5 ways to find a First Communion dress on a budget

Finding the perfect white dress for your daughter’s first communion isn’t always easy—those little outfits can come with large price tags. Here’s how to keep her looking like an angel without getting a devilish credit card bill later.

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Of all the needs in your household, chances are First Communion dresses aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. You’ve got groceries, school supplies, and soccer uniforms to think about. And yet, if money is tight right now, and the Sacrament of First Holy Communion is coming up fast for your second-grader, surely it’s on your mind. After all, those beautiful white dresses and veils don’t come cheap. In fact, it’s hard to find them for less than $200.

Of course, the adorable white dresses are not the most important part of the day, but they are a big part of the tradition, representing purity and hearkening back to the Communicant’s Baptism. Their symbolism is as lovely as the dresses themselves. It’s no wonder we love seeing the girls lined up in their frills and satin and tulle. But that vision means we’re also tempted to peruse boutiques and department stores for their finest offerings, like this elegant Joan Calabrese embroidered dress for $340 at Saks—the sweet row of buttons and silky bow at the back are enough to make my fingers itch for my credit card.

But for families struggling to purchase a dress this year (and in a shaky economy, we all know you don’t have to be in dire straights for this to be a struggle!), there’s an alternative to spending hundreds on a brand new crisp white dress. The truth is, some of the loveliest and most meaningful dresses come pre-loved, and affordable (even free!) options abound.

Church offerings

For the past few years the Archdiocese of Newark (New Jersey) has been collecting gently used and new Communion dresses (and suits) for families who have a hard time affording them. This year alone, they’ve received 500 dresses. The Diocese wants to make sure “financial hardship doesn’t stand in the way” of the beauty and significance of a child’s Sacrament of First Holy Communion. By providing dresses free of cost to families (and recipients are welcome to keep the dresses or pass them on—no questions asked), the Diocese manages to increase the beauty and significance of the day. Don’t live in Newark? Many churches have similar programs, you just need to search for them online.

eBay

You just never know what interesting items you’ll find on eBay—but affordable, pre-owned First Communion dresses are plentiful. And most are available for around $20, which is a bargain. Though some require bids, others are available through the easy Buy Now option. Caveat emptor always applies with eBay, but many families have found stunning, affordable dresses this way.

Local Facebook groups

One of the handiest features of Facebook has proven to be the local parents groups where moms and dads post items for sale and things they are In Search Of (ISO). So if you need a Communion dress? Search out your town’s name plus “parents” on Facebook. Join the group, review its guidelines for postings, and post “ISO First Communion Dress.” People aren’t as sentimental as you might think—they are often willing to part with a dress in need of a good home (especially if it means extra closet space)—which makes it a win-win for everyone.

Tailor a hand-me-down

There’s no reason why your little one can’t wear a hand-me-down on the day of First Communion, especially as its only been worn once! Ask siblings or friends who have daughters a little older than yours, and keep in mind that tailoring a small dress to fit your child will be a lot cheaper than buying a completely new one.

Shop creatively

Expand your search beyond “First Communion Dresses.” Plenty of chains and “big box” stores sell fancy white dresses for girls, whether for weddings or parties. Even a flower girl dress like this one from Target could make a sweet communion dress, and only costs $40. Remember, it’s not about what the designer made the dress for: it’s what it symbolizes to you and your daughter. Plus, it helps to remember that your daughter looks angelic in pretty much everything she puts on—from patterned tights and a Dora the Explorer t-shirt to a fluffy tulle skirt.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.