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The best dress for your budget

By Nola Sarkisian-Miller, CTW Features Published: January 21, 2010
Just five years ago, if a bride wanted to spend $1,000 or a less for a wedding gown, most often she was relegated to designer sample sales or mass-market bridal discounters. Enter the tanking economy, the ensuing recession and the subsequent wedding budget crunch, and designers and manufacturers are quickly hitching their companies to a new trend: creating up-market gowns for under a grand. Bridal lines such as Watters are prominently highlighting the category on their Web sites and in their magazine ads. Others have unveiled new secondary lines, such as Alfred Angelo’s Niki Bridal. And new, modern designers are stepping out, including Ceec Design and Alix & Kelly, infusing their collections with influences from contemporary fashions, and finding reception with equally minded boutiques.

‘Splurge and Steal’

The category certainly got a boost when destination weddings became the rage in the last decade. Brides sought more sand-friendly gowns that could billow before the ocean. Companies like Nicole Miller and J. Crew have benefited from that trend. From there, some brides became more attuned to ready-to-wear looks and have embraced the high-low mentality of pairing expensive, designer duds with mass-market accessories or vice versa, says Maria Prince, vice president of Dallas-based Watters Brides.“This is a generation of ‘splurge and steal’ buying,” Prince says. “She’ll buy a $1,000 gown and splurge on $700 shoes that she can wear again and again.”As a result, the stigma of penny-pinching when it comes to wedding planning is in freefall, say wedding experts.“There may have been a stigma in the past where brides maybe felt the more you spent on a wedding gown, the ‘better’ it was, but the change in economy has opened everyone’s eyes to the quality and style that can be found at lower price points,” says Melissa

Akey Drayer, owner and designer of Thread. If a bride feels like she’s giving up something at this less stratospheric cost, most designers insist that they’re able to deliver on craftsmanship without sacrificing on styling. Even those brides interested in their fairy tale moment can find less expensive ball gowns, which typically cost more due to extra fabric. Wtoo Brides offers an Aline look with waist beading at $990.

For their spring offerings, designers don’t seem to be cutting corners. There’s a return to romance for designers, says Michael Shettel, head designer of Alfred Angelo. Brides will find gowns with floatier fabrics, like crinkle chiffon, satin organzas and airy taffetas. Body hugging styles with dropped waists and trumpet skirts are in, as are one-shoulder looks, a trend brought to the forefront with Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown. Dimensional flowers are getting played up along with beaded sashes and new textured ornamentation, like newly shaped stones at Wtoo. Anxious brides can take heart in a new feature offered on dresses.“We’re adding side-slit pockets to some gowns for nervous hands,” Shettel says. “It’s like their good luck charm.”

The Wedding Dress Experience

Should a bride stick to a $1,000 wedding dress budget, most designers say she’ll still get the red-carpet treatment when buying her gown, from making an appointment to working with a wedding consultant through the entire dress-buying process. Unless she visits a bigger bridal chain store where she can buy off the rack, she’ll most likely have to order her dress, which can take up to three months. Some purchases can be trickier, like buying J. Crew gowns, which are sold only online.

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