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December 19, 2010

How to score a discount on a wedding dress

Months before the dress shopping journey, when we first sat down and drew up a budget, Mr. A and I put down $1000 as target. In all honesty, I expected mine to cost $200. I'd find it on sale at Nordstrom Rack. Simple. Basic. Classy. Who'd be crazy enough to buy a dress that will cost her $600 an hour to wear it?

Apparently, I am.

Because after all those resolutions, I saw the dress.



Ok, here's how this happened. I'd already been to three places and nothing called out to me. I tried on everything from statuesque, flowy Grecian gowns to a slinky Marylin Monroe get-up to traditional a-lines and lacey senorita looks. Some were blah, some were quite lovely, but nothing was moi.

One afternoon, on a whim, I stumbled into an upscale bridal retailer. I had 30 minutes to spare between meetings in the area, they had no appointments at the time (it was that kind of place, with appointments and consultations and basically way above my budget) so I figured, why not. Try on something that costs as much as a car in India. Live a little.

And of course, that's where I saw the dress.

$2,300. Plus $400 for alterations and $300 for a veil and shoes?

Divided by 5 hours? You do the math.

Still drooling, I made a mental note of the brand, went home and started a bigtime Google campaign. For weeks I tried to find it for a better price. No luck. I tried on other dresses at more affordable and even similarly priced stores, doing everything I could to forget it. No go. Finally, I called back and asked if they could come down on the price. I explained that it's waaaaay above my budget but I love it. Any hope?

And just like that, she offered to sell the sample for half price.

I went in and tried it on again, to be sure.

She told me the dress had been worn cumulatively for an hour.

It was spotless, and with a cleaning it would be like new.

But I hesitated. It was still a lot.

And then I remembered what she said. "We're closed Thursday, because we need to prepare for a major sale Friday."

So I asked: "If I buy it tonight, can you already give me the sale price?"

Here's what she answered: "Yes. But please. Go home, sleep on it, and we'll hold it for you until tomorrow."

And that is how I ended up buying an almost-new $2300 dress for $800. Still more than my Nordstrom Rack fantasy gown, but perfect in every way.

Here's what I learned:

1. Give yourself plenty of time. Rushing brides have zero power.

2. Be upfront about your budget. At every place I went, I told them my budget and every single retailer was willing to come down on the price. Paying sticker is completely unnecessary. Just fyi. :)

3. If you're buying veil, shoes etc, don't forget to negotiate. I decided not to buy accessories yet, but I would have tried to get the total down if I was buying everything at once. Hopefully I can still work a better price for the extras, to keep the whole combo under our target.

4. Comparison shop to death. Sometimes a discount retailer has the same dress for $200 less, two hours away. (I saw this with other brands, but not mine.) Worth it? You decide. But at least you have the option. Also, tons of websites have used/sample/discount dresses, and either you shop there or use that as a bargaining chip.

5. Be honest with yourself. I thought an understated white cocktail dress from a department store was right for me, but once I tried on a few frillier dresses, I discovered I wanted something more conventional. So be it.

6. But remember that it's just a few hours. Just one night. I say this because I wasn't willing to pay more than what I did. Maybe a little more -- but definitely not sticker price on that dress.

Bottom line: Every bridal retailer, from the discount warehouse type to three luxury boutiques, was willing to come down on the price -- sometimes even before I asked. Hey, even 10 percent is something. And if you're willing to make compromises, you can find some really sweet deals.

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