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Brides on a budget

By Jaclyn Reiss
Globe Correspondent / August 26, 2012
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National cable network TLC is airing an eight-episode show that follows frugal brides as they shop for discounted designer dresses at Vows Bridal Outlet on Galen Street in Watertown.

“I Found the Gown,” which was scheduled to premiere Friday, differs from many of the network’s other staple shows — such as “Say Yes to the Dress” — in that it acknowledges many brides lack the budget necessary to acquire a designer wedding gown.

“TLC has a lot of shows about different types of matrimony milestones, and finding a dress is really important,” said Niki Kazakos, a spokeswoman for the network. “On ‘I Found the Gown,’ it’s really about the discount that brides are getting.”

Each half-hour episode will follow three brides-to-be  as they meet with Vows consultants to find their dream dress.

Owners Rick and Leslie DeAngelo, who are married, are able to offer upscale designer names at low prices because they buy their inventory at cheaper prices, they explained.

“We are liquidators,” Leslie said, noting that she buys up to 200 dresses at a time.

The store receives inventory on a daily basis, and the owners go on larger buying trips weekly with lists of sought-after designers and styles demanded by their customers. Buying the dresses at wholesale lets Vows resell them for largely discounted prices.

“We had a bride who saw a gown elsewhere for $20,000 but found it here for $2,200, and she screamed,” Leslie said. “We also get people in tears, saying, ‘Oh my god, we can afford it.’ ”

There is a catch, however. The DeAngelos said while some designer gowns are in perfect condition, simply overstocked or bought from other businesses closing down, some of their store’s dresses were previously worn down the runway, or served as samples.

Also, the store also might only have specific sizes, giving customers a “what you see is what you get” experience.

But the owners said that most gowns range from perfect to near-perfect condition, and they offer dry cleaning and repair work at no additional cost.

And even if the dresses have had a history elsewhere, many brides overlook the details, as they are hoping to score a deal on their fantasy frock now more than ever, the couple said.

“Especially with the economy the way it is, people are looking for deals and bargains,” Rick said. “Some people will spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a gown, but the other 99 percent of the population is looking for a great deal on a beautiful gown.”

Leslie said that even customers with more disposable income shop at Vows because they see more practical ways to use their funds.

“Even people in the 1 percent don’t want to go crazy,” she said. “They want to look fabulous, but can’t see spending $10,000 for five hours, and would rather put a down payment on a house.”

Leslie said the ending price tag also influences shoppers’ decisions.

“This is one of most important dresses they’ll ever wear, but they also didn’t break the bank, so it’s an extra boost at the end,” she said.

The couple started the business 20 years ago when Leslie encountered problems finding an inexpensive wedding dress.

After experiencing booming success at a small storefront in Newton, they moved to Galen Street in Watertown because of its proximity to Boston, availability to public transportation, vicinity to major roadways, and accommodating indoor space and parking lot, the couple said.

“It’s definitely a unique business, and we’re successful because people are looking for that high-end designer at a discount,” Rick said, adding that most Vows customers hear about their store through word-of-mouth.

Tyler Vallante, 28, is one of those customers. She drove to Watertown from East Providence, R.I., with her mother, future mother-in-law, and a bridesmaid on the recommendations of numerous co-workers, she said.

“They told me it’s great because you can pull dresses yourself and try a lot of dresses, whereas if you go to another salon, you can only try on a few dresses,” Vallante said. “They said the prices are better, and they all found their gowns there.”

Price-conscientious herself, Vallante said she tried on designers at Vows that she had only read about: Romona Keveza, Christos, Kenneth Pool.

“I could have afforded it, which was crazy because I assumed I couldn’t afford any — they’re $5,000 gowns elsewhere,” she said.

Vallante said she was able to save money on her gown, spending under $2,000, and will use the leftover funds to throw a detail-oriented party.

“I didn’t want to spend a lot of our budget on the dress, because I didn’t think it was as important as other things,” she said, such as the food and DJ at her wedding reception.

“I want the people who come to have a great time. They remember that more than what you’re wearing.”

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

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“I Found the Gown”

TLC series was set to premiere last week, with new 30-minute episodes to run the next three Fridays in back-to-back increments at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Check television listings to see when episodes will be repeated.