Special occasion dresses?

By Mir
February 28, 2013

The ever-lovely Allison writes:

So. I need a dress for my niece’s wedding in Baltimore in August.

Where are your (or your readers’) staple stores for looking for a special event dress? I am not talking haute couture – but I would be willing to spend a few hundred dollars if I have to on the outfit. (But of course, I’d preferably like to get everything on sale….) FWIW, I think I am looking for an A-line cocktail-type dress. I have the upper body structure of an emaciated sparrow combined with less emaciated hips. A lines are my friend.

(Allison also included a picture of her delicious baby, but I am not sharing it here because it will make your heart explode. She’s a redhead, y’all. Swoon.)

So, first things first: A-lines are a very flattering cut on almost everyone, but your “emaciated sparrow” description made me both cringe and laugh. Also, for those of us with a similar body structure (pears, represent!), bear in mind that the Mad-Men-eque styles with full skirts are a great option, too.

On to the suggestions! Personally, I have scored a number of really lovely dresses from 6pm.com, but prices go up and down and the selection oftentimes isn’t great. That’s a if-you-luck-out kind of place, for sure, though the price will certainly always be right. Similarly, I’ve gotten a couple of killer pieces from Rue La La, but you have to register and check the boutiques every day and it ends up being a matter of timing.

For less aggravating shopping, Bluefly is a hotbed of designer goodies, though the prices will reflect that (even the discounts there still make for spendy shopping). I would say the next price tier down from there—but still fancy-schmancy—would be Last Call, and from there I’d probably go down to the good department stores like Dillards and Macy’s (maybe even Bon-Ton, too). The department store advantage, of course, is wide selection, frequent sales, and maybe even a local store for returns if you have trouble finding what you want.

Readers, where else would you look?


  1. RentTheRunway! You can rent a beautiful dress with a free backup size, and an additional style for an extra $25. Starts at $50 and less commitment than buying. 🙂

  2. Consignment! I often see really spectacular bargains that you know were only worn one time! If I ever have a special occasion, that’s where I’ll shop.

  3. I’ve had really good luck with eShakti recently. They sort of bill themselves as being for full figured girls, but you can customize so many aspects of the dress – neckline, length, sleeves, everything! I”m pretty much an 8 up top and a 10 on the bottom and they’re dresses fit me really well. And they have some really pretty colors and styles for spring.

  4. ugh. THEIR dresses. Not they’re dresses.

  5. I discovered MyHabit.com a couple years ago and I looooove it. Most of the time. They’re run by Amazon. I’ve spent an absurd amount of money there on women’s and kids clothes, shoes (I paid $26 for a $180 pair of boots once), kitchen stuff, decor, office/work stuff… Best part is it’s shipping and free returns (on returnable items, which most are). It’s like $5 deduction to get a return credited to your credit card, but it’s totally free if you opt for store credit, which is also good on Amazon.

  6. I was going to say Nordstroms online. Have had great success…. but then I saw the above comment about Rent The Runway… and YES!! It is an excellent idea, and they allow you to have an additional (back-up) dress AND a size bigger or smaller, just in case….

  7. If you have a Nordstrom Rack or Off 5th (Saks) anywhere in your vicinity they can be worth the trip. I have also used the (free) personal shopper service at Nordstrom to help me find the style I like then I look for it at discount places. If you can find the exact same dress at a discount store, Norstrom will often match it. And, you don’t have to buy if you use the personal shopper, but don’t abuse that and ruin it for everyone!

    All that said, rent the runway is a great choice, too.

  8. I love 6PM but after paying $35 to return 4 pair of tall boots I’m a bit more cautious. Shopping online for anything means you’ll be returning whatever doesn’t work. You may want to start with places that offer free or at least easy returns or someplace you’ve shopped before so you know how the sizes fit. Or just build return fees into your budget. Nordstroms has free shipping and free returns and their half-yearly sale will start May 22nd this year. I think Amazon also has free returns on clothing.

  9. Lord and Taylor’s always has beautiful dresses.

  10. The first place I’d look would be TJ Maxx or Marshalls, as they often have a good selection of dresses that were originally at the nicer department stores. I’ve seen a lot of Calvin Klein dresses there that look like the kind of thing Allison describes. An outlet mall trip would be a good idea, if she can invest a day in shopping, to check both the department store outlets (Off Fifth, Nordstrom Rack, etc.) and the designer outlets (BCBG and Kenneth Cole come to mind as being good sources for tailored cocktail dresses.)

  11. Rise up fellow Pears! Nordstrom Online has this fabulous tool called “True Fit”. You put in your ht, wt, and then build a couple of things in your closet using purchases from other brands so that Nordstrom knows what fits you best. For example, I heart Banana Republic Slacks…so I entered that brand in my “closet”.

    Then the magic happens…as you are browsing on-line, the site will tell you if the style is recommended for you, and in what size (I’m an 8-12 there), or if they don’t recommend it all and why!

    In the middle of purchasing a formal gown for the husband’s event myself. Allow me to say he only gave me THREE weeks notice. I forgive him though because it means he’ll be dressing up in his pretty clothes and looking all man-candy for me.

  12. Another place I’ve had good luck on dresses is JC Penney – particularly their Liz Claiborne line. They may not be as fancy as you are looking for, but I’ve gotten a couple of nice dresses their for summer weddings and work in the last year.

  13. You might want to check out overstock.com–I found a few great dresses there a couple of years ago. Good luck!

  14. TJ Maxx is my go-to when shopping for dresses. I have had unbelievable luck this year – $40 Calvin Klein dress and a $30 can’t-remember-the-brand-but-totally-awesome-looking dress. Give them a shot, if there is one nearby.

  15. I also love Ruelala and MyHabit! Modcloth also has lovely dresses, many with a retro-ish vibe. I’ve also had luck at ShabbyApple.

  16. I like the ones you mentioned, but have to echo earlier comments- Rent the Runway!!!

  17. Oh, and just to pitch this etsy designer I’ve used before- heartmycloset-makes extraordinary dresses for around $100. They fir like a dream.

  18. I second the Overstock suggestion. I found that they carried similar styles to Lord & Taylor, Macy’s & Nordstrom at lower prices, and their return system is easy. What I did was scan the online stock of several stores then went to Overstock for similar styles at lower cost. Love the idea of that Nordstrom service! It must be said that Macy’s sales, with coupons, are amazing — and usually their online selection is much better than stores. Comparison shopping online is always the best method!

  19. I second the JC Penney recommendation! After they featured a 2-dad family in spring advertising last year and got boycotted by some religious conservative groups, I made a point of going in to buy something. I figured it would be towels or a small appliance. But they had adorable dresses and I wound up buying a fancy dress for my 25th high school reunion AND a cute day dress for a total of about $100.

  20. Also, if you are “full figured” (as I am), I have had good luck finding special occasion dresses at Avenue.

  21. Sale rack at White House/Black Market. I scored a beautifully tailored lipstick pink satin strapless dress for under $50! And I’ve still got it three years later. The regular special occasion dresses are pricey, but the sale stuff )especially when combined with the loyalty card discounts) can be a real steal.

  22. I’ve had luck with jcrew and Ann Taylor in the past. Nice basic shapes, good color variety. Both having sales right now!

  23. Macy’s and Nordstrom online — got dresses from both recently, keeping the Macy’s, returning the Nordstrom b/c that particularly dress didn’t work on me (yay free returns and free shipping). BonTon / Boston Stores was good for finding a shrug / bolero marked down. I do really like the dresses at White House / Black Market, though haven’t bought from them online.

  24. If there is a DressBarn near you, I suggest them. Though they do also have an online shop at http://www.dressbarn.com which has almost everything you would find in stores. I particularly love them because they have all ranges of sizes from petite to plus and a good variety of casual as well as fancy dresses. Their regular prices are not outrageous, but their sale prices are better, and you can.ususlly find a coupon online.

Bargain Hunt





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