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Bridal dress test: Can you look like a princess for $99?

We try out $100 wedding gowns
Posted at 1:39 PM, May 18, 2018

Meghan Markle, just like Kate Middleton in 2011, will be remembered in photos for years to come in a gown costing tens of thousands of dollars.

But could you find a similar gown for just a few hundred dollars? What about $99?

Brides stunned by dress prices

Every bride would love to look like royalty on her big day.

Bride-to-be Lauren Bentley says she would love to look like Middleton did in her wedding, but can't believe prices on some gowns.

"I've seen some for $3,500," she said. "I'd never ask my parents to spend that."

So what if you could look like a princess for just a hundred bucks?

We wanted to know if people could tell the difference between an inexpensive gown and one costing well over $1,000.

To find out, we went to a JCPenney store, where they are now selling wedding dresses for $99, and in some cases even less. This is one of several upscale Penney stores that now has a wedding dress display in-store (most of the gowns are sold online

We test discount dresses

We brought along one of our producers, Sarah, who agreed to try out some of their discount gowns. 

Store manager Keli Bush showed Sarah a rack of budget wedding gowns. 

"This one here retails at $99, but it's on sale for $53," she said of one simple long white dress.  

Another, with more lace and beads, caught Sarah's eye.

"This one here retails for $225, and is on sale for $135," Bush said.

So producer Sarah grabbed some jewelry, a JCPenney stylist did her makeup and put her hair in an up-do, and Sarah was suddenly transformed into a bride ... on a budget.

She started with the $99 dress (marked down to $53). Sarah thought it was cute, though she was unsure if she would wear it as her wedding dress.

But when she came out of the dressing room in the $135 dress, she was stunned at how good it looked on her. It looked like a real wedding dress.

"This one is very traditional and classic, with the detail falling around to the back," Bush said.

"I didn't know a dress could be around $100 and still look like this. It looks like a nice dress," Sarah said.

Obviously at this price point you're not going to get fine silks, sequins and a 6-foot train. But the JCPenney's manager explained that you don't have to tell anybody what you really paid. It's your secret.

"I think these are some things that are definitely beautiful pieces, at a value price, that still offer a lot of style," Bush said.

Too low budget for you? For $299, H&M sells what it calls a Middleton lookalike dress, with those long slender sleeves she wore on her wedding day.

Clearance designer gowns another option

For another $200 or so you can get an real designer gown, in the overstock or floor sample department of many traditional wedding shops.    

At one full service store, Tina Minshall sells gorgeous $5,000 designer gowns. But in a side room, she also sells manufacturer overstocks and floor samples as low as $400.

"This one here was originally $1,400, and now it's just $399," she said.

Tina says a $99 dress won't be tapered like a more expensive gown, as it doesn't come with the same support underneath, and will usually hang like an inexpensive dress. She says you need to be OK with that if you are buying a $100 gown.

She says it's fine, though, if you understand that and buy from a reputable store like JCPenneyor H&M. But she says beware websites you've never heard of, because she hears horror stories from young brides who tried to save money at discount dress sites online.

"It could be based out of China. You never know what you are going to get. It could be missing beads. It could have no beads. You could have no dress, no lace ... You could get nothing," she said.

Great for destination weddings

Back at JCPenney, producer Sarah said she'd love a beach wedding in their $135 gown.

"I think it's great," she said. "I'm no expert, but I think it looks almost as good as a dress you can find that is high end."

Bottom line: a $99 wedding dress can work as an inexpensive wedding dress, perfect for a destination wedding, though perhaps stretching things in a formal church.

But if you pay a little more (in the $200-$500 range), you may be able to pull it off and look a bit like a royal princess. 

That way you get your royal wedding on a budget, and you don't waste your money.      


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