7 Ways to Get a Cheap or Free Prom Dress

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Prom season is in full swing: Do you know how much you’ll spend on your teen this year?

Promgirl.com gives a range of $175 to $2,100 for prom night, depending on factors like ticket price, whether a pre-prom dinner is involved, and — here’s a biggie — how much is spent on the dress.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson offers multiple ways to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on a prom gown or dress. Check it out, then read on for more cost-cutting tips.

Let’s break down all the ways you can save on prom dresses.

1. Save money at the dress shop

There are loads of ways to save money at the mall or in a dress shop, including:

  • Sample dresses. Sample dresses are basically the floor model of dresses, but compared with full-priced gowns, they’re dirt-cheap. Your local dress shop might have a sample dress sale day, but it may also have some samples for sale right then, so ask an employee.
  • Minor imperfections. See if the shop has a selection of sale-priced dresses with minor tears or stains. You can sew them up yourself, and if a stain isn’t too noticeable, you’ll have saved a chunk of cash.
  • Almost-perfect sizes. If you find an inexpensive dress in the wrong size, you may be able to get it tailored and still come out ahead. The dress shop will likely have a tailoring service available, but don’t hand over your dress without doing some research first. You’ll want to find a tailor who is both affordable and talented. Do a search on Yelp for “tailoring.” Look for a service with great reviews and compare its rates with your dress shop’s.
  • Gift cards. If you find the perfect dress at a major chain, pick up a gift card at a discount site like GiftCards.com or Plastic Jungle to buy the dress. You’ll easily save 10 percent or more this way.

2. Shop unusual places

Mall department stores don’t have a monopoly on prom dress sales. You might save a bundle shopping somewhere else, like:

  • Consignment shops. While they’re a bit more expensive than a standard thrift store, you’ll have more selection and a better quality to choose from and you’ll still save money over the mall.
  • Outlet stores. Check stores like the Dillard’s outlet and discount shops like T.J. Maxx, Ross and Marshalls for deals.
  • Bridal shops. They carry more than wedding dresses. Check clearance racks for cheap and cute bridesmaid dresses.

3. Rent

If you’re only going to wear it one night, why not rent it? Renting a dress is much cheaper than buying one outright and you might be able to afford trendier pieces this way. Prom dress rental shops are popping up in several major cities. Bridal and tux rentals in your area might also rent bridesmaid dresses that double as prom dresses. You can also look online:

4. Make your own

If you have patience and a sewing machine, you can make a prom dress for a fraction of the cost of in-store dresses. Plus, you can customize the color and pattern of the dress and make it to the perfect size. We’ve found many inexpensive prom dress patterns:

5. Customize an older dress

If you aren’t confident enough in your sewing skills to make a dress from scratch, you can still save a ton by recycling an older dress. Pick up new fabric, beading and supplies from a fabric store and then add your own touches to a dress you already own or one from a thrift store, or alter the dress by changing the length or sleeves.

6. Organize a dress swap

If you don’t want to wear an older dress, set up a dress swap with friends. Family friends may have prom dresses they wore once and now have no use for. You can swap your older dress with theirs and save 100 percent of the cost of a new one.

7. Get help when you can’t afford the cost

If you can’t afford a prom dress, you might qualify for a free one. A few charities offer prom dresses to low-income and financially strapped families. Check out:

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