Aisle Style: Affordable Wedding Dresses

morguefile.com/phaewilkmorguefile.com/phaewilkBy Jane Magaro and Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com

After a long search for a bridal gown, seeing yourself in the perfect wedding dress may make you gasp -- at the price tag. Brides spent an average of about $1,121 on their wedding dresses in 2011, according to a survey by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com. Given that a designer dress can easily shatter a wedding budget, many smart brides-to-be bypass bridal salons and head to department stores and other mass-market retailers for breathtaking gowns at a fraction of the price.

Here are Cheapism's top picks for beautiful wedding dresses on a budget.

  • J. Crew wedding dresses (starting at $298) have the sophisticated design aesthetic of the brand's clothing, and reviews praise the quality. Brides can browse nearly 60 dresses by silhouette online and choose from myriad fabrics and feels. Some brick-and-mortar stores carry the wedding collection, so check the store locator to see where you can try dresses on.
  • Nordstrom wedding dresses are made by different brands and designers, so any bride is bound to find a style she likes. In addition to gentle prices (starting at $178), the store earns points for customer service both online and in-store, where wedding stylists offer consultations at 18 locations.
  • Bloomingdale's wedding dresses are popular among modern brides looking for wedding dresses with a less "bridal" look, according to reviews. Here, you can find wedding-worthy dresses from names including BCBG Max Azria and Tadashi Shoji, starting at $248.

Less money doesn't have to mean less style. The budget bridal retailers we recommend are current with this year's top wedding dress trends. J. Crew's wedding collection features lace sleeves and tea-length dresses, while cutting-edge brides can walk down the aisle in a Bloomingdale's gown with a dramatic slit or peekaboo hemline.

Related: Budget Wedding Ideas

Other clothing retailers offer their own bridal lines, but the sub-$500 selection is slim. For instance, Urban Outfitters' BHLDN line, while distinctive and beautiful, starts at $600, with most gowns priced well into the thousands. Our three picks showcase splurge-worthy gowns -- including designs from the likes of Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta -- but also plenty of steals.

Related: Ann Taylor Wedding Dresses Review

Besides price, there are other clear advantages to buying a wedding dress from these stores over a bridal salon. Brides tight on time and money will appreciate the shorter timelines: Dresses are shipped right away instead of having to be special-ordered months in advance. Some wedding dresses can even be purchased right off the rack.

Related: Cheap Bikinis for the Honeymoon

If you have a change of heart about your chosen dress, another advantage of buying a dress from an apparel chain is the return policy. All three of our recommended vendors accept returns to stores or by mail, if the dress was ordered online. If you custom-order from a bridal boutique, you risk winding up stuck with a less-than-perfect dress for your perfect day.

More from Cheapism:
Cheap Wedding Tips
Jessica McClintock Wedding Dresses
Cheap Sandals and Summer Footwear

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