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My Experience Buying A One-Of-A-Kind Wedding Dress For $550 + How You Can Too

You don't have to spend $3000 on a wedding dress - here's what I learned from finding my one-of-a-kind dress for less.

One of a kind wedding dresses.
updated on:
March 2, 2023

I am SO excited to write today's post!!!

I am getting married later this year and right after I got engaged, I quickly organized an outing with my family and bridesmaids to go try on wedding dresses. While I had dreamed about "the dress moment", I quickly learned that finding your perfect dress doesn't always happen right away.

First of all, I was hit with sticker shock. Most salons I was interested in going to had a minimum dress price of $2000. When I was growing up I remember my mom telling me "I got my wedding dress for $250!" I would always think to myself, well surely $250 in the 80s was the equivalent to $2500 in modern day money. But the reality of spending that much money on a dress I am going to wear once started to sink in.

Believe me, I am not one to be cheap about things, but I always say I'm more than willing to pay what something is reasonably worth. I started to think about other places in my budget that I would rather spend more money on (photography, florals, etc.) and I began to question if going to a regular bridal salon was the only option...

Secondly, it bothered me that the only way to get an actually unique dress was to either pay to have a dress made custom, or to buy a $20,000 Vivienne Westwood vintage couture gown. Seriously, Vogue weddings will be the death of me.

I obviously agree that a wedding dress is special, and I am all for feeling your absolute best on your wedding day, but I am here to tell you some super easy tricks to getting a one-of-a-kind wedding dress for less - and no I'm not talking about heading to Goodwill (although you might get lucky!).

This post is all about one of a kind wedding dresses.

Wedding dress stress ($$$)

Let me first start off by saying that budgets are all relative. For some brides, $10,000 is too much while for others $100 is too much. My personal experience is that my budget technically could have supported a $2000 to $3000 dress, but I fundamentally was having trouble justifying buying a dress for thousands of dollars that will inevitably sit in my closet for years to come.

Whatever your budget, I think all brides feel at some point in the wedding planning process that weddings are getting too expensive. At some point you have to ask yourself how much you're willing to spend on one night. If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you be willing to throw down $100k for a wedding? For some people the answer is yes, but for me, I feel like you could put that money towards a house or a car.

Believe me, I totally see the value of having a nice wedding with your family and friends, and it's definitely an investment, but I just think people have gotten a little bit carried away. I have even gotten carried away with the process of my own wedding, but something about the prices of wedding dresses really bothered me.

I totally respect that wedding dresses have a certain level of craftsmanship to them, beautiful fabrics, and strategic design, but just because something has a high price tag does not automatically make it better than other dresses. My logic went, "If I can spend a little less on my dress, maybe the rest of the budget can go towards something fun that everyone can enjoy at the wedding."

That being said, I was also struggling with the idea that you spend so much money on a wedding dress, have to pay taxes on it, still need to get it altered, and after all of that being said and done, the likelihood that another bride will have your dress is pretty high. Especially with some of the boutiques that I was going to, there wasn't endless inventory like I expected there to be (I blame Say Yes To The Dress...). The odds that I could see a bunch of other brides showing up to their weddings before my wedding day in my same dress sort of panicked me.

Plus, you're in a complete rat race of wedding dress regret due to the fact that wedding dress designers are always coming out with the newest and hottest designs, which don't hit bridal salons until a few months later and which you're supposed to order a year before your wedding. I mean, I feel like it's kind of a crazy ask for brides to deal with - and seeing tons of weddings via social media doesn't help!

Life is all about balance, but in the back of my head I felt like I could find an amazing gown for $500. I've never paid $500 for a dress in my life and I felt that was a good amount to where the dress would be special, but not worth 2 months rent.

I will, however, disclaim that I am someone who prefers finding a pair of gently used vintage Manolo Blahniks to a brand new pair out of the box. The idea that I can give something new life, have a unique item, and get a deal on it - what's not to love???

Let me explain a little bit more about my dress shopping experience.

Say no to the dress

Like I mentioned earlier, my first three appointments were scheduled by my Maid of Honor. I had just gotten engaged and sort of had an idea of what I wanted, but with a big purchase like a wedding dress, I think you'll be surprised by what you end up liking. That day was super overwhelming and I left feeling probably more confused than when I first walked in. I tried on ballgowns, beaded dresses, a-line frocks, and more. One of my biggest problems was that I didn't know where my wedding would be, I didn't know when, and I didn't really hate any of the styles I was trying on. I was stumped.

I felt that a lot of the dresses I was trying on were very "trendy" and that didn't necessarily feel like me. I wanted something timeless and unique. In the wedding world, trends come and go faster than in any other industry I've seen, and I wanted to stick to a dress that felt very "me" rather than something flashy. I wanted people to see me wearing a dress rather than the dress wearing me.

Another thing that was hard was the idea that this one dress must encapsulate your personal style and everything that you love. It must be the end-all-be-all. That's a lot of pressure! I think a wedding dress should really only have 2 qualities: it should make you feel good and it should have a little magic to it. That's all.

After my first experience, I decided to gear back up and narrow it down. I called a couple of salons because we had a free weekend. I didn't get into any of the places I was feeling super excited about, but I was still hopeful! I tried on a pretty simple crepe silk dress with buttons down the back and loved the way it felt on my body. They put me in a veil and gave me a bouquet and it totally hit me that I was getting married!

The only problem was, it was a sample and had a pretty noticeable snag in the front of the dress. I was feeling a little uneasy about it, so we walked away. Still with the snag and the issues with the dress, it was in the thousands as far as price. In retrospect, I'm glad I walked away from that dress.

After feeling a little bummed that a worn-out sample dress was still in the thousands, I decided to venture out and research some lower cost dresses. I did some research on vintage wedding dresses, and I found that a lot of them were under $500, but I didn't like that I couldn't go into a shop and try them on. With a wedding dress, I did sort of want the bridal experience where you try on a dress and get to have that *feeling*. Plus, I wouldn't be able to return the dress if it wasn't my size or giving me the feeling I wanted. It would be risky, and I ultimately decided that it would put too much pressure on me to like the gown since I couldn't return it.

Cue David's Bridal! Now, I know what you're thinking. I thought the same thing! And this story doesn't end the way you might think it does.

I made an appointment at David's Bridal and ended up having a lot of fun! It wasn't the most glamorous setup in there compared to some other salons, and their selection wasn't as large as others, but it honestly felt like less pressure. The dresses there started in the hundreds and went up to the low thousands. I found two dresses I liked, one a simple crepe off-the-shoulder gown which was a lot less than the damaged dress was, and another trendier style with drapey shoulders and 3D applique lace. I was absolutely shocked when the stylist said the crepe dress was $500.

In that moment, I was almost ready to say yes, but the stylist encouraged me to come back and order a little bit closer to my wedding date. This was another common theme that I seemed to experience, going to the expensive bridal salons you are required to order your dress 8-12 months in advance of your wedding date, but at David's Bridal, you don't have to start until 4-6 months before your wedding.

We walked out of David's Bridal honestly feeling a little confused that the stylist didn't try to close the sale, but I guess everything happens for a reason! Looking back, I am so thankful I didn't get that dress. I think the price really made me fall in love with it.

Another thing I would always notice a lot on Say Yes To The Dress was this idea of the "picky bride". I started to think maybe I was going to be that indecisive bride that everyone hates because she drags them to a million different salons. Well, I do have some thoughts about that.

You only get married once, and there is all this pressure to pick the dress of your dreams. Plus, they're basically asking you to put a down payment on a car in terms of $$$. I'm allowed to be a little picky. If you're the bride who found her wedding dress the very first day she looked, more power to you. But I have to say, the fittings go by so fast, I was glad I went to a variety of salons.

Of course as with anything, there is a line between being picky and selective, and it is my hope I was on the right side of that line.

After that experience, my mom encouraged me to take a little break from wedding dress shopping. We decided to focus more on nailing down the wedding date and venue and to try again in the new year. And that was the best decision!

In the new year I hit the wedding planning hard and I do have to say that the more you nail down in terms of wedding vibe, venue, and date, the more confident you will be in saying yes! Although your dream dress shouldn't really change depending on your venue, it does help a lot with the visualization of things.

I researched harder about unique wedding dresses. I had a bit of a breakthrough when I found a bridal shop in Utah that exclusively has vintage wedding gowns. You can go there and try things on, which was exactly what I was looking for. Problem was, I'm not from Utah! This brings me to another point in that yes there are salons that you can travel to (I wanted to go to Loho Bride in Los Angeles) but in my experience, it is so hard to look at a dress on Instagram or in a magazine and say "That's my dress!". Then you've traveled a bunch of miles just to try on dresses that might not even be what you actually want.

I just got worried that it would again put pressure on me to say yes if we traveled a whole bunch of miles or something. Plus, like I mentioned earlier, I was always surprised that a lot of gowns I tried on looked super different from the pictures in person.

I looked online into things like House of CB Bridal and Lulu's but was bummed about being shipped a dress to try on and sending back the ones I didn't want. I wanted to have a moment with my family for my memories.

I thought about hiring a seamstress to custom make my dress, but again, I think that is just the biggest risk ever! How are you going to know how it will look on, how it's going to feel, how it's going to fit? Maybe I'm just sometimes bad at visualization but I really didn't think I would have a clear enough idea what I wanted, especially when I was looking for more of a feeling than anything else.

Okay now for the exciting part. I started searching for similar bridal shops near me that might have vintage gowns or just more unique styles, and I found something amazing!

This is my official recommendation to the bridal shop where I got my dress if you live in Arizona:

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The magic moment

Don't Box It Bridals

That's right, a bridal consignment shop! I know what you're thinking, you don't want a used wedding dress! Well believe me, there is a total mix of different things there.

I mainly wanted to check it out because it got really great reviews but besides that I didn't know what to expect. You already know that I tried to stalk the Yelp photos and their Instagram was a little out of date so I honestly wasn't really sure of how many dresses there would be, or even what the price point was, but I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived!

I made an appointment online and told my mom and sister we were going to a bridal consignment shop and that I didn't really know if it was possible to find a dress there. I guess I just figured it would be based on their inventory at the time.

It may depend on your local consignment shop, but Don't Box It Bridals has everything from used dresses that have been dry cleaned to vintage dresses to samples to dresses that have never been worn. And keep in mind, this blog post is not sponsored! I just had such a great experience that I want other brides to know about it!

We walked in and the owner Krystal told us how it worked. Her store was so pretty with racks of dresses and so many amazing accessories it was like candy for the eyes! Basically she points you to which racks are your approximate size and lets you know what range you should sort of stick to so that alterations will be reasonable. She explained that she gets new dresses in all the time so if I didn't find a dress that day, she would keep me in mind for the future based on what I'm looking for.

She let us look through all the racks and immediately I found some that I was interested in. Not to mention I was delighted at the idea of trying on some vintage gowns. Then, we started the try on process. Krystal has an entire stage set up and works with you one-on-one. You're the only bride she is working with and you really feel like a princess when you're there.

I'm not kidding you, every dress I came out in was a contender. There was a super unique wedding dress with a really pretty flower on the side that was a slight bit too small on me. We really loved that one immediately. There was also one with the drapey shoulders and appliques (very popular right now) that we all thought was so romantic. And then there was THE one. Obviously I can't describe it to you here just yet (I'll come back and add photos, so make sure to subscribe to our newsletter) because it is so top secret I don't want anyone to know about it!

But it's so ME.

No other real way to describe it. But at the time, I was a little overwhelmed. We had tried on so many that we never expected to fall in love with, that we were kind of trying to figure out which dress was the right one. I think every dress I tried on there had a different piece of my personality in it. I even tried on an authentic vintage 60s wedding dress, which was so fun.

My heart was happy that I was having such a good experience, and we had tried on so many dresses that it was almost the next bride's appointment! I was running around trying to make a decision, but Krystal let me know that we could take a day to think about it, no pressure.

So we went home, and I was able to look at the pictures. And then it was clear which one was THE one!

My mom and I went back the next day and Krystal opened up the shop special for me. I tried on my favorite of the three dresses and started to feel really good. Another great thing about Krystal's shop is that she has a close relationship with a woman in alterations that works a few doors down, so she had her come by and confirm that the alterations I needed to be done to the dress were doable before even making a purchase. I got the green light and then it was time to jack me up!

And if you know me, you know that I live and breathe for a veil! Krystal was so sweet and let me try on a bunch of different veils in the shop. If you're just starting out in your bridal journey, one thing you will learn quickly is that veils can be a very large hidden cost. Most veils I was seeing at salons were at least $500. Krystal's veils were super reasonable!

I found the veil that made me feel the dreamiest and we were so excited! Krystal said she would hold the dress longer if I needed to think about it (no pressure) and I said nope! We'll take it!

We bought it and took it home that day. It's sitting in my brother's closet at home until the start of the summer when I will have my first fitting.

The story of my dress is that it was never worn. It's in great condition, and most consignors do a good job of not accepting any dresses with any major stains or rips or damage. Krystal also requires a full dry cleaning of the dress before it is consigned.

It was originally over $2000 brand new, and we purchased it for $550.

That's what I'm talking about! We also got my veil and blusher for $50 total.

I think for me the experience sort of combined everything I wanted. I was able to feel special, have a moment, find an amazing dress, support an independent business, and not break the bank doing so. It kind of showed me that you can find what you want within your budget if you are willing to look and be open to new things.

If you like this post you may enjoy this post: 17+ Wedding Chick Flicks To Watch With Your Girls After Getting Engaged

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A few commonly asked questions

How do alterations work?

My dress does require some alterations. We were quoted a couple hundred dollars. It needs some adjustments as well as a bustle and a hem. If I were to order the dress brand new, most likely I would have ordered it in the same size and needed to have the same alterations done. It's crazy because most girls I see need to have their brand new thousand dollar dresses altered anyways so I didn't see that as a negative.

Bridal consignment shops are not made-to-order, so you have to work with whatever size is in store. It's sort of like thrifting in that way. It does require a bit of luck. But I look at it this way - dresses in regular salons also require a bit of luck in that they need to be in your budget and everything you want too.

What if they don't have any dresses in my size and style?

It's totally possible that a bridal consignment store won't have the style or the size you have been looking for. But it's also possible at any salon! Most dresses can be altered to fit you within reason, so if you fall in love with a style, just make sure you meet with someone in alterations to confirm it will be possible to do what you want before buying.

Are consignment wedding dresses out of date?

The consignment store I went to only accepted a select number of vintage dresses and had the right to refuse dresses that appeared too out of date. It seemed like they had a lot of sample dresses as well as dresses that were semi-recent styles. This probably depends on the shop, but I wouldn't be too worried.

Is the dress I picked really one-of-a-kind if it's used?

Okay, touché. However, my dress was never worn or altered! It was purchased by a bride and she changed her mind! You can also find samples that were never worn to a wedding. My experience was that I had never seen my dress before! That doesn't mean I'm the only person who has ever worn it, but I feel like people are focused on all the brand new styles of dresses that no one will have mine!


Do you guys have any questions about getting a dress from a consignment store? Make sure to stay tuned to see which wedding dress I picked!

This post was all about unique wedding dresses vintage.

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