Shortly after I got engaged I made an appointment at a local bridal shop in Florida to try on some dresses. I didn’t do any research or planning and I didn’t expect to buy my dress at that appointment. But I was visiting my mother and sister and wanted to have the experience of trying some things on with them since I knew that I might not get to have them with me in the future. Essentially, it was going to be a “just for fun” trip.
Unexpectedly, I found a simple wedding dress that I adored (and ruled out a few styles I thought I would’ve preferred) and bought it right then and there. I had a few minor alterations made and my dress was shipped to my home in New York a few days later. Not only was buying off-the-rack easy and fast, it was well within my budget.
Buying off-the-rack means you’re buying a dress that is “ready to wear” or already made and walking out of the store with it the same day. Much like how you’d purchase any other article of clothing, these dresses come in a variety of sizes and designers. You can try them on in a store before you buy them or buy them online.
Ready to wear gowns are different from made-to-order gowns, where you try on a sample size in-store then have a custom dress made to fit your measurements. Made-to-order dresses can take 6-9 months to arrive and will need several rounds of alterations leading up to your wedding day to ensure it fits perfectly.
If getting an off-the-rack dress sounds like the stress-free, and fast, experience you’re dreaming of, keep reading for tips on where to find off-the-rack styles and common questions about the process.
Where Can You Buy Off-The-Rack Dresses?
You can buy off-the-rack bridal gowns at many of the same places you buy made-to-order dresses. Major chains, like David’s Bridal and BHLDN, online retailers, direct from certain designers, and local bridal salons will carry ready to wear dresses in-store or have sample sales.
When you’re shopping at a local bridal salon, ask the consultant to pull off-the-rack options for you to consider or if they have any sample sales coming up. Most bridal shops have sample sales two times a year, in January and sometime in the Summer, to clear out old inventory and make room for new dresses.
How Does Buying Off-The-Rack Save You Money?
Buying an off the rack wedding dress can be cheaper than buying a custom made dress. But beware of costly alterations that could cost more than the dress! Try to find one as close to your normal size as possible, try on the dress to make sure it fits somewhat well, and only ask for simple alterations like taking it in at the waist or raising the hemline.
We compared ten dress designers / retailers in different categories from high-end designers, to chain brands, to online discount retailers, to see how much you can save buying off-the-rack versus made to order.
|Designer||Off-the-rack Price||Made to Order Price|
|MONIQUE LHULLIER||$2,400 – $4,495||$4,900 – $12,900+|
*General Collection prices (excludes couture)
|WATTERS||$500 – $800|
*By Watters Collection Select Sizes
|$500 – $3,600|
|VERA WANG||$1,600 – $4,000||$2,000 – $6,000+|
*Excludes Luxe Collection which starts at $6,900
|PRONOVIAS||$500 – $2,400|
*Based on local bridal shop sample sale, prices will vary by store
|$1,400 – $6,000|
|DAVID’S BRIDAL||$100 – $1,500|
*Ready to ship and sample sale prices
|$500 – $2,000|
|BHDLN||$150 – $2000||$700 – $1,700|
|HEBEOS||N/A||$100 – $300|
*A favorite of budget-conscious brides, Hebeos is an exception to the rule that made to order costs more. In fact all of their gowns are made to order.
|AZAZIE||$65 – $150||$130 – $750|
|KLEINFELD||$1,200 – $12,000||$1,000 – $70,000|
|LOVELY BRIDE||$250 – $6,000|
*Sample sale prices
|$1,000 – $6,000|
The average price for a ready to wear gown from our research was around $2,000. While the average price of a made to order gown (not include couture or completely custom designer dresses) was $6,000. At most of the retailers and brands we looked at, you could save 50% or more just by choosing an option from their ready to wear collection or a sample sale.
How Does Buying Off-The-Rack Save You Time?
Buying a wedding dress off the rack saves you time because you are buying the dress essentially “as is.” You don’t need to order a dress to be made and shipped to you from across the country or an ocean away. You can cut the timeline down significantly from 6-9 months by purchasing a ready-made gown.
You’ll still want to leave a few weeks in your planning for alterations. Even if your dress looks almost perfect, take the time to have it tailored to your height (in the heels or shoes you plan to wear on the day!) and other measurements. Nothing distracts from a perfect day more than a dragging hemline you’ll trip over or a shoulder strap that won’t stay up.
We compared ten dress designers to see how fast buying off-the-rack is versus made to order gowns.
|Designer||Off-the-rack time||Made to order time|
|MONIQUE LHULLIER||7-10 business days (UPS ground)||6 months|
|WATTERS||1-5 business days (Fedex Ground)||14-18 weeks|
|VERA WANG||Direct from designer – in-store only, same day|
Some retailers may sell ready-to-wear / sample sizes online with minimal shipping time but it was harder to find for this designer. Pre-owned was widely available.
*includes alterations timing
|PRONOVIAS||Direct from designer – in-store only, same day|
7-10 business days from local retailers
*Shipping varies by store but we found some online willing to ship out the same day
|DAVID’S BRIDAL||4-10 business days (ground)||5-6 months|
|BHDLN||7-10 business days (standard)||10-12 weeks|
|AZAZIE||7-10 business days (standard)||5-6 weeks|
|KLEINFELD||In-store Only – Same Day||8-10 months|
*Some designers allow rush orders and can be made in a shorter timeframe
|LOVELY BRIDE||2-3 weeks (standard)||9-12 months|
*includes alterations timing
For the purposes of this article we used shipping times from the designer’s website where possible. If you buy a ready-to-wear gown in a physical store the time is 0 days since you can take it home with you. There’s the possibility that the store may not have your size or color in-store but may have it in-stock and ready to ship to you. You can factor in the time to ship a ready-to-wear gown in that case.
As you can see from the above table, it really does save a lot of time in most instances to buy a dress off-the-rack. Whether it’s a ready-to-wear dress or a sample size, you can walk out of the store the same day with your dress. Or if you order online, you can have your dress in hand in a few days with express shipping options.
The average time frame for a made to order dress from our sample of designers is 4.5 months for the gown to be made, not including alterations. So if you have your heart set on a made to order dress, you should really plan for 6-12 months of lead time to look for a dress, wait for it to be made, and then go through a few rounds of alterations before your big day.
What Do I Do If My Off-The-Rack Dress is Too Big?
It is better to buy a dress that is too big instead of too small because it can be altered down to your size. Typically a wedding gown that is 1-2 sizes too big can be easily tailored down to your measurements. Or a dress that is too long can be hemmed to fit your height.
Some key things to keep in mind when getting your dress altered are the decorations on the dress itself. If there’s a complicated beaded pattern all over the dress or if there’s a pattern or decoration around the bottom hem of the dress, the design may change once the dress is altered. For example, a dress with a design around the hem may have the design removed or a gifted tailor may be able to remove the design and reattach it higher up after the alterations have been made.
Can a Lace Wedding Dress Be Altered?
Yes, a lace dress can be altered. It is easier to take it in than let it out. If you need to let out your dress, you’ll need additional fabric added to the dress that won’t match the lace pattern. It can also be difficult to hem a lace dress with a scalloped edge. The dress needs to be shortened from the waist or hemmed with a straight edge.
Can a Beaded Wedding Dress Be Altered?
Yes, a skilled tailor can lift off the beading from a dress, make alterations, and then reattach the beading. Some of the design may change or shift depending on the alterations that need to be made.
What Do I Do If My Off-The-Rack Dress is Too Small?
You may be able to alter a too small dress to fit a larger size but it is more challenging than taking in a dress to make it smaller. A dress with a simple fabric can have additional fabric added to it to make it wider or taller. There will be a seam where the fabric was added. A contrasting fabric can also be added to a dress to make it longer or wider in a visually-interesting way.
Talk to a local tailor about what alterations you’d like to make but know that it may be more expensive or time-consuming than taking in a dress to be smaller. Depending on the type of dress and what alterations you need done, they may not be able to alter the wedding gown to be larger.
Can Plus-size Brides Buy an Off-The-Rack Dress?
Yes. We found many plus-size options at the retailers listed above. For example, Azazie and Hebeos carry sizes online all the way up to US 30 with the ability to enter custom measurements for the same price and shipping times.
Samples are often limited in selection but we did find options for plus sizes. For example, Lovely Bride offers a number of samples in plus sizes as well that you can ship to you or try on in-store.
If you’d like to try on off-the-rack options in-store, make sure you call ahead and confirm they have your size, or slightly larger, available for you to try on and purchase either as a sample or ready-to-wear. You may have to search through multiple stores or styles to find a ready to wear option in your size and the style you want but all brides will need to do that to find an off-the-rack deal.
Can I Resell an Off-The-Rack Dress?
Yes, you can sell an off-the-rack dress after you wear it. Make sure you note the size and any alterations that were made to the dress on the listing. And don’t expect to get back what you paid for it. Consider offering brides-to-be an opportunity to try the dress on before committing to purchase if you’re able to as it will make it easier to sell or sell the dress to a consignment shop.
Now that you know everything there is to know about buying off-the-rack versus made-to-order, you can start shopping. Make an appointment with a few loved ones or order a few options to try on at home from a store with a reputable return policy on ready-to-wear gowns. Once you’ve found the one, share it in our free private Facebook group, Bold on a Budget Weddings, to celebrate!