How do you get an expensive wedding dress for a fraction of the cost?

I get contacted frequently by brides wanting a bespoke or designer dress but can’t afford the price tag. I’m no snob and I’d much rather make a woman feel a million dollars than send her away. So I’ve found other ways to give them their dream dress which I want to share. You can buy a simple, preloved or sample dress and have it customised to your specific ideas.

Basic dress

The simplest option is to buy a simple dress and have it customised. I’ve done a number of dresses where the bride has bought a dress with no decoration on. Its been a plain bodice, skirt and petticoat number. These are the parts of the dress that are most time consuming for me to make. If you buy a dress for £200/300 thats saved you £100s. A bespoke dress to get to that point can cost £700/800 including fabric. Now that you have this simple dress, we can embellish it.

A wise person once told me keep your money above the waist. Lace is expensive so only using it on the bodice uses a metre maybe two compared to a full lace dress which uses 4 or 5 metres. Alternatively buying half a dozen appliques goes a long way.

I added laser cut beaded lace appliques to this plain tulle tea length dress. We only needed a few and it transformed the dress. The overall cost including alterations was under £500.

Any of these dresses could easily be created with a simple dress as your starter. Belts, sleeves, over sized bows, shoulder drapes, buttons, appliques and lace can be added to make it unique to you.

Want to know where to find a simple dress? Eva Rose Bridal has a rack of dresses waiting to be customised. Contact the boutique for more details.

Sample sale

Bridal boutiques such as my friends Eva Rose Bridal and The O Zone have sample sale racks groaning under the weight of dresses. Bridal boutiques will have a single sample dress in a particular design. This is for brides to try on to see if they want to reorder from this design. Once the dress isn’t being tried on anymore or the designer decides to discontinue a design, the boutique will sell off the dress at a reduced rate. I know some of these dresses start at a price as little as £300 and they were £1000+. Don’t think the boutiques will only buy a tiny size 10 either. They buy their dresses across the sizes as different dresses will suit different sizes. Watch a bridal boutique’s social media or website to see what dresses they are selling off. And once they open their doors again for appointments, make an appointment to have a look at their sale.

Just like the boutiques, I sell off my sample’s for a fraction of the price once I feel it’s time for them to go. I have some listed on Etsy. But feel free to message me if you’ve seen me posting about a dress but can’t see it for sale. You never know, I may let you have it! These lovelies need new homes

Charity shop

Don’t think the charity shops are full of musty second hand 1980s meringues. Obviously there will be second hand dresses, but sometimes if the bridal boutiques can’t sell their samples, they donate those to charity. I’ve altered some beautifully made, previously very expensive designer dresses from charity shops.

There is a fabulous charity shop near me, St Barnabas Wedding Shop, which is set up beautifully like a bridal boutique with seating for your mum and bridesmaids.

Their showroom has racks full of fashionable dresses and then the stockroom has even more! You just have to tell the staff what you’re after and they can have a little dig around. I’m sure there is one near you.


And while we’re on second hand, you don’t have to sift through a charity shop, you can do it from your home. Sites like Bridal Reloved, Still White and Sell My Wedding Dress let former brides list their designer dresses with details of what alterations they have done for new brides to buy. New brides can look at the listings, talk to the former brides and then the website facilitates the sale of the dress. Ebay is worth a look too.

Obviously you can buy brand new wedding dresses from Ebay but you need to be careful. All too frequently brides find a listing with a photo for a designer dress at the fraction of the price. This is a subject for another post but all too frequently, these listings are not for the dress in the photo but a cheap knockoff. Don’t be tempted!


I can’t write a post about budget dresses without mentioning Wed2B. Their ethos is having dresses in every size at low cost which brides can take away that day. Although I have noticed their prices have been creeping up slowly.

I understand brides buying from them but I’m not keen on pushing their products for the reason of I’m a small business and I’d much rather sing the praises of fellow small businesses. A sale to a small business doesn’t fill a shareholders pocket but actually keeps our high streets alive.

Final word

If you go for any of these options, remember to budget for alterations to make it fit your perfectly. A very small percentage of women have no alterations on their dress. I usually charge £100-200 to alter a wedding dress, more if its a lace hem.

Hopefully if you’re a prospective bride, this has given you plenty of ideas.

Thanks for reading

Rosie xx

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