It may only be worn once but a wedding dress is likely to be the most expensive item of clothing a woman will ever buy.
It is usually one of the big-ticket items on the wedding budget with most Irish women shelling out an average of €1,500 for her guna.
When it came to buying my wedding dress I discovered I have champagne tastes but unfortunately we were on a bucks-fizz budget. In one of the first bridal boutiques I went to, the shop assistant looked at me like I was from another planet when I told her not only was I on a tight budget but was also getting married in less than four months. Apparently no one in their right mind would try to organise a wedding in four months and there was no way I would have a dress in such a short time on such a small budget. It would take at least six months, or else I would have to pay extra on top of their way-over-my budget prices to have it on time.
Disappointed but undeterred I checked out other options. A friend suggested sample sales. Usually around once a year some designer and bridal shops have sample sales to clear out their stock at reduced prices to make room for the next season's merchandise. Luckily Vera Wang in Selfridges London had a sample sale scheduled and was advertising discounts of up to 80pc. Armed with my credit card I got an early morning flight to London ready to do battle with other determined brides to be.
The sale was any bride's fantasy, a room full of floaty, beautiful designer gowns for a fraction of their original price. After trawling through most of the shop, I found it, the dress. A beautiful full-length chiffon gown with a fabulously reduced price tag to match. Not only had I nabbed a dress by one of the world's top designers, but it also was just about within my limited budget.
As I found your dream dress does not need to necessitate re-mortgaging your home. There are many options available to brides on a budget. With a bit of time and imagination you can find a dress that is perfect for you, and often totally unique, for a fraction of the price of designer boutiques.
Most bridal boutiques have sample sales at various times of the year. Vera Wang, including the shop in Brown Thomas, Dublin, usually hold sample sales twice a year when they clear out their stock for the next season's arrivals. Dresses can be reduced by as much as 80pc. Other bridal shops such as Myrtle Ivory in Dublin also hold sample sales from time to time. It is worth asking up-market bridal shops if and when they hold their sample sales to try to grab a bargain.
With most sample sales, while some dresses are new, many are ex-display models and may be slightly soiled or damaged. Often they can be returned to new with a bit of dry cleaning. However, do be careful to check every inch of the dress before you for damage before you hand over your money, often there are no refunds on sample dresses. Also it is worth remembering that while you may be getting a bargain on the dress you may also have to factor in alterations and dry cleaning which can add a couple of hundred euro extra onto the price.
Many bridal boutiques advertise their sample sales on the forums on www.weddingsonline.ie
From Monsoon to Marks and Spencer, many high-street shops are now offering off-the-peg wedding dresses. They are beautiful dresses for a fraction of the cost of a dress from bridal boutique. High-street dresses are a good option for brides on a tight timescale as there is no waiting period, unlike expensive bridal boutiques where the dresses can take up to eight months to order. High-street dress prices usually start at around €200. They are usually well designed and look more expensive than their budget friendly price tag. Many creative budget brides buy their dress on the high street and then take it to a tailor to customize it so it is a unique creation.
Marks and Spencer
Why not have the dress as your something old. Vintage has become a popular fashion trend the last few years. Vintage bridal dresses are usually one offs, you can guarantee you won't see another one on the pages of bridal magazines. They tend to be cheaper than designer modern dresses but the quality of the fabric and designs are excellent.
The Goddess Room
A charity shop could be the place to shop if you are a bride with a conscience. Some charity shops now offer a bridal service while Oxfam and Barnardos both have dedicated bridal shops. Most of the wedding dresses they stock are new and have been donated by boutiques and designers. The shops are just like any other bridal boutiques with the same level of service. Appointments must be made in advance and staff are always on hand to help with advice and sizes. This is an option that is becoming more and more popular with Saturday appointments often booked up as much as a month in advance.
Not only are the dresses a bargain but all profits go to a good cause. The average price of a dress is €250, which can buy two families a goat, a vegetable garden along with school books and musical instruments. The shops also stock bridal accessories and bridesmaid dresses.
Oxfam, Wicklow House, George's Street, Dublin 2.
Barnardos, George's street, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin and Barnardos Bridal Room and Boutique, 48 Dublin Street, Carlow.