Searching for the perfect wedding dress can be a tumultuous saga; how often does your heart align with your budget? But before you settle for second best to appease your bank account, consider the big picture...
Wedding dress shopping is a real-life meme. In the Instagram version, you and your #bridetribe pose for a picture with a chalkboard that says “I Said Yes To The Dress!” in perfect script. In reality, there’s no photo to commemorate the day because you’re emotionally drained, financially overwhelmed, and in dire need of tequila. Or maybe that was just my experience.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ll always remember how it felt to see myself wearing The One for the first time. Months before, I’d gone down a Pinterest rabbit hole searching for details on a dress I’d pinned and couldn’t stop thinking about. It turned out that the designer was French, and had just opened an atelier in Manhattan. I could see myself wearing her entire collection, and more importantly, my budget fell within the lower half of her price range.
As soon as I was engaged, I made an appointment at her showroom. But I didn’t make a final decision until a few weeks after my visit. I wanted logic to prevail; the dress I loved was double my original budget, and $1,500 over my topline. I knew nothing would compare, but I couldn’t reconcile spending that much on a piece of clothing—nonetheless something I’d wear once. Popular culture makes it seem like choosing a dress is the single-most decisive moment in your life. In reality, there’s a thousand things weighing on your mind, and the price tag is usually the heaviest of them all.
If The Dress Fits, Wear It
Countless articles offer guidance when it comes to budgeting for your dress. Some suggest allocating 10 percent of your overall budget; others use the national average ($1,564) as a guideline. Many will encourage you to scour sample sales and stake out trunk shows to secure your dream dress. But unless you’re Monica Geller, the duress created by those high-pressure situations is sure to result in buyer’s remorse.
The truth is that there’s no right or wrong amount to spend on a dress. It’s your wedding; the price of what you wear is your prerogative. Sure, you’ll raise eyebrows showing up to city hall in a custom Valentino gown because you couldn’t afford a venue. But you know the limitations of your budget; you know what you value most on your wedding day; and you probably realize that when you look back in 25 years, you’re more likely to regret settling than spending $1,500 more for the perfect dress.
Exhaust Every Option
That conclusion informed my ultimate decision. But before I realized it, I purchased a (returnable) alternative from BHLDN and combed the internet for similar but more affordable options.
I found a few artisans on Etsy who made knock-offs of my designer, but I felt guilty ripping her off. The seamstress I consulted about alterations for the alternate dress also offered to remake the original one, but I politely declined. After compiling a list of designers with a similar aesthetic, I called around to get an idea of price points, but they were in the same range or more expensive. Finally, I found a studio in New York City that specialized in French designers, and had a few samples from mine on sale. I decided to give it one final shot before giving up on her completely.
Do the Math
I wound up finding a sample I liked, but didn’t love. Plus, it had light wear and tear and needed a thorough cleaning. Because of the delicate silk and lace detailing, it’d likely cost a few hundred dollars to dry clean. Alterations would be pricey, too; I’d need someone who specialized in French seams and could work with lace. The sample was the same price as the alternate dress, but with the additional costs, it could wind up being close to $1,500 more—my lucky number, apparently.
I could either settle for the gown within my budget, take a gamble on the sample, or risk regretting splurging on my dream dress. I decided to risk it.
Risk vs. Reward
It was an emotional decision backed by logical rationale. The BHLDN gown was being discontinued; if I wanted to sell it after the wedding, I’d likely recoup only a few hundred dollars. The designer of my dream dress, however, is an up-and-coming name, and I can easily make more than the difference selling it after the wedding on sites like Still White and Once Wed. And in the big scheme, is my happiness worth $1,500? Absolutely.