then I moved onto local bridal salons. I found stores on The Washingtonian’ wedding-vendors Web site and on Wedding Wire. I called all of the stores before I went to make sure they were within my budget and carried gowns in my preferred style. My hit list included:

Distinctive Designs
I Do I Do
White Swan
Columbia Bridal Boutique
Bobbie’s Bridal

I loved my experiences at Distinctive Designs, I Do I Do, and Ellie’s because I never felt pressured to buy anything and the salespeople were incredibly helpful. My experiences at these stores were fun and memorable. Next time I’ll tell you about trying on my dream dress and finally buying my wedding gown.

Lessons From the Budget Bride:

• Be honest about your budget. Don’t try on a dress without knowing what your budget is. And don’t forget to add tax, shipping, and alteration costs to the price. Alterations alone can be a few hundred dollars.

• Plan dress shopping accordingly. In my experience, it seemed that stores tend to turn over inventory in fall and spring when designers release new items. If you can wait to shop, try to find those major clearance sales. I went shopping in August when some stores were clearing their racks to make room for fall collections, and I found great deals.

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