Shop the Sale Rack
- Look out for classic shapes and quality fabric. A cheap dress doesn't have to be made of cheap fabric. When shopping the sale rack, keep your eyes peeled for timeless shapes, luxurious fabric like satin, silk, velvet or taffeta, and classic details. If you want your dress to last more than one night, stay away from flimsy materials and construction.
- You can always have it tailored. Don’t focus too much on the fit. If you find a bargain on a dress that’s a size too big or too long, just take it to the tailor for a few tweaks.
- Don't ignore a "boring" dress. Sometimes the most affordable prom dresses are simple, blank canvases. With a little creativity, a plain dress can be jazzed up with a fistful of layered necklaces, a cluster of brooches, or a colorful obi belt.
Look Through Another Girl's Closet
Ask to peek through the closets of your sister, cousin, mother, grandmother, friend or neighbor. Voila! Dresses that once carried a hefty price tag are suddenly free and at your fingertips.
- Don't take a dress at face value. Zoom in on any dresses that could be chopped, draped, sewn or decorated into a trendy piece of prom art.
- Think like a seamstress. Sleeves can be removed, the neckline can be modified, a sash can nip the waist, the length can be shortened, and the silhouette can be tailored. Keep in mind that little alterations can make an enormous difference in the vibe of a dress.
- Get crafty. If you’ve found a great dress but the color is outdated or the fabric is looking a little yellow, dye it! Boxes of fabric dye can be bought for around $4.00. Now that’s cheap!
Buy During the Off-Season
It may be more difficult to find cheap prom dresses during spring, when stores start stocking up on new styles in anticipation of the big night. It never hurts to think ahead. If you think you’ll be going to a formal dance some time in the next year and stumble upon a rack stuffed with cheap prom dresses, you might want to scoop one up.
Best Times to Find Inexpensive Prom Dresses
- Stay away from super-trendy dresses. A dress might be discounted because the style is on its way out, and what seems hot now could be passé in a season.
- Try on classic dresses. Stick to dresses with classic lines and fits that have been in style for the past few years.
- Look out for luxurious fabrics and quality details. When you’ve found a discounted prom dress that’s made of satin or silk, you know you’ve scored!
Consider Sewing Your Own Prom Dress
Sew your way to the ultimate cheap prom dress. The idea of whipping up a formal dress may sound intimidating at first, but keep in mind that most dress patterns are remarkably simple. Plus, the fit, fabric and embellishments are all up to you. Patterns range from $3.00 to $25.00, plus the cost of fabric. Now that’s a bargain! But, the greatest part of all? Being able to say: “Oh, you like my dress? I designed it myself!”
- Keep it simple. Select a pattern with minimal seams and simple hemlines.
Remember that details like ruffles and trim are much easier than they appear.
- Work with quality fabric. The most challenging point is often working with flimsy fabrics, but if you stick with taffeta and raw silk and stay away from chiffon and satin you’ll find the task far less daunting than, say, hunting for cheap prom dresses!