Friday, December 30, 2011

Budgeting: The Dress

So, a budgetary set-back right at the start, but a counter-balanced budgetary win!

I'm going to start with the set-back, because this IS a blog, and I want people to know how my fiance and I worked through things (real-time). So, the groom's attire - that's worth putting in here at the start.

Groom's Attire - Warnings and Helpful Tips

It turns out that my fiance's dress blues are going to cost approximately $700 when all is said and done. Oh, dear. Now, I realize that we'll need to get these whether or not there's a wedding, so maybe it's not an expense I factor entirely in (say, $350? Is that cheating?), but still, when all is said and done, it's money we're spending. So take note, women (and men) in military weddings!

For those of you NOT in a military wedding, a piece of advice:

  • Instead of renting a tuxedo, try buying one used. Chances are, a used tux will, first of all, be cheaper, and will, second, fit better. Cheaper and classier, what could be better?

The Dress - My Story

Now, on to the dress. I had honestly hoped to come out of this with a dress under $500. I saw prices online, I looked at David's Bridal and other such stores, and I looked at consignment bridal shops.

After my first run through, I came out with a front-runner - a $700 dress. Yes, that was consignment. And I would have to have the dress altered. And then pressed and cleaned. And then shipped. And then probably cleaned again. I was now running about $1000 on the dress, double my budget, and with the aforementioned $700 dress blues showing up to the party as well. I had no idea what to do.

In my case, the pain passed relatively quickly - I simply decided that no dress was worth $1000 to me. With that in the forefront of my mind, I started looking again and found an amazing dress for $450, very well-made, new, and something that I can hopefully dye and use again later!

The Dress - Cautionary Words

For what it's worth, here is my advice: beware of reference points. It's a principle of economics, but it's very applicable to non-academic spheres of life, and you've probably already noticed it. Here's how it works: you see an item, and a price, and you measure every similar product against that one, and this can work either for you or against you.

How, you ask? Well, if you wander into a store and look at the clearance rack, seeing rows of $150 dresses, and then the saleswoman shows you a $4000 dress, you're likely to feel that one in your gut when you look at the price tag. But if the first dresses you see are $4000, and then you look at $2000 dresses, you may end up feeling like $2000 is a relative steal, even if you had sworn you wouldn't spend more than $800 on your dress.

"Oh, god, how do I avoid this?" Pretty simple. First, look only at dresses in your price range, and make very sure that the first few you look at are all in the same price range. Second, before you buy anything, go home and take a day to consider it. It's easy to get swept up in things! Take the time to clear your head, and make the decision when you're not surrounded by sparkly ballgowns.

Some Other Advice (Not All Budget-Related):

  • Set your dress budget first! Before anything else, set your dress budget. This may be a range. Think (and talk to your fiance) about what will happen if you absolutely, positively fall in love with a dress that's out of your budget.

  • Shop Consignment Before Boutique - search for well-reviewed consignment shops in your area. These shops have dresses that may be used, sample, bought-but-never-worn, or liquidation from other stores. A good consignment shop will be picky about what they take, and will have had the dresses cleaned; they will also probably have their own alterations staff.

  • Take Suggestions - at the first shop I went to, the saleswoman picked out a few dresses for me to try on, and one was the quintessential "princess dress," ballgown skirt, embellished bodice, and all. I had really not wanted this type of dress, but I tried it on and I have to say it looked good. Did I go with it? No. But you may look absolutely stunning in something you thought you could never pull off. Knowing that the final decision will be yours, let people suggest things - you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

  • Consider the Cost (and Effect) of Alterations - almost any dress you try will need to be altered. Consider this at the start, and factor it into your budget. Ask the saleswoman what type of alterations she thinks you would need, and ask for a rough estimate of cost for those alterations. Most of mine were in the $100 range. Also consider the effect of these changes: I will be adding a sash, bustle, and seam tuck to my dress - it will look different in silhouette and effect than the dress I tried on.

  • Sleep on It - if your dress isn't a one-of-a-kind (or if you think you can live without it; more on that below), go home and consider it. Ask if you can take a picture. Think about the cost, think about what it means to you. Whether or not it's in your budget range, it's a big purchase. Chances are, it will still be there tomorrow and you will have a clearer head.

  • Consider That You Might Not Find "The Dress" - my friends told me that I would find the perfect dress and burst into tears and instantly know it was The One. Let me share my feelings on this, and as with all advice, know that you don't have to take it! You might not find that dress. Or you might, but you might not be the type to get emotional over a piece of clothing. Or you might be so stressed you can't think straight. But, honestly? There are many dresses that will look wonderful on you. You will be glowing with joy on your wedding day, and you will look beautiful! It may be worth it to you to say, "This dress looks wonderful on me. There may be one out there that looks better, but it's worth it to me to know I have the dress and I don't have to worry about it anymore." (And yes. I did get a bit teary-eyed right before I decided on my dress. I didn't see that coming.)

  • Also, are you sure you want a white dress? Consider other options! You are in no way obligated to wear white, or even a dress at all!

  • Look In Unexpected (High End) Places - after all that budget hunting, I found my dress at Nordstrom's. Did they have expensive dresses? They sure did. But I picked dresses at random from the racks and ended up with 5 under $500 and one over $1000. The dresses were well-made, of better fabrics than I saw at boutiques, and Nordstrom's arranged to find one of the only THREE in the U.S. in my size, and then have it shipped to me at no cost. How amazing is that?
You will see other lists exhorting you to try vintage stores, bridesmaid gowns, etc - listen to these, too! Remember to be patient - it is highly unlikely that only ONE dress will look beautiful on you, and, as my mother reminded me, "you could wear torn jeans and a sweatshirt and your fiance would be starry-eyed."

In short? Pick something that makes you feel beautiful and won't fill you with guilt. "Guilt-ridden" is not the optimal wedding emotion!


  1. "For what it's worth, here is my advice: beware of reference points. It's a principle of economics, but it's very applicable to non-academic spheres of life.."
    Did you study Economics, or something related to it, by any chance? I only ask because I'm getting a PhD in Economics myself :)
    Also, a friend of mine is making my dress!! Even if she weren't I could never bring myself to spend thousands of dollars in a dress. Even for a wedding. I would've definitely checked alternative options!

    1. I did! I studied Economics in college, and melded it with my passion for Psychology and Neuroscience. I love the intersect of the wide view and the statistics, and all of it!

      You are so lucky to have a friend nearby who can do that! You should post pictures - maybe submit a post to APW?