Budget Weddings: Five Dresses Under $500 You Can Buy Right Now

Budget wedding dresses

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve set myself up for a personal finance fail: planning my wedding in New York City. Warning: Since I’m knee-deep in navigating the wedding industry and how it affects money, I can’t help it—I’m going to be oversharing my thoughts in the next few months. If this will annoy you, then you might want to block me right now, because it’s about to be all weddings, all the time.

The #1 thing my friends ask me about is the dress.

In 2016 brides spent an average of $1,564 on their wedding dress. I like designer clothes, so I’m planning on spending thousands on a wedding dress, right?

Nah. My dress budget? $300.

I don’t care about average spend statistics because I don’t want to be average. If you don’t have a bottomless budget, $1,500 is a lot of money to many folks, myself included. And while the process of buying a wedding dress seems steeped in emotion, my practical side is winning out here: thousands of dollars on a one-time use dress is a purchase I personally don’t feel good about. That’s why I’ve refused to go to wedding salons and have only been searching online; I don’t want to fall in love with an expensive dress, because I KNOW that’s exactly the way I’d end up blowing the budget. Meanwhile, I have absolutely no qualms about spending thousands of dollars on flowers that will DIE after a day.

Weddings: they’re all about priorities.

For those of us with smaller budgets or who want to spend their dollars elsewhere, here are my top five picks for modern wedding dresses under $500.

Pleats and Ruffles for the Fashion-Forward Bride

Pleated Long Dress, H&M, $249

H&M Conscious Collection Pleated Wedding Dress
Recently released as part of H&M’s Conscious Collection, this is the dress for you if you want to look like a stylish seashell, because come on, who doesn’t? With its interesting ruffle details and pleated maxi skirt, I see this fitting in nicely at a more glam affair. Also, Rooney Mara wore a version of this to an Oscars after party. In my book, Rooney Mara can do no wrong in the fashion department. If this is good enough for her, it’s good enough for me. This one’s selling fast, so if you like it, you might want to bust out that credit card now.

Layers of Tulle for the Traditional Bride

Tulle Dress, H&M, $349

H&M Conscious Collection Tulle Wedding Dress
Maybe you think non-wedding dresses just aren’t fancy enough. Well, that’s totally fair. You want to make a statement with your dress—”I’m a bride and I’ve arrived”. So let’s kick it up a notch with this dress from H&M’s Conscious Collection. With the classic ballgown silhouette, layers of tulle and elegant neckline, this rivals dresses that cost five times more. Whether you’re getting married at a church or a hotel ballroom, this dress is a safe bet whatever the venue.

Illusion Necklines and Scallop Details for the Ethereal Bride

Aveline Dress, Alexandra Grecco, $495

Alexandra Grecco Aveline Wedding Dress
I’m a sucker for illusion necklines. Light and airy, this one has a garden party vibe—perfect for getting married in a backyard or park. Add a vintage-y hair piece to elevate the look.

Cap Sleeves and Lace for the Rustic Bride

Amber Gown by Nha Khanh, Rent the Runway, $165

Nha Khanh Wedding Dress
For lace lovers who want to be a little more covered up, this Nha Khanh rental dress would fit right in at barn or forest weddings.

Sidenote: Budget-savvy brides know that Rent the Runway is where it’s at. My friend got all of her pre-wedding party dresses here, as well as the bridesmaid dresses. Bonus: After the wedding is over, all you have to do is just put the dresses in their garment bags and drop them in the mail. And if you’re a minimalist, this eliminates an extra bulky dress taking up precious space in your closet.

Chic and Simple for the City Hall Bride

Darling Fete Dress, Nikki Chasin, $200

Nikki Chasin Darling Wedding Dress
So fresh, so clean. I love this tea-length dress with a hint of structure—just right for the minimal bride. I first saw it in a gallery on NYMag and had to look it up. Because the dress is so simple, you then get to go all out with the accessories: sparkly jewels, messy updos and killer shoes. Because how sad is it if you’re wearing next-level shoes and no one can see them under your dress?

More Tips

These dresses aren’t your style? For designer details on a budget, try searching for white dresses at Barneys Warehouse or The Outnet.

Here’s my #1 tip no matter where you get your dress: don’t pick a dress that’s super white, because that’s the fast track to Cheapsville. And nobody wants to look cheap on their Wedding Day. And while it may be a questionable source, check out this article for more solid tips on how to look expensive, no matter the budget.

Were you a bride on a budget or did you go all out? Any regrets?

Image: The Luxe Strategist

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  • Jane @ Cash Fasting

    Yes! If this is the type of wedding content you’re going to be writing about the next few weeks, I’m PUMPED. I’m not even engaged yet, but I’ve done plenty of research on wedding costs. But “averages” aren’t super useful for trying to have a budgeted wedding. Can’t wait to learn more tips from you!

  • Thanks, Jane! I did wedding research even before I was officially engaged! I don’t think it’s weird or losery, just smart. I know you also have a wedding fund started already, so the money thing is going to be way less stressful for you when the time comes.

    Do you think you’ll want to get married in the city? For me, that was a must. And as you know, with NYC comes $$$$. I could have saved money going upstate or to either of our hometowns, but a city wedding just felt right for us.

  • Former New Yorker

    I spent $685 on my dress ($385 for the sample, $300 for alterations). It was a Watters gown. I think an additional $100 to get it cleaned the day of the wedding but my MIL paid for that, so I don’t know what that cost. Way more than I anticipated. I originally thought alterations would be $100 and didn’t think I’d need to specially clean and press this dress. Original budget for dress (including alterations) was $500.

    If I had to do it over, I’d do rent the runway just so I don’t have to deal with the dress now. Probably even would have been the exact dress you highlighted here! I LOVED my dress leading up to the wedding, and thought I was going to pay an additional $300 to get it preserved. (Why, I have no idea, it’s polyester). But wedding dress emotions swept me up. After we got home, I put the dress in the closet and a reminder in my calendar to get it cleaned. Two years later, it is still dirty, still taking up space in the closet. I do not have the mental energy to deal with it. In my defense, we got pregnant pretty quickly and I’ve been chasing around a tiny human who exhausts me. But but. If I had to do it over, I’d rent. Just the fact that they do the cleaning and get this dress out of my site and out of my closet is worth the rental fee to me.

  • Thanks for chiming in! I think it’s interesting how you went the more traditional route, but would actually choose the more practical option in retrospect. Although I can’t really talk about practicality in all respects; I’m choosing to spend money on flowers knowing they’ll die in a day or two.

    Rent the Runway is really a great resource. I feel like retailers are getting smarter about people’s needs nowadays, as I’m noticing that more and more high street brands are coming out with their own bridal lines, offering much more affordable options that still look good.

    I think having a baby gets you a free pass for not cleaning the dress!