The truth about thrifted wedding dresses

A wedding dress could well be your most important fashion purchase ever, but with average dress prices hovering just under the the $1,600 mark (inclusive of alterations but excluding an average of $250 for accessories like the shoes, veil, and lingerie), it's no surprise that some women are turning to thrift stores to find the dress of their dreams (via The Knot).

Deciding on a thrifted gown may be a bit of a risky proposition, but may also be a good way to score a beautiful gown at a great price. If you're browsing for thrifted dresses online, The Knot suggests bypassing Ebay and Craigslist, and heading to used bridal sites like Nearly Newlywed, which makes it easy for a bride-to-be to find the dress she wants. The site lists the dress size, measurements, its condition, materials, and has a series of photos, to boot. If you're really lucky you might even find something in your size, meaning no alterations are needed. To make sure the offers were legit, we dropped by and found a brand new Vera Wang sheath for $550, or 31 percent less than the recommended retail price. The site also offers a five-day return policy.

Alternations to a thrifted wedding dress aren't cheap

Going to thrift shops in person might also score you the dress of your dreams. Spotlight highlights one bride's story, who paid 35 British pounds (under $46) for a white lace bridal gown. Alterations which included replacing clasps, zippers, and buttons cost the bride 200 British Pounds (about $262), and she subsequently discovered that the dress came from the 1950s, was possibly handmade, and could have been a family heirloom because some of the flowers on the dress were even older. While stories like that might be few and far between, you just never know.

Once you have your dress, Thumbtack says you will probably need to budget up to $700 that covers a flat fee for all alterations, simply because the fabrics used for a bridal gown aren't your everyday cotton, linen, or rayon, and wedding dresses are complicated things. Changes could include altering sleeves, changing its silhouette, or even adding beading. If the changes aren't too complicated to manage, you could still be looking to spend about $300, so don't forget to budget for that.

Thrifted wedding dresses may not be big bargains

Cleaning a pre-owned wedding dress may be the biggest challenge. While dry cleaning is a popular option, some sites like Thrifty Fun offer tips on cleaning older dresses by using Woolite and warm water and giving it a good soak. But if feel your thrifted dress deserves a bit more TLC, you may want to go to specialty cleaners like the Heritage Gown, which doesn't post its prices online, but will take your gown, clean it, and ship it back to you with a transit insurance worth $500. 

In all, while a thrifted gown may sound like a cost-saving option, add-ons like cleaning fees and alterations may mean that unless you get a gown for under $50, you may not be looking at much of a cost saving after all. It may be a good idea for you to examine your options, shop around, and give yourself plenty of time to decide whether a thrifted dress is right for you.