How to buy a budget wedding dress

How to buy a budget wedding dress

Weddings are expensive!

When Grumpy Dad proposed in June one of my main concerns, once I stopped staring at my engagement ring, was the cost of the wedding. I knew that weddings were expensive but when I found out that the average wedding now costs £20k I just couldn’t believe it!

Grumpy Dad and I don’t want to spend anything like that amount so over the next few months I will be sharing ideas and tips on how I have been keeping the cost of our wedding down to a less scary figure. This post is all about the most important wedding purchase (in my very bias opinion), the wedding dress.

Buying a wedding dress without re-mortgaging

The average cost of a wedding dress is now well over £1k which is a sizable investment for a dress which is only intended to be worn once. Most women go crazy about their dress long before they consider any of the practical logistics of a wedding and while I admit I was Googling wedding dresses before my engagement ring had settled on my finger, there was no way I would be spending even half of the average dress price.

Before I set out on my dress hunt I set myself a tight budget of £200. I really do recommend you do this before even looking at a dress, as once you have the perfect gown zipped up there is a good chance that you will forget all of your good intentions and spend a fortune.

The next step was to researching budget dress options online. There are a few and that are worth thinking about.

How to buy a budget wedding dress


If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you will be priced out of normal bridal shops, however if you have a budget of around £500 you may still find a dress at Wed2B. This was the only wedding dress shop that I visited during my search, and that was only to try on different styles.

Wed2B isn’t your usual bridal shop, it’s more like a factory outlet. All of their wedding gowns are off the peg, but this means that there are dozens of dresses in different sizes just waiting for you to try them on and take them away the same day.

If you have the budget I would recommend you take a trip to your nearest outlet to see what that can offer. You can find their locations on the Wed2B website

Chinese Gowns

Another popular option is ordering a dress from China. There are hundreds of websites selling Chinese copies of designer dresses. You may well end up on one of them without even realising it if you’re searching for a budget dress. The giveaway is always the pictures of a £2,000 dresses being sold for £120.

A good rule of thumb with these sites is, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”. The internet is saturated with horror stories about cheap dresses bought from China, so I recommend extreme caution. If you do choose to take a chance on one of these sites make sure you have enough time and money available to start over if it all goes wrong.

Second Hand

The final option for a budget dress is simply to buy one second hand. There are lots of options for doing this such as eBay, Facebook marketplace, Preloved, or Gumtree, and there are also a number of specialist sites which only sell second hand wedding dresses. Although you are lightly to pay more if you use the latter option.

One of the biggest drawbacks of this method of buying a dress is that you are often buying based on a photo which can result in you getting a dress which doesn’t suit you. I ended up buying two dresses for exactly this reason, but on the bright side, dresses are fairly easy to sell on if you change your mind.

When you buy a second hand dress you would be forgiven for thinking that this means they have been worn to a wedding, but in reality, there are three types of dress you will come across often while searching.

How to buy a budget wedding dress

Used Dresses

A used dress is exactly what you would expect of a second hand dress. Someone has bought the dress and worn it to their wedding. A good used dress will have been dry cleaned and correctly stored after the wedding, but may still have some damage such as missing sequins or a torn hem. You should remember when considering buying a used dress that although it was only worn for one day, it was worn by someone who was completely unused to wearing a gown or having a train, and that person was probably surrounded by very drunk people trying to get her to join a conga line.

In addition to the good used dresses out there, there are also a lot of awful used dresses. If an advert says that the dress hasn’t been dry cleaned it would be wise to run a mile unless the dress is a) an absolute steal, and/or b) a particular dress that you have your heart set on but cannot afford any other way.

Dry cleaning of a wedding dress could set you back £100 or more and if the previous owner hasn’t had it cleaned, there may be some irremovable stains which would make the dress fairly useless and almost impossible to sell. I also suspect that if the bride didn’t take care of the dress after their wedding, they likely didn’t take care of it during either.

My recommendation is that unless the dress really is something truly special, you pass on used dresses as there are better options.

Ex-Display Dresses

Essentially an ex-display dress was used as a sample for prospective brides to look at and try on in a bridal boutique. It’s rare for wedding dresses to be bought off the peg, so once a season is over and the boutique discontinues a design, they often sell the display dress at a highly discounted rate.

There are a lot of ex-display dresses online and they can be a fantastic way to get your hands on a designer dress for a fraction of the normal price. There are however a few down sides. Most ex-display dresses will be between sizes 12 and 16, so if you’re outside of this range you may be out of luck. Ex-display dresses can also have some minor damage, as although the dresses will have only been worn inside the boutique for a few minutes at a time, they may have been tried on by hundreds of people. That’s hundreds of opportunities for zips to break, seams to rip, hems to tear, and embellishments to be damaged.

Ex-display dresses can be a gold mine of opportunity, but make sure you carefully read the details of any damage and ask questions if anything sounds vague. If at all possible, you should view the dress before buying just in case, and be prepared for some marks on the inside from all the sweaty people who have squeezed into it.

Bad Luck Dresses

In my view these are the Holy Grail of budget dress shopping. Bad luck dresses are brand new dresses which have never been worn because the wedding was cancelled.

There are a lot of superstitions around weddings and as a result there are a lot of women wouldn’t touch a bad luck dress with a 10ft barge pole! To those women, all I can say is “more fool you!”. A bad luck dress will often cost a fraction of the retail price despite being brand new and possibly unaltered. If you find one of these within your budget and in the correct size and style, my advice to you is buy it as quickly as possible!

How to buy a budget wedding dress

My Experience

When I decided to buy a second hand dress I was both scared and excited. Choosing a wedding dress is a big decision as it is, but add the wild card of not knowing what you might get and it becomes a little terrifying.

In the end, I bought not one, but two wedding dresses.

Dress one was an ex-display dress being sold on Facebook Marketplace. The pictures of the dress showed it as a lacey A-line, with lace shoulder straps and a diamante belt. I loved it. I negotiated a price and went to pick it up. Unfortunately the dress I collected wasn’t quite what I expected. It was a ex-display, lacey, A-line gown, that much was true, but as it turned out the shoulder straps and diamante belt belonged to the bridal shop and were not included in the sale. This was very disappointing as I had my heart set on a sleeveless dress rather than a strapless one.

Despite the confusion I bought the dress as I had negotiated a price of £70 and knew that if I found something better I could sell it without losing money. Incidentally, I did sell it two months later for a small profit.

Dress two was a sleeveless empire line with beautiful beadwork, which I bought from eBay. It is the perfect dress for me and as it is a bad luck dress, it’s in pristine condition! Including postage it cost £160 which was well within my budget and I also know that it is still on sale at Wed2B for £469, meaning that I saved £309 on a brand new dress!

Advice and Tips

Buying a second hand wedding dress can be a bit nerve wracking so here are a few things for you to consider before you take the plunge.

Before you think about buying on-line go to a bridal shop and try on a wide variety of wedding dress cuts. Most people have very definite ideas about the style of wedding dress they want, but often they find that the dress they think they want isn’t the one that looks best on. Try to find out what suits you before settling on your perfect style.

Find out how much it would cost to dry clean a wedding dress in your area. This way you can factor in the cost, should you be blown away by a dress that will need to be cleaned.

Be prepared for the possibility that you will need to buy more than one dress. As you will likely be buying at a distance there’s a chance the dress won’t be what you expected when it arrives. If that’s the case you may find yourself selling it and trying again so ensure you leave yourself enough time.

If you’re buying a dress which may have been altered, make sure it will be long enough. At 5’2” I didn’t have to worry about this one, but if you’re taller this will be something to look out for.

When you decide what size dress you want to buy, remember that wedding dresses usually work out to be a size smaller than their ticket suggests. So, if you’re a size 14 you will need at least a size 16 wedding dress.

Bear in mind that you may need to buy a petticoat to go under the dress. Some have these built in, others don’t, and some just need them if you want your gown to have a little more oomph!


Did you buy a budget wedding dress? Please share your story and any tips you may have picked up along the way.

Your wedding gown is the most important dress you will ever wear, but what if you don't have the money for a big budget boutique? Find out how this bride bought the perfect dress without spending a fortune!

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