Having a flair for style and a desire to catch a good deal shouldn’t keep you constantly choosing between the two. We’re all pinching a few more pennies these days. But that doesn’t mean we have to skip out on the fun. When that next invitation to a formal event arrives, take a deep breath and keep these budget-friendly shopping tips in mind. There are plenty of ways to buy formal gowns for a lot less than the couture price tags. Borrowing, renting, buying second hand, or shopping at special retailers can all be great ways to save.
Buying Second Hand Formal Gowns
If you think about it, how many times do you actually wear the same formal gown? For most ladies, it’s once. They take days, weeks, or months to painstakingly find the perfect gown. They attend the event and make their entrance. And then that beautiful gown sits in a closet until it eventually makes its way to the donation box.
That means there are potentially dozens of beautiful, lightly worn gowns available at second hand stores and consignment shops. Sure, it can be a bit more of a process to find that perfect gown. But if you’re willing to get a few alterations done, you can turn a thrift store beauty into your own couture with a minimal investment. Imagine snagging that gorgeous gown for $35 instead of $350.
There is a difference between consignment gowns and thrift store shopping. The former usually includes some quality control, keeping you from sorting through gowns from decades gone by. But that convenience comes with a bigger price tag, albeit still a significant savings from a new dress. The really great deals take time and patience to find; you’ll need both to buy second hand.
Look for Sample Dresses at Boutique Dress Shops
If the idea of secondhand doesn’t suit you, there is another way to save money on a gown that hasn’t been hanging in someone else’s closet. Bridal shops and formal dress shops get new gowns every season. The dresses displayed on mannequins rotate with the styles for the season and are generally offloaded at a steep discount when the styles change.
Buying sample dresses lets you stick with the dress shopping experience that you’re accustomed to. But you’ll need a little willpower to not be swayed by the latest trends with the biggest markups in the store. When you walk in, keep in mind that staying on budget is your goal.
If you’re the plan-ahead type, you can also shop department store racks when they have post-prom and end-of-season sales, marking excess inventory down by as much as 80% of the original retail price.
Rent a Gown
The limited use of formal gowns, compared to their useful life, makes them a good candidate for rentals. Many chains and some local formalwear stores offer rental programs for interested customers. They understand that these gowns are pricey investments and that they can serve more customers by offering cost-saving alternatives to placate sticker shock.
There is a lot of flexibility in dress rentals. You could snag a deal that is as good as a thrift store find, renting a gown for as little as $30 or $40. Or, you could deck yourself out in the most expensive gowns for a few hundred dollars. It all depends on the event, your tastes, and your budget.
Borrow a Dress
The thriftiest way to find a dress for that formal event is to check with your friends. While you may not want to repurpose a formal gown for a second or third event, your friend may have no problem pulling off the look with your dress. Besides, what are your girls for if you can’t swap clothes?
The only catch with borrowing a dress is that you need to find a friend with a similar size and shape because they may not be willing to let you do alterations. There is actually a lot of tradition in borrowing dresses. In many cultures, it is or was once customary for families to pass wedding gowns down from mother to daughter.
Embrace the Power of Negotiation
Formalwear stores are often open to making a deal if they can get you to buy more products. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of shopping for gowns in a full-fledged formal retail shop, it’s a lot like the stylist is playing dress-up with a doll. They put a gown on you and add shoes and accessories, showering your ‘look’ in compliments with the hopes that you will take it all.
Use this to your advantage and work out a deal on the dress you love. While the initial price tag might be steep, we’re willing to bet that the shop has some wiggle room. Just remember, the power of negotiating a deal lies in the money you put behind it. Asking for a discount and financing signals that you need the discount and is less likely to net you a favorable result. However, paying in full without hesitation gives you the power.
Keep it Simple
While there are plenty of formal gowns that make a big statement all by themselves, sometimes the best way to showcase your beauty is to keep it simple. This mindset will likely also help keep your gown on budget. Simple silhouettes are widely available and, therefore, often economically priced. You can also add glitz and glam with your accessories while keeping the price on your dress modest.
The Bottom Line on Shopping on a Budget
Attending your next formal event in style doesn’t have to be a major, financed expense. You can keep things under control by shifting your mindset from ‘beauty at any cost’ to ‘less is more.’ To save money on your formal attire purchases, exhaust all your resources before you waltz into the dress shop. That means, checking with friends and scouring the second hand stores first. Then, work your way up to simple styles at department stores and sample dresses at the formal retailers. And when all else fails–pull out the charm and negotiate a deal on the dress you really love.
Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of TheDressWarehouse.com. TheDressWarehouse.com was launched in 2018 as the go-to online source for amazing designer dresses at affordable prices. With 10 years of experience in the industry, Jonah works daily to scour the markets to find the hottest styles and negotiate the best prices for special occasion wear on the internet.