HERE COMES THE BARGAIN
Surprised to see a high-end department store on the list? Nordstrom stocks wedding dresses for all budgets, from under $200 to over $5,000. The selection is thinner under $500, but there are some stylish picks for brides going for a casual or bohemian vibe. Looking in the $500 to $1,000 range reveals many more options.
What we'd buy: The lacy Foxiedox August Shoulder Tie Lace Maxi Dress, perfect for a garden wedding.
Can you return it? Yes. Nordstrom is legendarily generous with returns, and there is no formal time limit. Still, special-occasion dresses must have original tags attached. Returns can be made at Nordstrom stores or by mail using prepaid return labels.
A relatively new player in the wedding world, Azazie carries more than 100 dresses under $500 in sizes 0 to 30. Styles range from casual to more traditional, full-skirt dresses with ornate beading. For $25, they'll send samples of certain dresses so you can try them on, helping alleviate worries about quality or fit.
What we'd buy: The floaty organza Azazie Farrah BG, with a classic silhouette suitable for just about any venue.
Can you return it? If it's a custom order, no. For standard-size dresses, yes, but they must be returned within 10 days in their original condition with tags still attached. The customer is responsible for return shipping fees.
The bridal arm of quirky cult favorite Anthropologie, BHLDN has a surprisingly robust collection of gowns under $500. Of course you'll find flowy boho looks, but also classic sheaths and even some mix-and-match wedding separates that let you customize your look for less.
What we'd buy: The Jill Jill Stuart Kennedy Gown, with its plunging V-neck, sleek A-line, and slight blush color.
Can you return it? Yes, dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 30 days. Prepaid return labels are included.
You can't talk about inexpensive wedding dresses without mentioning David's Bridal. The website shows hundreds of styles under $500 in all silhouettes: A-line, sheath, ball gown, and trumpet. Even better, all sizes are available, from petite to plus, and many dresses are available at locations nationwide for in-store try-ons.
What we'd buy: The simple David's Bridal Collection Pleated Strapless Dress with Empire Waist, which can be accessorized with a beaded belt or a dramatic veil.
Can you return it? Dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 28 days, but a dress purchased online can't be returned to a David's Bridal store, and you're on the hook for the cost of shipping it back.
London-based ASOS currently stocks more than two dozen wedding dresses, including several styles under $300. The choices lean toward youthful, casual, and funky. There are a handful of plus-size and tall dresses, too.
What we'd buy: The ASOS Edition Wedding Maxi Dress in Soft Jacquard with Flutter Sleeve, which manages to be modern and modest at the same time.
Can you return it? Yes, dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 28 days. Prepaid return labels are included with shipments.
As its name suggests, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com gives brides a chance to score a gown worn just once for much less than it would cost new. When we looked, the site had more than 7,000 dresses for less than $500 in a range of styles and sizes from designers including Maggie Sottero, Pronovias, Watters, and Casablanca.
What we'd buy: A professionally preserved Christos gown, the Juliet, with a flattering empire waist and gorgeous sleeves.
Price: $299 (retail: $4,500)
Can you return it? It depends. The policy is up to the individual seller, so be sure to check before you buy.
Although Bloomingdale's marks its bridal selection as being for "the bride to be" attending a pre-wedding event such as a bridal shower, any woman looking for a short or casual wedding dress would do well to take a look. Most selections are under $250, and they run the gamut from flouncy and fun to sleek and modern.
What we'd buy: The Aqua Botanical Lace Applique Midi Dress, a sweet and simple pick for a casual outdoor wedding.
Can you return it? Yes, and you get a whole year to do it. However, dresses need to be in their original condition with tags still attached. Bloomingdale's accepts in-store returns, but if there's no store nearby, you can print out a prepaid shipping label online.
Budget-minded brides who love throwback fashion should make a point of checking out ModCloth. Highlights include plenty of swingy short dresses with a '50s feel, as well as some longer, more bohemian styles. Most dresses are under $300, and several come in sizes up to 26.
What we'd buy: The Chi Chi London Sparkling Celebration Maxi Dress paired with a birdcage veil and a bold pair of pumps for a vintage-inspired look.
Can you return it? Yes, you can return a dress in its original, unworn condition for up to 30 days if you want a full refund, or up to 90 days for an exchange. Shipping is free with a prepaid return label.
BCBG's wedding shop has playful, modern dresses suited for casual weddings, rehearsal dinners, or quick changes after the ceremony. Most dresses range from $200 to $500. There are also plenty of dresses suitable for bridesmaids.
What we'd buy: The Alyce Strapless Lace Gown, which fuses the fun of a short dress with the traditional look of a longer trumpet-style gown.
Can you return it? Yes, you can return a dress in its original, unworn condition for up to 30 days. A return shipping fee will be deducted from your refund.
The selection of budget-friendly used wedding dresses at Once Wed isn't as impressive as the offerings on some other secondhand sites, but we still found more than 200 dresses in a variety of styles under $500.
What we'd buy: The gorgeous floral-applique Oleg Cassini CWG464 brand-new with the tags still on.
Price: $350 (retail: $999)
Can you return it? It depends. It's up to each dress seller to set a return policy, so be sure to check before you buy.
BEST BRIDAL PRICES
The online arm of Frew's Bridal, a large bridal shop near St. Louis, Best Bridal Prices is an authorized reseller of major designers, and there are more than 150 choices under the $600 mark. The company even throws in free shoes and veils in some cases. Just be sure to allow plenty of time for production, which can take several months.
What we'd buy: The satin and tulle Mori Lee 6831. That voluminous skirt should satisfy any traditional bride.
Price: $549 (a bit above budget, but it's hard to find a ball gown for under $500)
Can you return it? You can return a non-special-order dress in its original, unworn condition, but you have only three days from the time you receive the dress. You'll also be hit with a 50 percent restocking fee and have to pay return shipping.
HOUSE OF BRIDES COUTURE
House of Brides is the online arm of several bricks-and-mortar bridal shops in Chicago. About 200 styles from labels including Mori Lee and DaVinci are listed under $600. Again, you'll have to account for production time, anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks depending on the gown.
What we'd buy: The strapless DaVinci 8251. Its ruched bodice and A-line skirt are bound to flatter a wide range of figures.
Can you return it? No; most gowns are special order. Dresses that were in stock for immediate delivery can be returned within five days for online credit if they're in their unworn, original condition with tags attached. Buyers are on the hook for return shipping.
Macy's carries more than two dozen bridal gowns from Adrianna Papell ranging from around $200 to $500. Although most are best suited for casual or second-time brides, a handful have slightly fuller silhouettes or a more formal vibe.
What we'd buy: The Adrianna Papell Embroidered Taffeta High-Low Gown, the perfect dress for showing off a fabulous pair of shoes. A damask bodice and bow sash add interest.
Can you return it? Yes, dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 60 days. You can return a dress to a local Macy's store or print out a prepaid label for free return shipping.
Some of the gowns in the Dillard's bridal section seem more appropriate for the mother of the bride, but there are a handful of gems that could work for a less formal ceremony. Gowns range from around $100 to $750.
What we'd buy: The Carmen Marc Valvo Off-the-Shoulder Embroidered Gown. The intricate floral details mesh perfectly with the elegant neckline.
Can you return it? Yes, dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 30 days to any Dillard's store. They can also be mailed back, but you have to pay shipping.
Secondhand dress site Stillwhite trumpets that it's the "world's largest wedding dress marketplace." Whether or not that's true, there were more than 7,000 options under $500 when we looked, including some brand-new sample dresses. Check the seller's location — we ran across some listings from sellers in the United Kingdom, which could make shipping more of a hassle.
What we'd buy: A new Alfred Angelo 2243. It has an intricate bodice with plenty of lace and beadwork, plus a full tulle skirt.
Price: $460 (retail: $1,000)
Can you return it? Nope (although, as the site notes, you can turn around and sell the dress yourself if it doesn't work out). Buyers who use PayPal do get buyer protection for up to $20,000 if the dress is defective, different than described, or lost in the mail.
You can have just about everything made through Etsy, and wedding dresses are no exception. While prices run the gamut, they're typically lower than you'd find at a bridal boutique. Of course, prospective brides should scour the reviews of prospective designers before committing.
What we'd buy: The Cori design from Etsy shop TheBride2B. With romantic lace cap sleeves, a floaty chiffon skirt, and an elegant bare back, it would be at home on the beach or in a garden.
Can you return it? It depends, but it's rare for custom orders to be returnable. Each Etsy shop sets its own policy, so be sure to check before you buy.
Dessy is typically a go-to source for bridesmaids' dresses rather than bridal gowns. But hundreds of the dresses come in white and ivory, and it's hard to imagine that anyone would be able to tell the difference. Even better: The most expensive gowns are only around $300, and they come in sizes up to 30W.
What we'd buy: The sateen Alfred Sung D748, a perfect pick for a budget-conscious bride who loves all things chic and simple. It comes in both ivory and true white.
Can you return it? In-stock dresses can be returned in their original condition with tags still attached within 30 days. For special orders, no returns are allowed.
Aptly named White Runway has more than four dozen dresses under $500 that range from sleek and edgy to romantic and traditional. Most dresses can be made to order, while others are in stock and ready to ship right away.
What we'd buy: The Sofia Cali Martinique, a study in bridal sophistication featuring flared sleeves, a plunging V-neck, and a fitted skirt with a high slit.
Can you return it? Most in-stock dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 14 days, but the return shipping costs are your responsibility. Returns of custom orders are subject to a 50 percent restocking fee.
Better known for low prices on shoes and handbags, 6pm has a surprisingly large collection of budget-friendly, wedding-ready dresses. Brides should take a look especially for short dresses, as there are a ton of flirty styles with higher hemlines for under $100. Sizes can be limited here, however.
What we'd buy: The Adrianna Papell Shutter Tuck Lace Sheath for a casual courthouse wedding or a wardrobe change when you're ready to shed a more formal dress and hit the dance floor.
Can you return it? Yes, dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 30 days, but you are responsible for return shipping charges.
Lulus has tons of very budget-friendly white dresses, from floor-length gowns to short dresses. The styles definitely skew younger, but it's hard to beat the prices, with plenty of options around $100 to $200.
What we'd buy: Kate Middleton's long-sleeve look for under $100 (what?!). The crocheted lace sleeves on the Awaken My Love Long Sleeve Lace Maxi Dress give it a timeless quality and an open back keeps it contemporary.
Can you return it? Yes, dresses in their original condition with tags still attached can be returned within 30 days, but if you don't want to pay for return shipping, you have only 10 days.