Sacrifice style just because you have a teeny tiny budget? Nonsense! Cheap prom dresses are out there- you just have to know where to look. Check out this list of the best stores to score a bargain on a dress, then arm yourself with a little bit of time and a shopping buddy!
When you're done, learn how to spot a diamond dress in the ruff with even more bargain shopping tips: how to find cheap prom dresses.
1. Department Stores
Never underestimate the greatness of a department store. They often carry the same designers that boutiques carry: Betsey Johnson, BCBG, Juicy Couture, and more… and then slash the prices on all of them during their storewide sales. Check out Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue during major sales and you’ll be surprised at the designer markdowns. And don’t forget about the mid-tier department stores JC Penney, Macy’s, Dillards and Kohl’s. They often create designer look-alike dresses that are under $100. And when those dresses go on sale, it’s a major bargain! Also be on the look out for department store coupons in Sunday newspapers and fliers. Stores often offer 20-40% off coupons throughout the year.
2. Designer Copycat Stores
There's no such thing as copyright when it comes to fashion. As soon as a trendy dress hits the runway or red carpet, many stores will create copycats of it, or dresses that are "inspired by" the look. It may be frustrating for designers, but it can result in you taking home a fabulous look-a-like dress. Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe usually carry prom-appropriate dresses that are inspired by the runway for under $40. The only downside to buying fast fashion is that the fabric is not as luxurious as a high-end designer's would be.
Check out these cheap prom dresses from Forever 21.
3. Sample Sales
Once or twice a year, many designers hold a sample sale to clear out last year’s merchandise and to sell clothing samples that may not have made the final production cut. Designer sample sales are most often held in New York City or Los Angeles, so if you’re nearby, it’s worth the drive. Daily Candy usually has a good listing of which sales are happening when (sign up for the email list for the city near you). However, if you can’t get to these cities, there are a ton of online sample sale sites that offer great deals. Check out Swirl.com, Gilt.com, RueLaLa.com and TheOutnet.com. Sample sales are often discreetly advertised because the deals are so monstrous, so be on the look out for signs in store windows and fliers when you’re out and about town.
4. Warehouse Sales
A warehouse sale is just like a designer sample sale. Once or twice a year a store will hold a gigantic clearance to sell off all of their excess merchandise. Because the deals are so great, warehouse sales are often discreetly advertised. Be on the lookout for ads in newspapers, on the radio, signs in store windows and ads at malls. Be ready to pick through boxes and sift through racks, because dresses will often be clumped together and loosely organized.
5. Outlet Malls
When manufacturers can’t sell last year’s merchandise, it’s sometimes shipped off to an outlet store. The merchandise is often a season or two behind, but if you stick to tried-and-true shapes and designs, no one will know that it’s not completely up to date. The company Tanger Outlets has malls all over the country with stores like Charlotte Russe, BCBG and Juicy Couture. Premium Outlets have the higher end stores like Neiman Marcus, Elie Tahari and Betsey Johnson. There are also independent outlet malls throughout the nation. Bring your patience and a good pair of walking shoes, because an outlet adventure often takes up an entire day. But, the lure of cheap prom dresses has kept many shoppers motivated to make the trek.
6. Secondhand and Consignment Stores
A formal dress is often only worn once or twice before it’s discarded, which is a shame because they are so beautiful. But, one girl’s castoff could be your next it-dress. Check out neighborhood consignment shops regularly for new inventory. It’s also worth it to visit secondhand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Remember to think creatively when sifting through secondhand racks. A dress that’s a little too big or small can be altered, and a boring dress can be spruced up with accessories like a scarf, belt, pins or necklaces.