How much would you spend on a wedding gown?

By Tod MarksConsumer Reports

For many would-be brides, the idea of skimping on a wedding dress is unthinkable. After all, how do you put a price tag on what’s supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime-moment? Shopping for a gown can be equal parts adrenaline rush and high anxiety. And no doubt a lot of the stress has to do with finding the perfect dress at the perfect price.

While we don’t purport to be style mavens when it comes to taffeta and tulle, we do know something about value. This being wedding season, we asked our Facebook fans about their dress-buying experiences, specifically, their shopping and saving strategies and whether, in hindsight, they'd do anything differently. Here's what they had to say.

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Thirty-nine years ago, Karen Knieval spent $25 on fabric and decorative materials and made the dress herself. Her reception consisted of cake and punch afterward. “It doesn't matter how much you spend that single day, it's what you put into it all the rest of the days,” she said

Michelle Prather rented her gown from a local boutique. “No sense in dragging something around on the off-chance that I would have a daughter—which I did not—who would be about the same size I was and have the same taste in lace and trains,” she said of her decision.

For $99, Susan Masterson bought a gown on clearance from David’s Bridal, a national chain of 300 stores. “If anyone had anything snarky to say about it not being nice enough that day, I didn't hear about it," she said. "If they did, I didn’t care anyway. I wore it once, and can't justify paying through the nose.”

Melinda Quick bought a bridesmaid’s dress and ordered it in white. The cost: $200. And Suzanne Michele Gundlach landed a couture gown that was worn in a bridal convention fashion show for $700.

At age 19 in 1980, Debbie Engle Ruslavik spotted her gown for $250 on a mannequin in a bridal shop. “A friend wore it for her wedding as well later on," Ruslavik said. “ I would definitely consider renting a dress and/or buying a seond-hand dress. My husband and I renewed our vows at one year.  I wore black jeans with black sneaks and a nice top.”

To Hollie Reedy, who spent more than $2,000 on a dress made of raw silk and venise lace, the investment was well worth it. “My incredibly frugal mother whipped out her credit card and didn’t bat an eye,” she said. “It smelled like heaven and was worth every penny.”

Samantha Maguire also went all out, and spent more than $3,000 on a custom-made silk and lace gown with a bodice covered in Swarovski crystals. “While it was gorgeous, I feel it was a huge waste of money,” Maguire said five years later. “I would have liked something much simpler. The reason we had a dress made, though, was because we had many religious people at the wedding and we needed a very modest dress. I couldn't find anything that wasn't either sleeveless, backless, or showing a lot of cleavage. So, we had one made.”

Linda Schoen borrowed a gown from a friend. “I made the flowers from craft stores for everyone," she said. " I even wore them in my hair instead of a veil. I told my maid of honor what the color was and let her pick her own dress and style so she could wear it again. I also paid a friend to make the cake, and we served punch, nuts, and cookies. Spent a total of around $1,500 for 60 people.” And instead of gifts, Schoen asked her guests to donate to their favorite charities. “I cringe when I hear of people spending tens of thousands or more on one day or going into debt for a wedding," Shoen said. "We used our money to save for a down payment on a house.”

For her first marriage, Jude Sincoskie's mother bought her daughter a $1,100 Givenchy gown that was on sale at half price. “I felt it was way too much, but it was the perfect dress for me,“ Sincoskie said. For her second wedding, she spent $300 at David's Bridal. “Again, it was the perfect dress. I would not change anything, but I do not agree with spending an exorbitant amount on a dress for one day.”

Cindy Leuch Spencer paid $100 for the sample dress on the sales floor. "It was my favorite anyway and fit the best of all I tried on," she said. "My veil, at $115, actually cost more than the dress."

In 1981, Diane Pedersen's mother made her dress and veil for $200 in materials and “many days of labor.” The fabric was a silky polyester, not real silk. “Quality costs money, but in the end, as long as the dress looks good in the photos, the money would be better spent on something that's used more than one day,” Pederson said.

Kristen Andreatta steered clear of bridal shops and decided to buy a white gown from a regular retail store. At $500, Andreatta said, “It was still the priciest dress I've ever bought, but much cheaper than a real bridal gown.”

­—Tod Marks

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