Ultimate Guide to Formal Dress Shopping Online

Formal Dress Shopping

Formal Dress Shopping

It’s the best time of the year: FORMAL SEASON! That’s right! Whether you’re in a sorority or plan on getting yourself invited to a fraternity’s formal, this is your ultimate guide to finding the perfect dress online at an affordable price (tips, tricks, and favorite stores).

Here are some rules of thumb:
  • Look at the size chart every time and actually know your measurements. You won’t know how the dress will fit until you actually try it on, but this is the best way you can guestimate
  • Check the store’s return and exchange policy – many require you to pay postage. Look for stores (like the ones listed below) that offer free returns and exchanges.
  • Try to find stores with free shipping or discounts for first-time users
  • Google search coupons and promo codes for that store ( always has great ones!)
  • See if any sisters/friends want to buy with you if there’s a large shipping fee

tobi logo

Tobi is GREAT! This is my #1 recommendation by far. I ordered my semi-formal dress from here along with another dress as a backup. Not only did they ship incredibly fast (within a week!), but the dresses were such high quality. I love Tobi because they have something for everybody – from super scandalous cut-out dresses to modest work-appropriate dresses.

The main reason I ordered through them was because they offer free returns and exchanges. Also, they offer 50% off your first order AND free shipping! You just can’t get a better deal than that.

I do have to say though, their dresses do run small. I am usually a size small/medium in dresses, so I ordered a medium to be on the safe side. My dress was skin tight – which was fine, just not what I had anticipated. I would recommend ordering a size up. Worst case scenario, you can exchange it for free for the smaller size!

Nordstrom LogoI will always stand by Nordstrom. With free shipping and free returns, you know they are dependable. They are known throughout the industry to have the highest quality and customer service.

Mod Cloth


ModCloth is another super cute online shop with free returns and exchanges. Their dresses are unlike any you will see. If you buy a formal dress from here, I doubt anybody else at your formal will have the same one!

urban-outfitters-logoWho knew Urban Outfitters had free returns and exchanges? Not me! They have super cute dress options as well especially if you’re going for the more boho look (I’m looking at you, Little!)

Where are your favorite places to shop online?

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  • I could’ve totally used this when shopping for formal last month. Ah. Nonetheless these are some amazing tips and suggestions! Also, I had no idea UO had free returns/exchanges! Totally awesome!

    • Oh darn! Definitely keep it in mind for formal next year then! (:

  • Anonymous

    Awesome job Madeleine! I love all of the dress picks! I wish I had had them for prom/homecoming! -Emma
    {The Daily Dilemma}

  • Hey Madeleine! Love the dresses you picked and wish I had had them for prom/ homecoming since it can be so hard to search the mall and online. Keep up the awesome work!

  • Love your picks! These dresses are so cute! I am searching for a dress for an upcoming event and I might just have to pick one of these! – Amanda

    • Yay I’m so glad I could help! Definitely post pictures of whatever dress you decide on!

  • This post was so helpful! I am currently in the search for a formal dress for my boyfriends firehouse annual ball! I will definitely be looking through these websites today!


  • Great tips! I love all of your picks here. I don’t really have a need for a formal dress right now and I like to use Rent the Runway a lot, but I will be sure to come back here next time I’m in need! Thanks for sharing :)

    xo Megan, Lush to Blush

    • I’ve never used Rent the Runway but it seems like such a good idea. Do you like it?