It’s that time of year: Limos, snazzy dinner, maybe some floral business – and, oh yeah, the dress. As teens across southeast Michigan prepare to descend upon banquet halls en masse this prom season, parents of gals from metro Detroit to Ann Arbor brace for a bit of sticker shock.
But buying an unforgettable gown – or creating one that’s totally one-of-a-kind – doesn’t have to be a wallet-shattering affair, says Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. (the crew behind FreeShippingDay.com). Thankfully, there plenty of ways to offset the cost of prom night fashion without sacrificing style – even for extreme Blair Waldorf wannabes.
Read on for eight dress-shopping tips to help you start saving!
1. Think classic
The first lesson in frugality is versatility – meaning the more often you can wear something, the better value you receive in purchasing it. Look for a basic gown in classic colors like black, navy or gray that could be worn to other occasions. Tailor it to prom night with statement jewelry and killer heels in bold hues.
2. Go consignment shopping
Lots of teens sell their prom dresses through local consignment shops – so you have a really good chance at finding a fabulous frock at the fraction of its original price. Cut your costs further by selling clothes you no longer wear to the same second-hand reseller for credit toward a future dress purchase. Chain consignment shops like Plato’s Closet are tailored to the teenage crowd, so scope out a southeast Michigan location.
3. Get creative
By now, you know it’s a good idea to shop sale racks at department stores. But have you heard of discount gift cards? Sites like GiftCardGranny let you buy store gift cards to places like Macy’s, Dillard’s and Maurices at less than face value – meaning you can get a $50 card for $45 – yielding 10-percent savings before you even enter the store.
4. Save at bridal shops
Though she’ll likely want to avoid an all-out wedding dress on prom night, bridal shops also carry a variety of colorful bridesmaid dresses perfect for prom. Shop the sale rack at chains like David’s Bridal – and don’t discount floor-length gowns at first glance. You can always get it altered for a shorter look and still come out ahead, budget-wise.
5. Rent designer duds
If the realities of designer prices are crushing her dress dreams, consider renting. RentTheRunway.com offers designer dress and accessory rentals for savings of up to 90-percent off retail prices. Each rental includes two sizes to ensure the right fit for no added cost, and the site features a wide selection of cocktail styles and floor-length gowns like this stunning Badgley Mischka Faye Chiffon Gown for $80, or this flirty Nicole Miller Kate Lave V Dress starting at $30.
6. Get employee discounts
If you’re in the market for a job, consider applying at department stores that carry formal attire – since employees usually receive significant discounts off merchandise. Some specialty shops may be willing to provide a free prom dress in return for your part-time assistance, so ask around.
7. Swap at school
Most high schools organize dress swaps to help students cut the cost of formal attire. This is a great opportunity to trade your gently worn dresses for something new at a fraction of the cost of a new dress. Plus, you’ll be happy knowing someone else feels beautiful in a dress you no longer need.
8. DIY with duct tape
When all else fails, wear duct tape to the dance. Seriously! Duck Brand’s annual “Stuck at Prom” competition offers eligible couples a chance to win cash scholarships. First place winners receive $5,000, and second and third place winners get $3,000 and $2,000, respectively. Read the official rules for details and to get inspired by last year’s winners – then get quackin’ (sorry!).
This article was originally reported in April 2012.