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Bridal Fashion for Less — AND Tips on How to Plan a Frugal Wedding

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Did you know the average American couple spends $25,656 on their wedding? That’s more than a lot of people make in a year! Sure, you have that one special day when you feel like a princess, and yes, you’ll have beautiful memories of your first dance at a gorgeous reception hall, of flower girls with rosy cheeks and pretty ribbons in their hair, of slicing an obscenely tall cake with your beloved, and so forth. You’ll also have the reality of a mountain of debt — and, in the first months of your marriage, the last thing you want is to have arguments about money that could very well be avoided if you just scaled down the entire wedding extravaganza. After all, you could take that same $20,000 and allot that towards buying your first home or place it in a savings account for your children’s college education. I’m not suggesting you run to Vegas and elope in front of an Elvis impersonator (unless, of course, that floats your boat!), but it’s perfectly tenable to have an intimate wedding without spending a bundle.

I, for one, never wanted a huge wedding affair. I was never one of those girls that daydreamed about her nuptials back in elementary school, picturing everything from her gown to the ice sculpture she’d have on display. Truth be told, I never fantasized about a wedding at all. As I grew older, I knew I’d one day want to get married, but the wedding itself wasn’t much of a concern — I always concentrated on the marriage, the life-long journey, as opposed to on a single day of ceremony and celebration. There’s also the fact that I’m not a huge party planning type of person. I get stressed out just thinking about sitting down and planning seating arrangements or going to dress fittings and cake tastings galore so I was hoping to avoid that by all means necessary.

When we got hitched last fall, then, my husband and I decided to keep the event as simple — and cheap — as possible. After all, we were excited to exchange vows and start our lives as a married couple, but neither of us was too keen on spending a bundle on a single day when we could invest that money in the future. And so, we decided to bypass the church ceremony and the lavish reception and instead went down to City Hall and out to dinner with a handful of friends and family members immediately thereafter. It was a beautiful day that we’ll always remember, and we didn’t go into massive debt as a result.

Simply choosing to get married at City Hall made a huge difference. Not only did we not have to spend a bundle on a location, but we didn’t have to worry about decorating the space with elaborate floral arrangements, feeding guests, ordering a towering cake, hiring a band, and so forth. But there were also other ways in which we scaled back. I, for one, made a point to select a bridal outfit that was special but still affordable. When I look at the photos, I feel like the entire ensemble reflects my personality and, even if we had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I also think the intimacy of the affair made the day all the more special and allowed us to concentrate on each other rather than on the traditional ritualistic elements.

Check out a couple of photos of my look on the big day:

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Not too shabby, right? Now, the whole look — dress, shoes, feather wrap, earrings, headband, bracelet, bouquet, and even the wedding bands — cost less than $2000, which is a big coup considering that’s about a tenth of the amount most people spend. Sure, it’s still not cheap but, in comparison, we did pretty well in terms of frugality.

Below, I’ll offer some tips on how you, too, can get married without breaking the bank!

THE DRESS

If you choose to get married at City Hall, like I did, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon the idea of your wedding day being special. Sure, City Hall isn’t the most romantic location in the world but, like everything else, it can be as nice as you make it. If you want to wear a beautiful dress, go for it — I certainly did! But don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to buy an official “wedding” dress that will cost thousands of dollars (the average bride spent $1,211 on her wedding dress last years, and the average Manhattan bride invested $2,877). I personally wore a stunning BCBGMAXAZRIA gown that I bought on sale for $200! My first tip: avoid dresses billed as “bridal” gowns. Instead, look for a white or cream dress and picture how it would look when you added all the other trappings (a veil or headband, earrings, shoes, etc.). Also, don’t limit yourself to floor-length gowns. Why not get married in a lacy cocktail dress? Whatever dress feels special to you and makes sense given the location of your wedding, chances are there’s an affordable alternative.

Below, you’ll find some examples of lovely dresses that could look magnificent on any a bride — all for way less than $1,000.

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BCBGMAXAZRIA Shadie Strapless Blocked-Lace Gown, $568. Available at BCBG.com

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Tadashi Shoji Paillette Lace and Tulle Gown in Sand, $408. Available at Shop.TadashiShoji.com

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J. Crew Ivory Clara Dress, $295. Available at JCrew.com

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BCBGMAXAZRIA Rose Strapless Tiered Gown, $528. Available at BCBG.com

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Nanette Lepore Beach Breeze Lace Sleeveless Dress, $448. Available at NeimanMarcus.com

THE SHOES

Manolo Blahniks? Please! You can easily find the perfect pair of shoes — whether you prefer kitten heels, strappy sandals, D’Orsay pumps, or pointy toe evening shoes — for under $200. If you’re wearing a white dress, choose between white shoes and pretty metallic colors like silver, gold, and rosegold or, if you’re feeling adventurous, add a dash of color to your bridal ensemble via your shoes, opting for sapphire blue, magenta, or emerald green numbers that you can match to your clutch, earrings, or hair accessory of choice. Check out some of the footwear options below:

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Ann Taylor Feathered Strappy Heels, $178. Available at AnnTaylor.com

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 Glint Radiance Pum, $119.95. Available at Nordstrom.com

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Nina Shoes Cordy Sandals, $149. Available at NinaShoes.com

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Aldo Britany Seuined Pumps, $80. Available at AldoShoes.com

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Vince Camuto Wari Sandals, $139. Available at VinceCamuto.com

THE JEWELRY

Some brides choose to wear very dainty trinkets while other prefer to go bolder but, really, there are no hard and fast rules as to how to accessorize on your wedding day (and if there were any, I’d suggest breaking them!). I opted to go for rather chunky earrings and a small stack of stretchy pearl bracelets, but others will favor tiny pearl or stud earrings and delicate-looking charm necklaces or strands of pearls handed down from one generation to the next. I’d simply suggest trying to balance everything out — if, for example, you’re choosing to wear a long veil, you may want to take a more minimalist approach to your jewelry. But it’s all up to you! And costume jewelry is more than okay!

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Banana Republic Vintage Chandelier Earrings, $49.50. Available at BananaRepublic.Gap.com

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Tina Tang Bow Stud Earrings, $85. Available at MaxandChloe.com

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Kenneth Jay Lane Marquise Crystal Drop Earrings, $45. Available at LastCall.com

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Carolee Silver-Toned Glass Pearl Stretch Bracelet, $65. Available at Macys.com

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J.Crew Circular Petals Necklace, $138. Available at JCrew.com

THE HAIR ACCESSORIES

When we normally think of a bride, we imagine a veil, so I always assumed if I got hitched (regardless of where it happened), I’d wear a long veil with a stunning train. After going to City Hall to get out wedding license, however, I realized it wasn’t necessarily the venue for such dramatics. Now, I still went for a glamorous bridal look, but I bypassed the veil in favor of a beaded headband. Had I not chosen a headband, I might have opted for a birdcage veil (the type that barely cover the face or extend down to the tip of the nose) but there were a lot of other options as well — from a princess-like tiara to a tropical flower, bejeweled barrettes and pins, and every type of lacy and pearl-adorned headband imaginable. Hair accessories can get pretty costly but even the most luxurious headband is likely to cost less than a traditional bridal veil (to my surprise, many veils can cost as much as $500-$700) so it might be in your best interest to scrap the veil and get creative! Scour the Internet and look for hair accessories and make sure to check out Etsy.com since you’re likely to find a ton of gorgeous and rather unique pieces on there! Here are some fun options:

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Ann Taylor Pearlized Tiara Headband, $75. Available at AnnTaylor.com

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Nina Elle Flower Hair Clip, $65. Available at Nordstrom.com

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Deepa Gurnani Floral Crystal Headband, $195. Available at Shopbop.com

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Ann Taylor Birdcage Veil, $75. Available at AnnTaylor.com

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Poetry Jewelry Teardrop Crystal Headband, $60. Available at Etsy.com

THE CLUTCH

Chances are your dress won’t have pockets so you’ll need something in which to place all your knickknacks (credit cards, cash, IDs, lipstick, keys, and so forth), but don’t stress too much about the clutch since you’re likely to have your mom, best friend, maid of honor, or little sister hold it for much of the evening. That said, choose a clutch or minaudiere that fits with the rest of your ensemble — whether it’s a sequined or pearl-encrusted oval piece, a simple white satin envelope clutch, or a silver or metallic mesh number.

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Nina Pearl Minaudiere, $98. Available at Nordstrom.com

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Lulu Townsend Pleating Rhinestone Frame Clutch, $34.95. Available at DSW.com

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Sondra Roberts Aurora Clutch Bag, $135. Available at LastCall.com

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Nine West Glitter Oval Minaudiere, $69. Available at NineWest.com

THE FLOWERS

I never knew just how expensive wedding flowers were until I started making preparations for my own nuptials. Sure, I’d watched 27 Dresses and heard James Marsden’s reporter character rant about how florists inflate prices when arranging bridal bouquets, but I figured that only applied to ultra fancy arrangements. Well, I was wrong. Walk into any florist — literally any florist — and mention the word “bouquet” and the price will automatically jump to a base figure of about $50. That’s before you’ve even selected the flowers you want to include. If you favor a blossom that’s not in season (say, peonies in November), then the cost will rise significantly. And, of course, the ribbons and other trimmings don’t come cheap. Now, when I started looking for bouquet options, I could not believe how expensive everything was. The wimpiest-looking bouquet cost at least $150, with prices going up to about $600. When I saw those figures, I wondered how in the world it ever became a tradition for brides to toss their bouquets during wedding receptions. If I paid $600 for that bouquet, I’d be taking it home with me! Heck, my guests would have to wrestle me to the ground to get those flowers out of my grip!

Needless to say, I knew immediately that I would not be paying that much for flowers. It just wasn’t gonna happen. And so I had two choices: I could buy a silk flower arrangement (some are surprisingly realistic and rather affordable) or I could go the DIY route and buy some flowers, then make my own bouquet. I ended up choosing the latter route. I found a website that sold flowers by the bunch (I went onto BloomsbytheBox.com but there are other wholesale flower retailers online), arranged delivery for two days prior to my wedding, and made sure to order some floral tape — the one main tool you’ll need to secure the flowers in place. I ordered two 10-piece bunches of calla lilies — one white and one a deep purple — and, when they arrived, I stored them in the fridge, in a water bin, just as specified. The night before the wedding, I then took the flowers out, cut the stems to the desired length, wrapped them in floral tape and then, using a hot glue gun, I covered the tape with a ribbon (which I had purchased for all of $2 at Target). I then took another strand of the ribbon and tied a bow around the base of the bouquet. Done and done.

You can, of course, go the DIY route like I did or you can opt for a pretty silk flower bouquet like these:

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Calla Lily Bouquet in Cream and Purple, $21.49. Available at Afloral.com

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Bragging Bags Silk Bouquet Bride Arrangement, $74.99. Available at Etsy.com

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