The Gown Search

By Sharon Naylor

March 5, 2010 5 min read

According to several national surveys, including a recent questionnaire run by Seventeen magazine, the average cost of a prom gown is between $195 and $235. Add in shoes, accessories and the cost of getting your hair expertly styled in an updo with stylish curls, and the price can double ... just for your look! The costs of sharing a limousine with a group of friends, going out to eat before the big event, buying a boutonniere for your date -- it all adds up to $800 or more, according to Seventeen.

These days -- with parents tightening household budgets a bit and with more than a quarter of teens saying they're getting less allowance money and using their job incomes on "the important stuff," such as saving for a car -- it doesn't make sense to anyone to spend hundreds of dollars on a prom gown, not to mention the other aspects of preparing for prom.

Still, prom gowns are ultra-important to most teens, so they're looking for ways to get those stylish short or elegant long dresses from their favorite designers for less money. Here are the top 10 tips to help you find the perfect prom dress without spending a fortune:

1. Shop department stores, as well as dress shops. These days, many teens are shopping from bridesmaid dress racks, finding pretty, chic dresses for less than $100. As an added plus for department stores, many have seasonal sales, such as storewide early spring sales, that can earn you 25 percent off the price of that pretty strapless prom gown you spotted on display.

2. Check out unique shops. Outlet stores are supremely popular now for their brand-name lines at up to 70 percent off retail prices. Visit to find outlet centers and individual outlet shop names near you. And consignment shops, particularly those in ritzy neighborhoods where jet-setters' daughters buy and recycle their fabulous party dresses every week, can score you terrific bargains, such as big-name designer dresses for $20!

3. Get on the list. Sign up on the mailing lists at bridal and dress shops in your area; you'll receive advance notice and free admission to these stores' special trunk sales. Several times a year, dress shops conduct trunk sales featuring the outgoing collections of name designers, and the discounts for these fashions usually range from 35 to 75 percent off each dress! And at many trunk sales, you also will find pretty accessories -- such as earrings, gloves and tiaras -- for the same big price breaks.

4. Get a simpler dress. And add a colorful sash at the waist, tying it in a pretty bow in back to copy a pricier designer style.

5. Have a tailor work magic on a dress you own. Tailors and seamstresses can take one of your formal gowns or party dresses from last year, change the length, switch out the sleeves and sew in intricate beading at the neckline, and for less than half the cost of a new dress, you get a custom-designed look.

6. Shop at vintage clothing stores. Vintage dresses are hot, and many vintage shops charge less than $30 for unique dresses. Explore neighborhoods near you to find vintage shops, and perhaps a planned day trip into the nearest city with your mom or your friends can turn up fantastic fashion finds.

7. Win it at auction. EBay and other online auction sites are fabulous twists on the consignment shop; you set your bidding price to win a prom gown that some other girl has put up for auction. And here's a fun fact: Very often, the prom dresses you see on eBay are new, listed there by dress shop owners who are moving the spring pink dresses out of their salons and making room for the dark blues and burgundies of fall.

8. Swap with a friend. Friends from your school may have collections of party dresses from formals they've attended, last year's proms, their sisters' weddings, their bat mitzvahs and other events. When everyone brings an older dress to your swap party, you each get to claim a new-to-you dress that doesn't cost you a thing!

9. Shop at discount Web sites. According to Seventeen magazine, 55 percent of teens shop sales, and 42 percent of teens comparison shop. So you probably have heard of, where the selection of prom dresses truly impresses.

10. Shop at your favorite stores. Your top-choice stores at the mall know that prom season is coming, so they stock up on gorgeous gowns and pretty party dresses and drop their prices 40 percent or more in special prom season sales. Your dream dress might be waiting for you at J. Crew or Forever 21. Happy (discount) shopping!

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