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SAVE THE DATE

Find a dress for less

By Courtney Hollands
Globe Staff / February 12, 2009
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Wedding website TheKnot.com recommends that a bride spend 10 percent of her total Big Day budget on her dress. By that measure, a $20,000 wedding would call for a $2,000 dress - ouch. Bridezillas on TLC's cringe-inducing show, "Say Yes to the Dress," routinely plunk down thousands for designer ball gowns at New York salon Kleinfeld. And the breathtaking Vera Wangs and Claire Pettibones featured in bridal magazines can run you a jaw-dropping $10,000 or more.

What's a fashion-forward yet budget-conscious bride to do? You can elbow through the racks and crowds at wedding superstore David's Bridal for a dress and be done with it. Or, you can research and shop around to find your fantasy dress - without going way over your budget. Check out these money-saving ideas.

Think outside the bridal boutique
Though you might feel as if you have to go to a bridal salon to find your dress, you can skip that trip. You can find gorgeous, well-made dresses at retailers like J.Crew and Nordstrom. For example, J.Crew's ivory slub-silk Penelope dress, with its darling pleated high neck and fabric flower, would be perfect for a casual reception or a beach wedding - and at $695, it's pretty affordable. Nordstrom has a strapless chiffon gown from ABS by Allen Schwartz for $438. And, FYI: These dresses are only available online. So, order options to your heart's content and try them all on at home - then just return the unwanted gowns to the nearest brick and mortar J.Crew or Nordstrom store. shop.nordstrom.com and www.jcrew.com

Work for it
If you don't mind waking up at 4 a.m. (or earlier, depending on how far you live from Boston) and trying on dresses in front of news crews and other shoppers, Filene's Basement's semi-annual Running of the Brides sale on Feb. 20 might be your best bet for scoring designer duds on the cheap. Since the Basement's Downtown Crossing location is shuttered, the sale is now held at the roomier Hynes Convention Center. More than 3,000 gowns - priced at $249-$699 (originally $900-$10,000) - will dangle on racks, ready to be snapped up by competitive brides and their moms, sisters, aunts, and even fiancés. A note on strategy: Know that shoppers barter for sizes. So if you can, pair up with another bride who wears a smaller or larger dress size than you do and trade with each other. And even if you find the perfect Nicole Miller dress at the event, be prepared to pay for alterations or a cleaning. All sales are final. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.filenesbasement.com/bridal

Sample these offerings
When Leslie DeAngelo got married 16 years ago, she yearned for a designer dress. But her eyes were too big for her wallet. So after she said "I do," she started selling sample and overstock dresses at discount prices at her store, Vows, in Newton. "We're basically a TJ Maxx for bridal gowns," she said. Now her racks are stuffed with gowns by Reem Acra, Lela Rose, and many others. (Neiman Marcus recently closed most of its bridal departments - guess who got the goods?) Dresses are at least 50 percent off the original prices - which means that some of them still sell for thousands. Click through some of the store's inventory on its website, www.bridepower.com. You'll notice that most of the dresses are available in sizes 8 or 10, but remember: designer gowns run small. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; you can make appointments on weekdays; Saturdays are walk-ins only. 334 Watertown St., Newton. 617-332-7870. www.bridepower.com

Reduce, reuse, recycle
Kristin bought her Maggie Sottero dress for $800 last year. She recently got laid off and has to downsize her wedding, so now she's asking $400 for it. Courtney purchased a satin halter Nicole Miller number for $455, but her engagement didn't last and she's hoping to unload it for $150. Jen got married in an ivory, A-line, $2,000 Monique Lhuillier design; now a bride-to-be can snap up the (gently used) dress for $1,500. These gowns are among the 1,400 or so currently listed on Emily Newman's Atlanta-based website www.oncewed.com. She started the free listing service last March to pair sellers with bargain-hunting brides. (Wearing a used dress is also a nice option for those brides planning a green wedding.) There are 10-15 new dresses listed each day, Newman said, and savvy brides can search by street size, designer, or style number. Once you know what you're looking for, you can prowl eBay, Craigslist, and myriad sites like Newman's, including www.woreitonce.com and www.savethedress.com, and comparison shop to get the best deal. It's a good idea to try on a variety of dresses and designers at a local bridal salon, so you know how each style and size fits - most online sellers don't accept returns.