A Wedding Dress for Thousands Less

Wedding Dress thrift store

You've found true love, you've got the ring, now you need the dress, but it's going to cost you!

Heather Dale, a San Francisco bride-to-be is on the hunt for her bridal gown.

"I was doing a bit of research and I can not believe the prices," she said.

VIDEO: Contributor Becky Worley explains how to get the perfect dress for less.

Heather is afraid she'll have to spend upwards of $5,000 and that's not so unusual. According to about.com the average designer dress costs about $3,000 and Brides.com says the average cost of a wedding dress (designer and off-label) is $1,075.

But as a thrift-store fashionista, I noticed a trend: almost every consignment, second hand or thrift store I shopped at had a wedding dress on sale. Some were older, others were out of style, but I wanted to see if I could find a dress for our bride that came in at a tenth of her budget. I set out to find the sub-$500 wedding dress.

Tip: Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Over the course of a month I scoured the second hand shops in the San Francisco Bay area and that's my first tip; give yourself a lot of time. I also recommend taking a pad of post-it notes with your name and contact information written down and giving one to the clerks at each store in case a dress comes in.

I went to upscale consignment boutiques like Labels in Walnut Creek, I went to charity donation stores like Next to New, the Junior League's second-hand shop in San Francisco.

I went to Goodwill, the Salvation Army Thrift Town, Out of the Closet, Seconds To Go, Main Street Rags, and the Alta Bates Thrift shop in Oakland.

And that's another tip; don't limit your searches. People drop off and donate wedding dresses to all kinds of places in all kinds of neighborhoods. The first day you go out looking, go everywhere.

At two of the thrift shops I didn't see any dresses, but when I asked about them, I hit the jackpot. Wedding dresses are big and often difficult to arrange on a hanger, so stores often keep them off the floor. At one thrift store, they pointed me to an upstairs area where I found two dresses each priced at $20.

In the end I purchased seven dresses. The headliners are a never worn Vera Wang valued in the thousands that I got for $375, a Beautiful jewel encrusted Lazaro dress for $275, a Jim Hjelm off-white stunner for $108, and a no name dress with a gorgeous modern back that cost $20.

Tip: Don't Judge a Dress by its Condition

Many of the dresses I found had not been properly cleaned. Most of the stains were aggregated on the hems where shoe marks and dirt had discolored the dresses. I took them to Peninou cleaners in San Francisco, a dry cleaner that specializes in wedding dress cleaning.

Weddings are parties and party dresses get dirty. According to the dry-cleaning technicians at Peninou the good news is that dirt and most stains can be removed or minimized by a good cleaner. The basic guide- dirt comes out, but anything yellowed like food that's caramelized or perspiration is tough to clean.

Of the dresses I bought, five needed a good hem cleaning, and one had perspiration stains in the arm pits. All seven were cleanable with the perspiration dress needing an alteration to cut out the stains and remake the arm holes; an alteration that would cost about $100.

Wedding dress expert and seamstress Lynn Gallagher of Wee Scotty in San Francisco helped Heather with her fitting.

First we looked at the simple Jim Hjelm dresser. It fits Heather well, and it only needs moderate alterations.

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