04/03/2012 12:07 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

No urge to splurge on a bridal gown? Get a bridesmaid dress and accessorize

I'm practical. Never dreamed of having a lavish gown. Didn't want to endure a long hunt for bargains.

So four little words from the saleswoman spoke to me: "Bridesmaid dress. In white."

Yes, I'm wearing a bridesmaid dress to my own wedding. It's simple, elegant, relatively cheap and easy. Talk about putting the "bride" in bridesmaid.

When I showed up at my local Macy's bridal salon on my first day of dress shopping, I explained that I wanted something elegant, good for an outdoor summer wedding, at a price that wouldn't rival the liquor bill.

What the saleswoman suggested is a little-known trick that can save hundreds of dollars or more on a wedding dress. Perhaps even better, you can customize your wedding dress however you like it; bridesmaid dresses are usually basic — satin or silk, without the beads, lace and other frills on many traditional gowns.

And at anywhere from $100 to $300, there's no traditional price tag either. Get a bridesmaid dress in white, ivory or whatever colour you want. Wear it as is. Or glam it up with accessories and have a unique — and cost-effective — look.

It's called a wedding dress hack, I'd later find out.

Happy with my plan, I couldn't help looking at the women sorting through the expensive gowns at the store. Why would they want to spend thousands on a dress for one day? They could spend far less, still look amazing and save the rest for their honeymoon or a house. Why didn't I feel their urge to splurge? Was something wrong with me?

Not at all, says Meg Keene, author of "A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration." I simply hadn't bought into the wedding myth, she says.

The myth is why so many weddings keep getting bigger (hello Kardashians) and prices keep going up. Women see the glamour and feel they are supposed to have it, regardless of cost, says Keene, who started the blog "A Practical Wedding" when planning her own nuptials in 2008.

Dresses are among the biggest costs of a wedding, averaging nearly $1,200, according to The Wedding Report, Inc., which tracks industry spending. And don't forget accessories, headpieces and veils. An extra $250, please.

The average U.S. wedding now costs more than $26,000.

"There's now this industry around weddings," Keene says. "If the word 'wedding' is attached, people will pay."

It doesn't have to be that way, especially for dresses. There are so many other options: bridesmaid dresses, prom dresses, vintage, renting, borrowing and making.

Women like me who seek out alternatives sometimes wonder if they'll look like a bride. But, says Keene, there's no one way to look.

"You remember how your wedding felt, not how it looked," says Keene, who wore a $250 vintage dress to her wedding.

After deciding that I would customize a bridesmaid dress, I allowed myself one indulgent experience at a designer wedding-gown studio so I could get ideas. After trying on half a dozen pouffy, fancy gowns, I knew that ivory looks just fine on me, a sweetheart neckline works well, and an A-line cut and strapless are both flattering.

I took all that knowledge back to my original salon, to my saleswoman friend. In minutes, I found the dress. The sample was white with a black floral print, but in the mirror I envisioned myself in ivory. With a deep purple sash, maybe some silk flowers stitched onto it. And maybe some tulle underneath to give me some pouf. It's all up to me.

Final price? The tag said $205, but after a bridal salon-wide sale of 15 per cent off, it was $174.25, before tax.


Now I'm planning my accessories. And talking glowingly about my wedding dress rebellion.

The question I get is always the same: "What about your bridesmaids? What are they wearing?"

Bridesmaids? I'm not having any.

We've decided to elope.


Follow Emily Fredrix on Twitter at