I Bought My Plus Size Wedding Gown Online For $150 & I'd Do It Again

Courtesy Amber Petty

I sat in the dressing room of the bridal boutique and cried. The dress was just so beautiful. The clerk brought a box of tissues around to all the teary-eyed women in the room. “Are you saying yes?” she asked. My friend, the one in the gorgeous wedding dress, nodded in approval. I witnessed my best friend have a transcendent experience in shopping, like a scene right out of a terrible romantic comedy.

A year later, it was my turn to find a gown. There were no gasps. No tears. I hurried in and out of every dress that was offered in a plus size sample. Some looked fine. Others didn’t. For anything remotely OK, I’d ask the clerk, “What style would you call this?” and mentally make a note. I knew I wasn’t going to have a “say yes” moment. Turns out, I was going to have an “it’s only $100 on eBay” experience, instead.

I knew I wasn’t going to have a “say yes” moment. Turns out, I was going to have an “it’s only $100 on eBay” experience, instead.

If Say Yes to the Dress is to be believed, wedding dress shopping should be a magical occasion that ends with signing a check for at least $1,000. I’d never bought a piece of clothing for more than $30 (thank you, thrift stores and Old Navy clearance racks), so the idea of spending a month of New York rent on a one-time gown seemed a little ridiculous.

Also, I’m plus size. At the time of my wedding in 2012, I was about a size 14, sometimes a 12 if the waist was high and the fabric had some stretch. This was the thinnest I’d ever been and I thought dress shopping might not be too hard. Unfortunately, in bridal sizes I was still definitely in the plus department, as I was told my sometimes-size-12 was a size 20 in the wedding world. There’s nothing wrong with being a size 20 according to any scale and there’s nothing wrong with shopping in the plus department. I’ve been in plus sizes since I was 14, so this was nothing new. Sadly, though, being plus size (especially above a size 14/16) means you have far fewer options when it comes to bridal gowns.

Since I knew I didn't want to spend a ton of money on a dress, my first stop was one of the biggest and most affordable bridal brands in the US. Right off the bat, though, the number of dresses I could even try on was limited. Magically, the cutest dresses at the location I visited only came in sample sizes 2 to 6.

The store’s options weren’t great, so my mom and I decided to brave a few more places. One was a massive boutique with greatly discounted gowns. Again, there was almost nothing in my size. I thought then that I might as well buy a big satin sheet, cut a hole in it, and call it couture. Other boutiques had a few cute options in my size, but even then I always had to call in advance to make sure they even offered plus size samples. A few straight up said “no.” And even when the samples did fit, the prices were high.

I decided that normal wedding shopping was not for me. I was too cheap and impatient to wade through the disappointing plus options. So, I went to eBay.

When I tried things on in the stores, I had been taking note of the shape and style of any gowns I liked. So when I found myself looking for options on eBay, I already knew to search for the general styles that I liked. Gorgeous gowns that were normally thousands of dollars would pop up on eBay for $100. I knew that $1,000 dress didn’t become $100 through magic. There are some ethical implications that come with buying a dress from a discount shop, where it's basically impossible to know the conditions and compensation are like for the workers making the products. Some eBay stores have been known to steal the work of notable designers and make cheap knock-offs. I wasn’t searching for an exact designer replica, but I was a bit torn about supporting these ethically ambiguous stores. In the end, I didn’t have the money to make the ethically happy choice. I chose affordability.

I decided that normal wedding shopping was not for me. I was too cheap and impatient to wade through the disappointing plus options. So, I went to eBay.

After a few hours of searching online, I found a dress I loved. It had a corset back, so the size didn’t have to be exact, and it also had the full skirt I was looking for. I took my measurements, filled out the order form, and sent $150 through PayPal for my wedding gown.

A few weeks later, I got a message that my dress was about to arrive. I received the package, tore it open with excitement, and it was... red. Bright red. As I pulled it out of the plastic, I saw immediately that it was a shiny, orange-red mermaid gown that looked like it belonged in only the cheapest of ballroom dance competitions. This was not what I ordered and I promptly freaked out.

Courtesy Amber Petty

I wrote a letter that politely contained my rage, and I heard back very quickly that the delivery was a mixup and that my actual, non-ballroom dancing competition dress was on the way. As a bonus, I got to keep the red, bedazzled gown, too! A couple days later, the real dress arrived. It was... OK. Did it look like the picture? Oh no. But did it look bad? I didn’t really know.

A few weeks later, I got a message that my dress was about to arrive. I received the package, tore it open with excitement, and it was... red. Bright red

The bodice hit just below my natural waist, the skirt was made from beautiful flowing lace, and the top was covered in fake flowers. That sounds pretty enough, but all the little tulle blossoms added bulk and the cut wasn’t very flattering. I was able to take off most of the fake flowers, which looked better. (And fun fact: I used those unwanted blooms for my flower girl basket.) But, it was still too big. It was receiving my too-big dress and what happened after that, though, that taught me the most valuable lessons about plus size wedding dress shopping on a budget — lessons that might help other brides, too.

Use Accurate Measurements

Courtesy Amber Petty

When I wrote down my measurements, I exaggerated slightly. I made them all an inch or so bigger, thinking the dress would err small and that the corset back would compensate. Sadly, the dress was very accurately made and looked baggy.

I looked up tailors and found that altering the dress would cost two to three times what the dress actually cost. Plus, I didn’t really like where the waist hit and that would have been incredibly expensive to correct.

There was no return policy (surprise, surprise), so I decided to sell my dress and buy an entirely new one.

Don’t Be Scared of Selling

Selling the dress was shockingly easy. I included a variety of pictures, but they weren’t fancy, and in retrospect, the lighting really left something to be desired. Still, the dress sold quickly for $100 plus the cost of shipping. Yes, I lost $50 on the deal, but I was confident that would be cheaper than dealing with dress No. 1.

Back to eBay I went. This time, I wanted a higher waist and no odd bodice flowers. Quickly, I found something that looked good, and I bought it. Bonus: It was $100. I used accurate measurements this time and hoped for the best.

About three weeks later, the dress arrived (with no red dress fake out this time), and it fit almost perfectly. After a slight zipper mishap (who knew there'd be a zipper and a corset?), I had my friend help me lace up the dress, and when I turned around, it was wonderful. It had a beautiful lace skirt, the perfect waist, and all the twirly-ness I desired. I loved it.

All in all, I spent $150 (including the $50 I lost from the first dress) on the gown. I also spent about $45 total for a hoop skirt, gloves, and a veil, which I also found on eBay.

For me, buying a dress online was the perfect option. Unlike a lot of brides, I didn’t have a laundry list of specific qualities for my wedding dress. I knew I wanted a vintage-ish look and an A-line skirt, but most importantly, I didn’t want to go into a ton of dressing rooms only to leave feeling disappointed and not good enough when the store didn’t have more than a couple samples that actually fit me.

For me, buying a dress online was the perfect option.

Money Doesn’t Make The Dress

Courtesy Amber Petty

I didn’t believe that you had to spend thousands of dollars to feel good on your wedding day. I've looked great on many occasions in my life and I never had to spend $1,000 (my sophomore homecoming dress was $2 from a thrift store and it’s still one of the proudest moments of my life). As I look back at the photos of old proms, premieres, and other fancy occasions, I never think “I should have spent more.” I knew my wedding would be exactly the same. Buying online allowed me to get a lovely dress for the amount I wanted to pay and it didn’t leave me feeling worthless. I felt beautiful.

Brides are pressured to spend inordinate amounts of money on every part of their wedding. And while every bride should feel entitled to spend exactly as much or as little as they want to on their day, I didn't want my dress to cost as much as a car payment — and it doesn't have to. Feel free to try non-traditional options, online stores, or secondhand dresses. If the cost of the dress sends you into credit card debt, it could take away a lot of the fun of wearing a ball gown. There are affordable options out there. Though it took a little more time and risk for me to find something I loved, I ended up loving all that money I'd saved being in my bank account even more.

Buying online allowed me to get a lovely dress for the amount I wanted to pay and it didn’t leave me feeling worthless. I felt beautiful.

The year before, after my friend tried on her beautiful lace gown and left me and her friends in tears, she didn’t even end up getting that dress because it was out of her budget. On her wedding day, no one (including her) was disappointed with her cheaper dress. We all cried again because she was still gorgeous and the day was full of love.

For me, having a cheap dress made my wedding more enjoyable. I never felt guilty about the money I spent or worried about how we’d pay for it all. Instead, it was paid for, people seemed to like it, I felt great, and now it sits in clump at the bottom of my closet. And I’m very happy to not have a $5,000 clump taking up that space.