My Favorite Sources for Formal Dresses

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane
A few weeks ago, Amy asked me to share my favorite sources for formal dresses, so today I’m fulfilling that request.  We go to tons of formals and black tie events and I have gotten pretty good at finding inexpensive and attractive dresses over the years.

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Beaded dress – found on sale at Dillard’s – $50 |

I also went through my photos and pulled out my favorite dresses to share with you.  It’s really not fair that my husband only has three choices for his attire–it’s either his dress uniform, a suit, or a tuxedo!

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Jumpsuit – $30 – TJ Maxx |

I am always paying attention to the budget when I shop for these dresses.  They can be hugely expensive if you buy them at full retail, and one year we went to TWELVE events that required long gowns.  Obviously, I wear my dresses more than once, but I still have to be on the lookout for bargains.

First, I’m going to tell you my favorite places to find formal dresses, and then I’ll share a few other tips.  These aren’t in any particular order, it’s just where I’ve had good luck over the years.

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This is absolutely the least expensive way to go–borrow from a friend!  Bonus if they have matching shoes and jewelry that you can use, too.  Your only expense is the cost of dry cleaning before you return it!

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

|  Borrowed black and white dress |

Interested in something more permanent?  Coordinate a “dress swap” so that you can trade in the ones you’re tired of, and go home with several new-to-you gowns.

We all know I spend an inordinate amount of time at TJ, Marshalls and HomeGoods.  They often have great deals on formal dresses.  It’s much easier to find short cocktail dresses there, so if you find a long dress you like, snap it up.  I buy dresses year-round, knowing that the next ball is right around the corner, even if it’s not on my calendar yet!

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Ann Taylor cocktail dress – TJ Maxx – $26 |

The off-season deals are fabulous at TJ, too.  I snagged this turquoise dress for $15 in the dead of winter and wore it the next summer.

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane
 

My love for thrift shops extends to clothing, and some of my favorite formal dresses have been found there.  From once-worn bridesmaid dresses to brand-new-with-tags donations from the bridal shop, you can strike gold here.  The key is to shop year-round, because I guarantee if you go into a thrift shop looking for anything in particular, you won’t find what you need.

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Salvation Army -$18 – New with tags |

Consignment stores are great places to shop, too, but you will pay a bit more.

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Goodwill – $20 – brand new with tags |

When it’s time to rotate the dresses in the closet, they go right back to the thrift shop, too.  It’s the circle of life, y’all!

Rent the Runway is a pretty brilliant idea.  You rent a dress for the weekend, then ship it back in the postage-paid envelope (they clean it so you don’t have to mess with it).  They have hundreds–maybe thousands–of dresses and you can even get a second style in case the first one doesn’t work out for you.  There are lots of customer photos and review to help you make your choice (read more about how it works here).

I’ve used RTR once and the gowns I chose are below:

 

I think it’s great for an event where you really want something high end, because you can rent designer gowns for a fraction of the price, but I’d rather spend $75 or more and wind up owning a gown at the end of the night.  Lots of my friends swear by it, though.

I’m not really a fan of Ross–the “loss prevention” folks sizing me up as I walk in kind of kill the experience for me–but their dress prices can’t be beat.

This dress was under $20 and the shoes were $15, plus it’s machine washable (my mother is smiling down from heaven as I type that!).

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane
This is another store when I buy the dress when I find it, and then wait for the event, because it can be hit or miss (plus I only tend to go in there a few times a year:).

 

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Teal lace dress – $30 – Ross |

 

Amazon really does sell everything!  My daughter’s cotillion dress is from there and I’m thrilled with it.

| Tideclothes beaded dress – $90 – Amazon  |

If you follow the included sizing charts, it’s really not that hard to get the right size.  Also, most of their listings include free returns, so you can always order two sizes and return one.

I’m awaiting this dress today for an upcoming school event:

| Ever Pretty Lace Dress – $54.99 – Amazon  |

I’ll keep you posted on how it fits and the overall quality.

Ebay is a great source of brand new, or gently used, formal dresses.  I’ve bought and sold a bunch over the years.  It’s also where I found a maternity formal to wear one year when I was fifteen months pregnant!

My daughter’s cotillion dress from last year was from Ebay.  We bought it new and it was a great choice:

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Aqua flower girl dress – $40  |

 

Boutiques can be pricey, yes, but they also have amazing sales.  Plus, you don’t run the risk of wearing something that everyone else has on (department stores, I’m looking at you!).

This basic black dress with the waterfall skirt was a great buy, and I’ve been able to mix and match my accessories to make it look different every time I’ve worn it.

My top 10 places to buy formal gowns and dresses -for every budget! | 11 Magnolia Lane
 

Nordstrom is one of my favorite stores.  I have one about an hour away, but their online ordering is so simple–free shipping and returns, and really top-drawer customer service.  Plus they sell literally everything under the sun and their sales are phenomenal.

tango
 

 | Red silk dress – $50 – Nordstrom  |

Check out Nordstrom Rack if you want to find even better deals!

Bridal stores are a great source of formal gowns, too.  Check out their sale racks (or websites) for the best deals.

I’d love to hear your favorite places to shop, and if you have any fabulous steals that you’ve scored, be sure to let me know!

Thanks for stopping by~

Final New Christy headshot 2015

 

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Comments

  1. Great tips Christy. The girls have swapped/borrowed on several occasions (homecoming/prom). They have also been able to wear several multiple times as the attendees at the events were different groups. In that event we didn’t mind paying just a little more knowing they would get worn more than once. Just wish they were closer in height and could share! (one is 5’4″, the other almost 5’10” LOL)

    • Yes, it’s always easy to justify a pricier item when you know it will be well-used. When I buy a basic black dress, I tend to buy higher quality for just that reason. XO, Christy

  2. Rebecca Purdie says:

    All of the dresses are beautiful!

  3. Debbie Nelson says:

    Great post, Christy!
    you have always had a gift of classy thrift! I’m going to show this post to my 18 year old who thinks all formalwear is supposed to be new and pricey! thank you!

  4. 15 months pregnant… Haha.

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