Where to Find Bridesmaid Dresses for Less

Your best friend, or your next best friend, is getting married and has chosen you to be in her bridal party. Your first thought might be: what an honor!

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Marianne Rohrlich
, New York Times

Your best friend, or your next best friend, is getting married and has chosen you to be in her bridal party. Your first thought might be: what an honor!

But being a bridesmaid is often very expensive, so before accepting this position it might be prudent to check your savings account. It’s difficult to say no once the process begins.

One of the biggest expenses is the dress.

Some brides include their bridal party in the dress decision, giving their attendants some say in the cost and the look. Other brides decide on their own what the women (or men) in their entourage will wear.

Before Nicole Levinson was married May 26 in an outdoor ceremony in Garrison, New York, she took her mother and the maid of honor shopping at Bella Bridesmaid in Manhattan to choose dresses for her four bridesmaids. (Each dress ended up costing $270 before alternations.)

“I thought a lot about the cost,” Levinson said. “The dresses I chose were expensive, and I let the women know in advance that they would be expensive. They were understanding.”

Only one woman voiced concern about money, so Levinson was happy to help her pay.

“I didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable,” she said. The alterations were another $210, Levinson said, adding, “that’s pretty terrible, and I plan to send a check to my friend to help with that.”

Some brides choose a color palette and tell their bridesmaids to buy whatever dress they like in those hues.

Tej Toor’s wedding was June 30 in Norfolk, Virginia. Her bridal party included four women and three men. For the women, the bride chose a color scheme of red, pink and peach and asked each of them to find a long dress they liked in one of those colors, leaving the cost and style up to them. The men were in black tuxedos with boutonnieres in the wedding colors.

One of Toor’s bridesmaids, Shannon Koggin, who is traveling to the wedding from San Francisco, seemed happy to be able to choose her own dress. She said that all the women in Toor’s party had a text thread to discuss the dresses. The budget, she said, was “up to each of us, and we can choose outfits we’ll wear again.” Michelle Cordova is planning for a Sept. 1 wedding; she’ll have five bridesmaids.

She works in the bridal industry and was lucky. She won dresses she loved in a raffle held at a dress manufacturer’s party, and she was allowed to choose the color from an online chart. The dresses arrived, she loved them, but the color was different in person than on the chart. She wanted burgundy but got red. She used them anyway.

Having been in friends’ bridal parties, and having spent down her savings doing so, Cordova said she did think a lot about the cost to the women she invited to be her bridesmaids.

“We all expect to spend $1,000-plus on the bachelorette party, $100-$125 on the shower gift, and $350 on the wedding present,” she said.

Because Cordova won the dresses they were free, but the alterations can be pricey. “One friend went to a local tailor and still spent $200.” she said. “She was furious.”

There are options for finding inexpensive dresses. Here are a few.

1. Kleinfeld, the bridal emporium, has opened a new site for bridesmaids dresses that are not too expensive. It offers more than 100 styles that are all in stock and ready to be shipped. Because these are not special-order dresses, the merchandise is all returnable if unworn and unaltered. The inventory is in sizes 2-24 and there is no extra charge for large sizes or extra-length gowns. Shipping is $8. No alteration service is available; prices are $129-$229;

2. BHLDN has bridesmaid dresses as well as bridesmaids separates, which can be mixed and matched. A woman can buy a long skirt and use a top she owns, or vice versa. They list their designs by styles like bohemian, modern or convertible and by fabrics and colors, making it a user-friendly site for those who know what they are looking for. Prices start at under $200. The site also has accessories for groomsmen;

3. Those looking for a less-expensive option in the under-$100 range should check out Lulus. All dresses are in stock in XS–XL. This a junior-size site so the clothes run a bit small. A customer service consultant said over the phone that sizing is similar to that at H&M. Shipping is free on orders of more than $50, and return shipping is free on anything you don’t like (of course unaltered, unworn and unwashed);

4. Amsale, whose bridal atelier is on Madison Avenue, offers a more couture experience. The offerings may be seen on the Amsale site but can only be bought at retailers like Bella Bridesmaids; Brideside, which is in Lord & Taylor; and The delivery time is usually eight to 10 weeks, and sizes run from 00-28 (there is an extra charge for 26 and 28). Amsale offers two collections; one ranges from $170-$250, and the other is $270-$310. There are no returns since these are all special orders, unless a dress is bought from Nordstrom, which does stock some styles ready to be shipped;

5. One way to save money is to rent a dress — that way spending less to begin with and foregoing alteration costs and dry-cleaning after the event. Rent The Runway offers designer dresses in many styles, sizes, lengths and colors. Dress rentals for four days start at $30 (many are under $100) and go higher depending on the designer. Concierge services (starting at $159 per person) for the bridal party include home visits by a consultant who arrives with multiple dresses in many sizes and lengths, along with the dress rental. Clothes are not altered but the dresses are offered in a broad range of sizes to fit most women;

6. For the budget-conscious there are dozens of options on the H&M site in an array of colors and styles. Dresses both long and short as well as separates start at $49.99. The merchandise changes often so decisions should be made quickly. (Search wedding season and bridal);

7. And don’t forget eBay for both new and preworn dresses. It’s a hunt, but you never know what bargain you might snare;

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