Roundup: Courthouse Dresses For Under $100

When Michael and I eloped a few years ago, we were just a couple of broke kids who didn’t want to have to wait until our wedding date to get benefits and insurance. Since we were having a “real” wedding* the following year, we tried to be very nonchalant about the whole thing. We rolled out of bed one morning, threw on some cute clothes, and drove to the city clerk’s office with two of our closest friends. Then we had French fries and beer.

Looking back, there are parts of that day that are way more romantic than our wedding wedding (which, don’t get me wrong, I loved to pieces as well). But the whole thing was delightfully unfussy, unplanned, and we didn’t worry about whether or not things were perfect. We just took what we had and made it work.

Since then, I’ve always thought impromptu city hall weddings are some of the most romantic. And it is in the spirit of these kinds of nuptials that we bring you today’s roundup. Because while you certainly don’t need to buy anything new for an elopement or courthouse wedding (I wore a clearance H&M dress I already had in my closet), maybe you want to. And do you want to know what the best part of getting married in a casual dress is? You can wear your wedding dress any day you want, anywhere you want, and nobody has to know. It’s the same thrill as having super awesome underwear on, except everybody can see it. Win!

*Editor’s Note: Of course ALL weddings are real. Duh, self.

Jacqueline Marie Bow Dress from Ruche ($74.99)

Plus Size Bonded Lace Dress from Simply Be ($69.00)

Studded Collar Georgette Dress from Forever 21 ($24.80)

Cutout Shoulder Dress from Nordstrom ($86.00)

Adrift on a Cloud Dress from ModCloth ($99.00)

Sonja Lace Detail Dress from Ruche ($42.99)

Bow, How Wonderful Dress from ModCloth ($49.99)

Plus Size Ponte Stud Tunic Dress from Simbly Be ($75.00)

Plus Size White Pantsuit from Ashley Stewart  ($76.26)

Spike Stud Peplum Dress from Forever 21 ($22.80)

Lace Midi Dress from Topshop ($92.00)

Bad Behavior Dress from Nasty Gal ($58.00)

Draped Chiffon Halter Dress from Nordstrom ($99.97)

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  • Ooh, I love this round-up! After starting to think seriously about eloping, I started thinking of kick-ass party dresses rather than a gown. The elopement idea was scratched (family is pretty important to us), but the party dress idea remained. Then I was browsing ModCloth clearance.

    Then I ordered a kick-ass party dress I want to get married in, without a date set, without a wedding being planned, without feeling like it was a crazy idea (I have the partner! We’re starting to save up! It only cost $63!). The dress should get here tomorrow. (eek!)

    • Amy Hawkins

      I bought my dress before we set a date too! We were engaged but not planning yet, and I was on etsy not even looking at wedding dresses. I happened across a gorgeous 50s prom dress in EXACTLY my size AND ON SALE (and even before the sale it had been under $200). It actually helped us narrow things down when setting the date, because the dress really screams “spring”. The wedding is next weekend and I can’t wait to wear it!

      • What a great find! As an avid shopper, I can’t help but be in awe of amazing clearance scores. Best wishes for your wedding!

  • anon

    I seriously want to see some wordless weddings with these dresses in them!

  • Squeee courthouse wedding dresses! (That’s my super constructive comment of the day!)

  • KW

    super cute, all of them! Before I went with a blue sundress for my waterfall wedding, I bought an ivory knee-length dress with a bit of a sparkle detail online from Macy’s. It was about $70 so I bought 2 sizes since I wasn’t sure which would fit better. It would have fit right in with this roundup.

    Macy’s has an awesome return policy, BTW. By the time I returned the 2 ivory ones (to a store, no mailing needed), the dress was no longer available online and they still took it back for a full refund with no questions asked. I have difficulty finding clothes that fit right at the best of times, so I don’t generally like to buy something without having tried it on.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Macy’s has also been great with our registry. In terms of dollar-value, we ended up returning most of our wedding gifts, even from our registry [long story]. Macy’s took everything back with a smile. Then they gave us registry discounts on things that weren’t on our registry, in addition to the great sale prices. I also got a price adjustment on something that went on sale a week after I ordered it, without the documentation usually required.

    • My wedding dress was from Macy’s, and it was 50 bucks! They have a good return policy and give out discount coupons like candy.

      All these dresses rock so hard.

  • EKS

    These are great for backyard, casual weddings too!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Ooh! Pretty dresses! Yay! I’m already married, but several of these I’d still buy as just regular ol’ party dresses.

    If I weren’t already married, I’d also consider a few of these for “pre-wedding parties.” Basically the only “problem” with our late-fall wedding is that I had “nothing” to wear to my fall bridal shower. All my clothes that were warm enough felt dark and un-feminine. I splurged on an ivory sweater dress from H&M for $35. It’s now my go-to cold-weather party dress.

  • Emily

    I would just like to go on the record as saying that I love the ones with sleeves. Never would have worked for me in New Orleans in July, but still. Love them!

    • meg

      That’s right. With Maddie, Emily, and Rachel, our courthouse wedding staff count is now up to three.

      • Stalking Sarah

        And another 10 points for having models of color. So much win!

        These posts brought to you by the “meaningless points are fun” brigade.

  • Martha

    OMG! That first dress is so awesome. I want it now!!!!!!!!!!!! Just for fun. I could wear it to the rehearsal, but we are going super casual for that event. Can I just buy that bow dress because it is beautiful????

    • Samantha

      Oh you can dress that baby down! Throw on some colorful strappy sandles or espadrilles and a funky necklace and you are casualified and fabulous at the same time!

    • Samantha’s right. Also- a cardigan in case it gets chilly in the evening, and let your hair down/in a low pony. Done.

  • Laura

    Orrrrrrr dresses for rehearsal dinner?!? Looove.

  • Stalking Sarah

    10 points for general awesomeness
    10 points for catering to frugality
    10 points for finding things you can order online or find in a normal mall store
    10 points for having plus-sized items
    10 points for having “modest” items (aka not just strapless)
    10 points for having a pantsuit (I would love to see more of this!)

    APW FTW!

    • meg

      That’s 60 points!!!!

    • 60 points to Gryffindor!!!!!

  • Not Sarah

    Or dresses for your big wedding because you’re not a huge gown fan? Says the single girl who has zero interest in wearing a white dress to her future wedding and has her heart set on a royal blue dress. I mean, my mom wore a pink dress when my parents got married, so why do I need to wear a white poofy dress?!

    • Stalking Sarah

      Word to moms and their inconsistencies. My mom wore a pants suit to her first wedding and a summer dress to her second, and then BALKED at the idea that I wouldn’t wear a long poofy dress with a huge veil.

    • Brenda

      I wore a navy blue dress for my registry office civil ceremony (courthouse equivalent here in the UK, we’re having the “real” wedding in the summer) and it was awesome. I loved it. You can have a blue dress if you want!

    • Rebecca

      Just in case you might want to know, Ann Taylor has, like, all the royal blue dresses right now.

      I was actually surprised that I wound up wanting to wear a white/ whiteish dress- I’m a big fan of color, but I totally fell into the white = bridal mindset when I was shopping.

  • So if you’re a guest at a wedding where the bride is wearing a teal-blue dress, can I wear white, or is that still a no-no? Because if it’s not, I so want the Adrift on a Cloud dress.

    • If you are far enough from the wedding (as in, don’t do this a week before) I would ask the bride (or ask the fiance/e to ask the bride if that’s who you know).

      I wore light blue and specifically mentioned in the dress code section of our website that I would be wearing light blue so that people who cared could wear white freely and wouldn’t feel awkward when they showed up in light blue.

      For me, I did not care. I kind of just assumed I’d be the one in the foofy dress and veil and also, there was nobody in attendance who didn’t know me except the groom’s Dutch cousins, so, you know, it would be pretty obvious I was the bride.

      (Of course, I did get asked by a random person at the venue if there was an event going on of some kind to which I went “uhh…yes…wedding? I’m the bride?” And gestured to my veil)

  • When we eloped, I wore a bright blue dress that I had bought a few months back (with the elopement in mind, although that didn’t stop me from wearing it beforehand and almost spilling an entire coffee on it!). Now my “wedding dress” is one of my favourite items of clothing and I get to wear it whenever I want! Although I’ve gotten a lot more mileage on my wedding cardigan…

    • Fist bump for the wedding cardigan! I wear mine at least once a week. It’s a nice little memory without my looking crazypants like I would wearing my wedding dress 50 times a year.

  • Emily

    more dressssses please I can’t get enough!!! loving the $100 and under price range. Anyone else get annoyed on sites that have “budget” dresses for way more than $100? I do.

  • Katie

    Perfect timing, APW. We scratched our town hall plan about a week ago (long story). Now, we’re throwing together a tiny backyard ceremony (just parents and our dog) for two weeks from today. I’ve spent the past week or so ordering a bunch of white/ivory dresses like these to try (and actually considered a few you included!). I ended up ordering options from Land’s End, Banana Republic, Gap, Macy’s, and Nordstrom. Prices ranged from $30-150. When they’ve all arrived next week, I’ll pick a winner and return the rest after our honeymoon. (P.S. I’m size 16-18 so thanks for including the plus-sizes!)

  • Rachel

    Awesome round-up of dresses! I bought a (slightly) more expensive ivory dress from Nordstrom. My fiancé and I will be getting married at the downtown Austin courthouse in June.

  • Courthouse dresses rock. One of my favourite wedding memories was a mad rush through the mall with my sister-in-law and niece two days before we ran to city hall.

    I love my dress, but I’m a little wistful that Adrift on a Cloud dress wasn’t an option then.

  • KC

    Okay, so that final dress, in *silk* (!) chiffon – I am not buying it, just ogling it, but wondering how people would handle the breast-support/nipple-showthrough question with that structure (or lack thereof?).

    (does the fact that I am even asking this question mean that halter-top chiffon dresses are out of my life forever? *dramatic sigh*)

    • Sarah E

      I don’t think you could wear a really supportive bra with it as is, but I think you could take material from the sash and make the straps more substantial to hide bra straps. As for nipple show through. . .I’m not sure. If your bust is small enough, either a lightly padded strapless bra or just stick-ons?

    • Unfortunately I think that dress was made for thin women who are members of the I.B.T.C. (not all styles look good on all people, as a large-busted woman I would not be able to work that dress). As for nipple show through, they make little nipple pasties for that!

      • KC

        Yeah, nipple pasties + a particular body type + braless makes sense for the dress as-is. I was sort of hoping that there might be some sort of magical corset or something that I had never heard of that would make this dress wearable for people whose bust needs a bit more support. :-)

        The alterations suggestions to allow actual supportive undergarments on this style of dress are great, too – thanks for the insight, all. :-)

      • Martha

        IBTC, represent!!

    • Rebecca

      I think you could probably have it altered so that the back was just a smidge higher, which would hide a strapless bra, as long as it fit really, really well. I tried on about a million nude strapless bras and wound up with this one– it’s seriously engineered to hold stuff up. But keep in mind that different brands shape their cups differently, so it’s worth trying different brands until you find one that is the shape that your boobs are.

  • I love these. When we did our elopement-before-wedding I wore an ivory/pink/black strapless cotton dress I’d gotten for nothing at the Gap outlet years before. It only really fits when I gain a few pounds, but it’s the one too-big dress I keep. Turned out to be a bad choice though for paddle-boating in the Tidal Basin after the ceremony. Should have brought some shorts. I read in a comment here once that a couple had milkshakes after their elopement and celebrate Milkshake Day every year in addition to their anniversary on the day of their friends and family wedding. We totally stole that idea and went for milkshakes afterward.

  • Amanda

    So fun! I love that you covered a range of styles here, I feel like there’s something for almost everyone. Oh and I want the forever 21 with studs just to wear. Maybe courthouse non-white dresses in the next round up? ;)

  • ferrous

    My fantasy wedding is actually a courthouse ceremony, so this post makes my day. We’re not sure what, exactly, we’re doing yet, but I really enjoy seeing courthouse-anything. Thanks.

  • Misch

    My fiance and I are thinking of doing a courthouse wedding and you swoop in with this article after I have been obsessively worried about what to wear. This is super helpful! Especially since you included plus sizes.

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