I bought my dress at a boutique too but I have researched the subject a lot, because I REALLY wanted a designer dress so I almost bought it used off preownedweddingdresses.com. If you don’t wear a lot of dresses, then I think you should try on dresses in person rather than start out by shopping online.
There’s a lot of ways to find cheap dresses!
2) Online: eBay, preownedweddingdresses.com, oncewed.com, recycledbride.com, the Weddingbee classifieds, etc.
3) Regular stores – like J. Crew and Anne Taylor – sell wedding dresses now for <$500. J. Crew’s are gorgeous and go on sale often. http://www.jcrew.com/womens_category/weddingsandparties/forthebride.jsp?navLoc=left_nav’ defer=’defer (The Arabelle gown is gorgeous and could be hemmed to be tea-length, and is on sale now for $450.)
4) Wedding stores – there ARE some stores that sell dresses for $300 or less! Do a Google search for wedding stores in your area. Also, most bridal shops sell “sample dresses” that are the ones people try on in the store. Sometimes they are a little dirty or may have a tear, but they can be cleaned & altered for still much cheaper than the dress would’ve cost originally! One of my BMs bought her wedding dress that was a sample at David’s Bridal for $200.
5) Thrift stores and consignment stores. Here in Houston there are two wedding-specific consignment stores that sell used wedding dresses. I’ve seen a couple cute dresses at Goodwill, too.
I don’t think there’s any advantages to buying from a store, other than being able to try on the dress in-person, and being able to return it if you don’t like it.
Fittings and alterations depend on the seamstress (there are cheap seamstresses out there, and there are definitely expensive ones – ask around for recommendations! You can even ask older women you work with about where they get their clothes hemmed). They could be $100 or they could be $800. But you may not need them, you never know if you’ll find a dress that’ll fit you pretty snuggly. My dress hardly needed any alterations!
The reason why some people buy their dresses early is that if you order a dress from a bridal shop (not buy the sample dress, which you can usually take home the day you see it at the store, but if you want to order a new one), it can take the manufacturer a long time to make it – I ordered a dress in my size, and it took Allure (the designer) 5 months to make the dress and mail it to me. BUT, unless you plan to order a new dress from a bridal shop, you don’t need to worry about time right now… you’ve got some time to spare.
DON’T buy a dress in your dream size, buy a dress in your true size. If you need to alter it, that’s fine! Also, dresses with corset backs (as opposed to zip-up or button-up backs) are much more easy to adjust if you lose weight, since you just tighten the ties.
And regarding accessories… There’s no rule of thumb that works for everybody! Unlike the previous person, I am not wearing a tiara or many accessories… I am wearing heels, earrings, a veil, and nude-colored lace underwear, and that’s it. I’m not even wearing a bra, since my dress has a low back. I bought my earrings for $22 online, my heels off eBay, and my veil from another bee on Weddingbee. My underwear are just regular from Target, they were like $4. I’m keeping it cheap!
I hope that helps! Let me know if you need any other advice!