Prom may be a high school tradition, but man, is it expensive! Dresses alone can easily cost $300 or $400. Fortunately, there are also plenty of cheap prom dresses for under $50. And since you’re already paying for shoes, corsages, and maybe even hair and makeup, there’s no reason to spend more than you need to on a dress.
I’ve scoured the internet for the best prom dress deals, and some of the prettiest options are under $50. I know exactly how and where to find cheap prom dresses (and quickly at that). And I’ll be dishing my favorite money-saving tips so you can stick to your prom budget.
1. Don’t search for ‘Prom Dress’ when you’re looking to buy online.
Prom dresses are only expensive because some people are willing to pay — which means that just because dresses are labeled for prom, retailers upcharge the heck out of them. To get around that, don’t search online for prom dresses. Instead, search your favorite clothing sites for “formal dresses” or “cocktail attire.”
You’ll have to sift through a few options to find the ones that will work for prom, but you can score a great deal. For example, this tulle maxi dress from Lulu’s isn’t marketed as a prom dress but could totally pass. And it’s marked down to just $29.
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2. Check buy-sell-trade pages in your area.
Since a prom dress is usually something you only wear once, a lot of people will sell them at a discount after the fact. Look for buy-sell-trade Facebook pages in your area and keep an eye out for prom styles. You can also find Facebook groups that are dedicated to dress swapping.
3. Look for clearance bridesmaid dresses.
Another way to find great deals on a cheap prom dress is by shopping for clearance bridesmaid dresses. Sites like Azazie and Birdy Grey do sell prom dresses, but you’ll actually find the best deals by shopping clearance bridesmaid dresses.
You’ll have to filter through a few styles to find some that are more prom than bridesmaid, but it’s definitely worth it. Shop final sale ready-to-ship dresses on Azazie for under $30, or look through hundreds of sale dresses at Birdy Grey for under $40.
4. Amazon and Shein have great cheap prom dress deals, too.
While we try to avoid fast fashion when we can, Amazon and Shein are two of the best places to find cheap prom dresses. Both sites have free returns (if you’re shopping on Amazon, double-check that it’s a Prime listing), so you can order a few dresses and try them on at home. Just be sure to order early and check the expected delivery date because Shein and non-Prime listings sometimes take a few weeks to arrive.
Belle Crisscross Cami Dress ($21.49, Shein)
Sequin Bodice Formal Evening Gown ($21.49, Shein)
Mermaid Glitter Sequin Prom Dress ($33, Amazon)
5. Score cheap prom dresses for $20 in the Windsor clearance section.
Insiders say you can find dresses marked down to $20 in the clearance section at Windsor. In fact, my sister found a nice formal dress there for just $27. The brand does have a prom shop with dresses between $50 – 200, but you can find better deals in the clearance section. And as we said — just because it’s not labeled as a prom dress doesn’t mean it can’t look like one.
6. Shop ahead for next year’s prom.
If you’re anticipating heading to prom next spring, don’t wait to buy your dress! Get ahead of next year’s prom season by snatching up a sale dress from the after-prom sales. Retailers typically don’t want to store inventory for next season, so they mark down dresses quite a bit once all the local proms are over. You can find these deals online, but we recommend looking in person because many online stores have final sale or no-return policies on heavily discounted styles.
7. Rent your dress instead of buying it to save upwards of 70%.
- Courtesy of Rent the Runway
Instead of spending money on a dress you won’t wear again, consider renting one instead. With services like Rent the Runway, you can rent expensive dresses for much cheaper. When you do a one-time rental, you have four days to wear it and then return it (you can also upgrade to an 8-day rental if you want to).
Expect to pay between $30 – $70 to rent a formal dress from the site. Compare that to paying $100 retail for a prom dress. And if you’ve never used the service before, you can get 20% off your first one-time rental with the code GETDRESSED.
8. Look on Poshmark or Mercari for lightly used prom dresses.
Another way to find resale dresses is to search sites like Poshmark or Mercari. Sellers often include photos of themselves wearing the dress, so you can see what it looks like on an actual person and not just a hanger. And since everything is sold by actual people, you can comment to ask questions about the fit or the features before buying.
10. Download the Queenly app to purchase used dresses and save up to 75%.
If you haven’t heard of Queenly, it’s time to start shopping. The website (or the corresponding app) is essentially one big resale site, but it’s only for formal dresses. With up to 75% off gently used dresses, it’s a great place to find discounted styles for prom.
One of the best features on their site is the “shop by price” section, so you can filter by only dresses that are within your budget. Right now, they have more than 49,000 dresses listed for under $100, so you’re sure to find something you love in your size.
11. Shop off-price retailers like T.J.Maxx and Marshalls.
Stores like T.J.Maxx and Marshalls might not have a big prom display, but you can usually find several racks of formal dresses that are heavily discounted. And these stores usually have a wide variety of styles. So if the traditional poofy, sequined dress isn’t your thing, becoming a Maxxinista might be your best bet.
Rachel Rachel Roy One Shoulder Front Slit Gown ($39.99, T.J.Maxx)
SLNY Sleeveless V-neck Fit and Flare Gown ($39.99, Marshalls)
12. Check Goodwill for cheap prom dresses — seriously!
Goodwill probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of prom dress shopping, but they actually receive a lot of dress donations. Since people typically only wear prom dresses once or twice, they often sit in the back of a closet for a few years before ending up in a donation bin. And usually the dresses are still in fairly good condition. Plus with prices so low, you can pay to have the dress cleaned before you wear it.