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How Do YOU Dress for Formal Events without Breaking the Bank?!

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Black Tie

Check out the email I recently received from Lori…

“My husband and I will be attending a black tie Air Force event (dinner and ceremony for an award my husband, along with others, are nominated for) in March. Neither of us currently own any appropriate black tie attire and I’m looking for a budget-friendly option but don’t even know where to start. Do you have any tips for finding something that won’t be too expensive?”

With that in mind, do YOU have any tips on how to dress for formal events without breaking the bank? Please share! 🙂

Join The Discussion

Comments 105

  1. Leighann

    I have never in my life attended anything that would be considered black tie or formal.

    Even my wedding was a Halloween wedding, with people encouraged to dress in silly Halloween costumes. A friend of mine got married and I just threw on an old dress and some slip ons.

    The concept of going to black tie/formal events is absolutely foreign to me.

    • JODI

      Good to know.

  2. dblD-amber

    I’m a HS teacher and I started a program where the female students donate their prom and homecoming dresses to the school. I was able to get the maintenance dept on board and they store everything in a huge closet. Whenever a student has an event they are welcome to go down and search for something to wear. At first the students didn’t want to because they didn’t want to get made fun of for erring second hand. But now we can keep them on hand. The demand is so great. In fact my hubby to me to the Chicago auto show charity night last friday and I found a super sexy dress to wear from the collection. I even got so many compliments at the event. It was great. We get at least 50 dresses a year donated. I believe the collection has over 400 dresses.

  3. Dee

    Another vote for Ross. I recently bought a dress for $40. The same dress was ON SALE for $160 at other stores after doing a quick Google search.

  4. Elaine

    Thrift store

  5. Blessed

    Definitely Ross. My daughter has purchased many formal gowns for great prices.
    Also check with a friends and see if anyone has a gown you can borrow.
    You can probably get away with a nice black dress.
    Have fun at your event.

  6. Adrienne G.

    For military folks, there’s a Facebook page called Operation Deploy Your Dress. My mom has donated some beautiful dresses to them!

  7. CIndy

    OMG! Upscale thrift/2nd hand stores have been a big save for me. Depending on where you live, you might have to travel to find a good shop. But, it’s so worth it. Sometimes, you won’t find your size dress, so keep checking back. Or, consider having it altered by a seamstress. I found a very high-end name evening dress that retailed (online search) for over $750 and paid $80.xx for it, including tax. The ladies at the shop were so very helpful and helped me match jewelry. They also kept a look out for an evening bag and shoes to match, if they came into the shop. They found the evening bag, cost about $12, but not the shoes. Still a great find!!

  8. Sabra

    I use It’s so fun and affordable. I just rent the gown of my dreams.

  9. llc

    I recommend BHFO on ebay (Search BHFO and then opening any listing and then click visit store). They have an online store but their auctions are crazy cheap. They purchase close outs from Bloomingdales and Macys. All their clothes are last season but I have purchased a CK skirt (Calvin Klein) that was originally $160 for a whooping $5 plus shipping. New with tags!
    I have purchased suits for job interviews from them for under $30. Designer shoes for $10. I LOVE THIS PLACE!
    Shipping is very reasonable. You pay full price for the highest shipping item and the rest of the shipping charges are reduced by 70%. And for the bonus – they have lots of PLUS SIZES as well as Mens and Childrens sizes too. I purchase nice 100% cotton high thread count sheets from them for much better prices than the crappy microfiber sheets that Ross sells.

  10. Lelee

    Rent the runway! Excellent customer service 👍🏻

  11. dblD-amber

    Love renttherunway. Especially because of the ladies that post pictures of themselves wearing them. Really helps being able to see how a dress lays on different body types

  12. tikofreya

    I really love used clothes sites, with my favorite being Poshmark! You can list your clothes to resell & there are definitely a bunch of great deals on evening gowns. Poshmark guarantees the item is as the seller describes, so it adds a layer of assurance too. My referral info is below. If you use it you’ll get a $10 credit to use too!

    Sign up with code HRBYS to save $10:

  13. Joan

    I would check out local dress shops. Ask what happens to the samples they receive. If you have some sewing skills you could likely salvage a sample dress.

  14. Janice

    I sell and shop consignment.

  15. Sherry

    Rummage sales

  16. Jenna

    My husband and I went to his military formal last June, and I also didn’t own any fancy dresses. We had a great secondhand store in our town, so I scoured the dress racks for weeks. I found a beautiful knee-length gown in my size, for $6!!! I felt so comfortable in it, and was ecstatic to have only spent a few dollars. =)

  17. MommaRhonda

    I started a program out of our home about 3 years ago called Hope in Fairy Tales Formals. We loan gowns to ladies at no cost to them, we only ask that they return them within 7 days of their event. We started with 7 dresses and have hundreds now! Grown to the point of needing to relocate! We’ve helped hundreds of girls have their dreams come true! ❤️ There are many programs like ours throughout the states.

  18. Lisa

    I attend two to three formal events a year. I’ve always wondered about Rent The Runway. The website recommends having the dress delivered two days before your event. What if it doesn’t fit or what if it looks horrible on you? I have a large chest and it is difficult to find formal dresses that fit properly. Any suggestions for using Rent The Runway? Thanks!

    • mariel

      Lisa, when you use rent the runway- they let you get a backup size. I would also highly suggest that you try on styles of the same designer at a department store to see how that particular designer fits you.

      • Lisa

        Thank you!

  19. Emily

    I order a dress from “Rent the Runway.” You can also check clearance aisles at bridal stores. Macy’s has a nice selection of formal attire on their site and there are facebook groups for people selling their formal gowns (mostly for prom but sometimes you get lucky and find adults selling their formal gowns) also has some formal items and they start at $6. Eva Mendes has some formal dresses on the NY & Co. website that would be appropriate for that event.

  20. Lisa

    In the Detroit area as well as hubdreds of other places there are upscale used clothing stores (usually in upper class cities). You can find amazingly affordable designer gowns there.

  21. thehenrydthoreau

    I highly recommend finding something that can double for other occasions (like dining at a 4-5 course restaurant). I have such dresses. It is a better value for your money especially if you find yourself invited to a wedding, dinner, etc in the near future. As far as a purse, go to Ebay. I have two that I bought for $8 each that go with all my dresses. These dresses are not worn all the time so the purses do not endure as much abuse as a daily use purse.

    Just remember, it is the dress that highlights your natural beauty =)

  22. Carrie

    I represent my company at black tie charity events in Chicago and the last gown I bought was around Christmas. It was at Bergners/Carsons for $180 on sale for 40% off bringing it down to $108. While I was in line to check out I checked Hip2Save and she had just put up a coupon for Bergners that was $50 off $100, which brought it down to $58. Score! Kudos to Hip2Save!

  23. Sarakate25

    Got my daughter a formal at our $1 Goodwill shop, another at our local resale for $3 and another on eBay for $8.
    Thankfully she is not a name brander yet:)

  24. Denise

    ebay — I have gotten some really gorgeous formal wear on there really cheap. Got my husband a brand new tuxedo for $40.00 and I got sequin gowns (some new and some only wore 1 time) anywhere between $10-$50.00

  25. Hunterwoody

    How do you all resell these dresses?? Mine just hang in my closet. I need a place to recoup some cash!!

    • JA

      Just coming to ask the same. I put a dress on the new Wallapop app, but so far it hasn’t gotten much attention.

    • KillerStilettos


      I love Poshmark, the #1 app to buy and sell fashion, and know you will love it too! Make money and shop over 5,000 brands at up to 70% off. It’s fun and easy – I promise!

      Install free app now!

      Sign up with code JUACV to get $10 off your first order.

  26. JODI

    Don’t show up in a prom dress.
    I vote for Rent the Runway…….you can also rent the handbag and jewelry.

    Also remember Prom season is coming up……a lot of places will be picked over. Have your husband place a tux rental order soon.

  27. Jen

    I would check thrift shops. Some military bases/posts have swap events. Ask the unit or friends. Borrow from a friend (just get it dry cleaned when you are done). I would say that military functions call for floor length gowns unless otherwise specified. Since your soldier is getting an award, I think this is a great time for you to wear a fabulous floor length gown!

  28. Annie

    ASOS is also a good option with a wide range of prices and designers or their store brand to chose from.

  29. Chantel Chapman

    Check out the Airman’s Attic on base. I used to think they only had old uniforms but they have clothes for all ages, sees and sizes as well as household goods. They only catch is the member has to be E-6 or E-5 and below depending on the base.

  30. Melinda

    Have you tried Yerdle? You “give” items for Yerdle currency and can order items…there are lots of formal clothing, shoes, etc. on there. You can pay to have it shipped or earn free shipping. It helped me clean out my closet! The promo code “welcome” gave me some free currency when I joined. Not sure if it still works. They have all sorts of things-
    I just got an 80 count box of k-cups for Yerdle dollars and had a free shipping credit so I paid a $3 service fee. I have a referral link:

    • Melinda

      Looks like they give you $35 in Yerdle credit & FS through the link. That’s how I got hooked 😉

  31. jhnicole

    I needed this post thanks everyone.I will be attending a fundraiser soon and i have to dress up.Need to look really nice on a budget.Love the ross&co signment ideas.

  32. Alissa

    Check Ebay, you can filter by so many things. You will find something awesome. I do it all of the time. 😉 Good Luck.

  33. Curlybyrdie

    I seem to have great luck finding formal dresses at Carsons on clearance. I juat recently snagged a $300 formal black dress for $40 also i would suggest Windsor i know they are typically prom dresses but they have gorgeous dresses i have seen for $40 and another suggestion a tulle skirt long or midi add a simple top and a statement necklace you could use a tulle skirt over and over again . Windsor has some cute options also Kohls had a cute Lauren Conrad option earlier in year which i know is on clearance. Hope this helps

  34. tightbudgetsandwich

    My son found a great formal dress for me on for $31. If you order online, make sure you have enough time to get it altered if it doesn’t fit quite right. I wound up going to Ross and buying a beautiful outfit for just $19. Try selling your formal dresses on your local Facebook Garage Sale pages.

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