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How to Find an Affordable Wedding Dress

Plus 3 dresses I seriously considered before finding "the one."

The first thing I learned when Jonah and I got engaged is just how expensive wedding dresses can be, and how much many brides are willing to spend on one. While I, of course, understand the appeal of looking as beautiful as possible for one of the most meaningful days of your life, and grew up watching 'Say Yes to the Dress,' I couldn't wrap my head around spending four figures on a dress I'll wear once. In November, I went to BHLDN to explore my options and tried on dresses in a wide range of styles. I felt beautiful in them, but still couldn't get past the price tags, which were a steal compared to the average cost of one, according to the Knot ($1,631). It wasn't that I'm not willing to spend on something special for my wedding day, but the idea of wearing it once kept haunting me. In the end, I decided to splurge on a pair of Gabriella Kiss earrings I fell in love with at the L.A. jewelry store, August, and spent under $200 on my dress (though, after trying on my mom's this past weekend, I may wear hers!). Below I've shared some tips for spending less on your dress, and 3 wedding gowns I seriously considered, all under $800:

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I never thought I'd want a ballgown until I tried on this dress at BHLDN. It was easily my favorite option of the dresses I tried on (but Jonah's least-favorite, interestingly!), and felt like the sweetness of the skirt was toned-down by the deep V of the top. I ultimately decided it was too much for the small backyard wedding we're planning, but still love the look of it and the subtly sexy cut. 

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Image via Needle & Thread

Image via Needle & Thread

I had actually already purchased "the dress" when I came across the London-based brand Needle & Thread. I stalked their Aurora V-Neck Gown for about a month before ordering it, then was so split that I invited my girlfriends over for brunch so they could vote between this dress and the one I had originally chosen. To my surprise, the original dress won unanimously (the Aurora is much more blingy, not to mention more expensive), but it was what a friend said that cinched the deal for me, "In this dress, I notice the dress first and you second. In the other dress, I notice you first and the dress second." The problem was that it was almost too beautiful—I was being upstaged by it! 

P.S., Halfpenny is another London-based brand a reader suggested to me. It's a bit more expensive than Needle & Thread, but I'm leaving a link here because the dresses are stunning!

A photo taken by a friend during my dress try-on brunch! (Don't mind the foot or facetime happening)

A photo taken by a friend during my dress try-on brunch! (Don't mind the foot or facetime happening)

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I quickly learned that I have a type when it comes to wedding dresses: I love pretty much anything long-sleeved with a v-neck, and a part of me still wants this dress... It's such a chic look, especially how they styled it! 

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Wedding dresses are just more expensive than "regular" white dresses, so avoid the Bridalwear category entirely and go instead to Dresses and filter by "white" (and maybe by "Price: Low to High," as well) which will give you a wider range of more affordable options. Sites like Revolve have a ton of white dresses. Similarly, only go to an appointment at a bridal salon if you're willing to spend a bit more (I ended up ordering mine online from the "bridesmaids" section of a site!).  

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I still haven't gotten over Olivia Palermo's three-piece wedding dress, and have loved the idea of a skirt with a sweater ever since. For a wedding dinner over the holidays with family who can't make it to our actual wedding, I wore this skirt from Banana Republic with a white sweater that came to under $100 for both pieces (to be fair, Banana was having a 40% off sale when I bought them). 

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Depending on how superstitious you are (I'm personally about a 0 out of 10!), you can buy a pre-owned wedding dress for a fraction of the cost of a new one. The Knot has tips here, and A Practical Wedding recently partnered with the brand Our Story Bridal.  

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Sites like Rent the RunwayBorrowing Magnolia, and Happily Ever Borrowed all offer options for renting wedding dresses, white dresses, and accessories. As long as you're comfortable with the dress itself being your "something borrowed," you can save as much as 80% off the retail price.

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