Balling on a budget: How to save on your prom dress

The cheapest places and ways to get a prom dress in Charleston


It’s that time of year again: we all fight for the one dress in our size in Dillard’s and pray no one else at Magnet has the same dress. It’s tiring and most of all EXPENSIVE. I went to the prom dress store in Town Center and dresses were easily $400-800. If you’re also spending money on a prom house, dinner, hair, and makeup, prices add up fast. Here are my top tips for making dresses go from insanely expensive to slightly less expensive:

(Note: ideas get less expensive as the list goes on)

  • Shop at a department store instead of a prom dress store
    • The dresses at genealogy and Ash and T’s formals are GORGEOUS. And gorgeously expensive. If these prices don’t quite align with your budget, department stores such as Dillard’s and Macy’s also sell incredibly cute dresses that are closer to the $200-400 price range (with outliers on both sides). This is the best option for people who want a “normal” prom dress shopping experience but were shell-shocked when seeing the prices for Sherri Hill dresses at their local prom boutique.
  • Buy online
    • Though there might be a slight compromise in quality with cheaper online dresses, if you are only wearing the dress once or twice, it doesn’t really matter. However, make sure that wherever you buy your dress from has a good return policy. Prom dress sizing is something else. Also, if the website you shop from itself is sketchy, please read reviews to make sure you will not be scammed. Additionally, always check shipping time. Personally, I’ve gotten used to Amazon Prime and sometimes forget shipping can take weeks. 
  •  Rent a dress
    • This is a good option for people who want to wear a really nice/designer dress but have no intention of wearing it again. The classic site for this is Rent the Runway. Most rentals on the site range from $50-150 and there are a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. They allow you to filter by formality, length, sleeve, neckline, embellishments, and more. Most reviewers leave their height, weight, and size in the comments which is helpful for picking out a dress. 
    • This isn’t quite a dress rental and is both ethically questionable and financially risky, but JJ’s house allows you to pay $10 to try on and keep a dress for a week. Theoretically, if you had a lot of faith in your ability to keep your dress clean and knew you wouldn’t need it altered, prom night could fall within that week that you keep the dress. However, if you do this, make sure you can afford to purchase the dress you picked should something go awry. 
  • Buy a second-hand dress
    • Now, if you’re like me and terrified of ordering things online, you can try thrifting a dress in person. The cheapest dresses are going to be at Goodwill, but despite what Tiktok tells you, it is very hard to find a prom dress there. Other more expensive thrift stores such as Exchange Factor are more likely to leave you successful but still have limited options compared to in-person stores. 
    • Facebook Marketplace is usually more expensive than an in-person thrift store, but with that price increase comes the ease of shopping from your own home and more dress options. Although you might need to use a parent’s Facebook account to access it because let’s be honest who uses Facebook anymore, Facebook Marketplace is a happy medium between buying a used prom dress online and shopping in person. You can turn on location filters to only allow dresses that are within driving distance to appear, which can allow you to shop online while still knowing you will be able to try the dress on. Last year I got my dress on Marketplace, and I LOVED it. 
    • Use an online resale site- the most common are definitely Depop, Poshmark, and Ebay. Personally, I’ve never used any of these sites for dresses, but I have friends who have, so I asked them for tips. Leila, who purchased this year’s dress for $30 says, “I like looking for vintage dresses. When I am looking for dresses, I will look up a color or an era I like and if I find a brand I like and see over and over again, I will start looking for that brand.” When I asked her if it took her a long time to scout out her dress, she laughed and told me that she had over 100 dresses in her Ebay watch list. Ellyse Ramos, a Depop Prom Dress veteran, also shops vintage. She told me “Make sure you ask for measurements of the dress. The listed size doesn’t tell you much.” Both Ellyse and Leila also are getting their dresses slightly altered, so you might want to keep that additional price in mind. Leila and  another used prom dress buyer, Sarah, both recommend searching for 90’s and 80’s dresses because “those dresses were made in higher quantities and were made replicating earlier styles so you have your choice of style but at a cheaper price”
  • Borrow a dress
    • If you are blessed with a friend with a similar taste in fashion and a similar size, borrow their dress or pick out one together and split it. If anyone questions you on it, say something about fast fashion and shame them for buying a brand-new dress they will only use once. If you’re a senior perhaps you have a friend whose dress you loved last year. 
    • If you’re a bit gutsier and see a dress you love on Instagram, reach out and see if they’re willing to rent it out to you. Personally, I am too wimpy to ever try this, but I’ve heard of people who have had great success. 
  • Last but not least: re-wear a dress!
    • If you have a gorgeous dress from another event, why let it go to waste? Delete those old photos from your Instagram and re-wear without shame! Accessorize or wear your differently if you want to keep the dress but change the vibe.

If none of these options sound appealing to you and you truly just want your princess moment where you spend hours trying on dresses and find “the one,” that’s totally ok! The local prom dress stores in Charleston are Ash and T’s in Summerville, Sash’s in the Northwood’s mall, Genealogy in Town Center, and at least according to the internet, David’s Bridal in North Charleston. They might be expensive, but they definitely will make you feel waited on. They even have boxes you can stand on to simulate the length of your dress with heels and employees who will help you lace up the back of your dress (it’s considerably harder than it looks).

If you’re a senior, selling or renting out last year’s dress can help fund buying this year’s dress no matter what option you chose.