Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Budget Myths: Dresses

There's a lot out there about how to save money on wedding stuff.  A lot of them make me nutty.  They are tips written by people who got married ten years ago, or who aren't married.  They sound sensible, but when you apply them, they don't work. 

One budget myth that makes me a little crazy surrounds dresses. I say this as a person who paid $500 for her wedding-industry-standard poofy frilly designer dress, so yes, I got a good deal.  (I think I probably "saved" about $1000, although really I just got a much nicer dress for my same price.)  There are a lot of myths out there surrounding wedding dresses, but the idea I found the hardest to get past was the idea that I should go simple and get a plain white sheath dress to save money.  I wanted the ballgown (even if I went short) with the poofy skirt that felt like a wedding dress.  And it's a lot harder to get that on a budget.  So here are the myths of dress shopping that I encountered:

Myth: You can get a great value on a dress by buying a used or sample sale dress.
Reality: This is partially true, but do not forget to add in the cost of alterations. Do not buy a dress that doesn't fit you without adding in at least $400 for alterations. I'm not kidding you. It can also cost up to $200 to get a sample dress cleaned enough to buy. Let me put this to you, if you don't know the cost of alterations. A hem alone will run you, at most bridal shops, almost $200. I know I advocate paying somebody for their time and effort, but that hem, unless it is more than 3 layers, isn't taking more than an hour.  Putting in a corset back will cost between $150 and $250.  A bustle might be about $75.  Bra cups? Possibly $50.  You can shop around for alterations, and it'll definitely be cheaper than a salon, but you can only go so far.  Some seamstresses will cap alterations at $250, but I wouldn't budget any less than that.  So if it comes down to spending $400 on a dress that doesn't fit right, or $600 on a dress that fits perfectly, the $600 is probably a better bet. 

Myth: You can resell your designer dress and recoup the value.
Reality: I have seen brides report having to sell their designer dresses for half, or less than half, the price. A lot of people do not want to purchase a used dress for 75% of the original price when they could pay just a little more and have a fresh, clean dress in a size that fits them and hasn't been altered for somebody else. If you sell your dress, that's probably smart, but do not expect to get almost what you paid back. If you are looking at a Vera Wang or other fancy designer, see what they are selling for on eBay before you assume you can get $6000 back for an $8000 dress.

Myth: J.Crew sells reasonably priced, attractive, wedding gowns.
Reality: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
(advantage: they let you return them)

Myth: David's Bridal is the best place to go for a reasonably priced, attractive wedding gown.
Reality: hahahahhahahahahahahaha.......
Some people will in fact find this to be true. This is not true if you live in Montgomery County, MD. The Rockville David's is horribly crowded and rude. I don't understand why anybody goes there when you could go, instead, to the Columbia Bridal Boutique, which sells higher quality dresses for the same price point, and also has a large selection of plus sized gowns (I will concede that an advantage of David's is their wide variety of sizes. However, it baffles me that an enormous chain like that does not allow for returns.) Look for a dealer that sells Alfred Angelo, Watters/Wtoo, Maggie Sottero, Casablanca, and similar gowns, because they will be in a similar price range but higher quality and better service at the salon.

Myth: Don't buy a "wedding" dress.
Reality: You may not want a wedding dress, but a lot of us don't want to buy a slinky white evening gown from a department store. A lot of girls want to wear a long dress (or our guys want us to). If not buying a wedding dress works for you, go for it. I'm excited to see the results of A Los Angeles' Love's test of these dresses. 
Also, this you may not realize until you go to try one on, but a lot of wedding dresses are designed to be generally flattering. There really are dresses that look good on most people - they may not be your style, but that's another can of worms. Dress designers strive, more than a lot of designers, to create dresses that accommodate a lot of figures and account for a lot of flaws.  In the alternative dress world, the dresses are lower cut, or flowy-er, or more close fitting.  They also don't have structured foundations, which are a must for those of us on the chubby side that don't want to wear spanx.  

Some additional tips for dress shopping:
1.) Go someplace that has dresses in a variety of sizes, even if it is a consignment store. Knowing your size in a certain brand, instead of guessing it, will help you avoid the cost of alterations if the dress is too big. It will also help you be able to buy a dress online, if you choose to do that.
2.) Haggle. While I don't recommend this for artists like photographers and invite people, I do recommend it for dresses. Ask the bridal shop if they'll be having a trunk show soon, or if they will give you the first-day-buying discount even though it's your third trip. Buying a dress is really like buying a car.  The discounts are there, you just have to ask.
3.) Brave the crazy. Do not underestimate Running of the Brides or any other sample sale. You don't have to go at 6 to get the good dresses. We didn't even find our dresses until 10am when they were released from other Bride's greedy little hands.
4.) Shop around for alterations. If you have a lot of small things that need altering, find a place that caps the price of alterations. If all you need is a hem, maybe you don't need a place that charges a $350 flat rate. Take something else to a tailor to get altered first, to make sure you like their work, or ask another bride where she got her dress altered.
5.) Find out whether the shop will offer a bulk discount if you and your bridesmaids all buy your dresses there. Do not be a crappy person about this - my friend was in a wedding where the bride who tried to make her bridesmaids pay $250 for a dress (that could be bought for $175 online) because the shop would give them all a 10% discount and she would get a discount on her dress, but this meant my friend, who wasn't local, had to then pay an extra amount in shipping costs (that exceeded the 10% discount) for the dress for it to be shipped to Maryland.
6.) Do check out the bridesmaid dress options. I actually found a really great bridesmaid dress (it was way too fussy to really be a bridesmaid dress) that I totally would have worn as a wedding dress. It was about $200, but still really formal and had a big poufy pickup skirt and everything. I wish I had looked into this more as an option, but I have a dress so I'm letting it go.  There are a lot of very formal bridesmaids dresses out there, and a lot of store owners aren't bitchy about brides trying them on.

Any more budget myths/tips?


  1. Thank you for posting this! I am starting the hunt for a dress and this is really useful.

  2. Great advice, Ellie -- especially about the reselling bit. I looked fairly seriously at some dresses on PreOwnedWeddingDresses, but most sellers were pricing their gowns unrealistically. I read somewhere that the most you should ever expect to get for a gown that's been worn and altered is 50% of the purchase price, which seems reasonable to me, but some sellers were charging 80% for a worn, altered, "slightly stained at the hem" gown! So not worth it, especially when you factor in the higher risks inherent in buying from a random person on the internet (is it a scam? Could the dress get lost in the mail? What if the dress was not described accurately?).

    And good point about samples and alterations. If you're close to a bridal 10-12 (the sizes salons seem to stock most often), I'd say look seriously at samples, but otherwise, you're going to be putting a huge chunk of cash into altering the dress to fit you.

  3. I'm stealing the alterations price break-down and sending it to my mom ... we recently had my dress altered (completely re-doing the back, general nips and tucks, hemming, AND a bustle) and walked away with a price tag of $225. UNHEARD OF, right? My mom looked at me as we got in the car and said "Was that a good price?"

    Gotta love her, last time she had any dealings with wedding planning was 20 years ago.

    About David's Bridal ... I think it really comes down your ability to spend some time looking. A salon that brings you dress after gorgeous well-made dress and fawns over you, it is not. But there ARE some well-made dresses hiding on the racks ... if you have the patience to look for them. I'm a SNOB when it comes to clothing construction (thank you costume courses with the most DEMANDING (and wonderful!) professor ever!) ... and I bought my dress at David's because it was the one I liked.

    It also comes down to the location you visit. The girl who took my measurements at the location we purchased my dress FAILED. She was lazy, and disinterested, and told me I wore a size 2 larger than I actually do. Knowing my measurements, and talking to another associate, we ordered the correct size dress. It came in too large ... the original girl had "corrected" my order. So I went into a tizzy trying to get the correct size (which of course, is NOT available in the color I chose other than special order). Rockville was no help, nor was the original location I went to. But the Springfield, VA location not only was helpful, they went out of their way to let me return the dress, special order (and rush) the correct one ... and refund me a good portion of the money. Their service was unbelievable.

    So yes ... that's my experience!

  4. Sarah - do you live in the DC area? Who was your seamstress?!? Holy cr*p that's a good price and I still need to get my dress fitted...

  5. Great post and excellent points. The alterations are why I ultimately sold my first dress, because the sample deal I got wasn't worth it anymore when the alterations were over half the cost of the $600 dress.

    I would say, however, that I've been really pleasantly surprised with the alternative dresses I've found at department stores and places like Unique Vintage. They even have some boning and figure flattery assistance. Some are even ballgowny. It's been nice to see.

    Also, I have been really hesitant to trust used dresses online from places further away. I want to try them on to see what happened during alterations. However, I saw a few locally that would have saved tons on the alterations because they already did the bustle and cups for me, for example. People should check Craiglist for dresses. It's almost sad how many are there. Most at more reasonable prices than the preowned sites, though you have to do a lot more sifting.

    About the bridesmaid dress tip: about half the designers won't allow you to buy white dresses without buying at least three white dresses, specifically to discourage buying the exact same dress in Bridal as a Bridesmaid dress as half the cost.

  6. I bought a "bridesmaids" dress in ivory for $200. I recommend this option.

  7. I say don't discount the 'cheap' looking bridal stores - they might look a little questionable and the service isn't necessarily great, but there are still some decent dresses if you're willing to look around a little!
    They're also pretty decent if you're willing to forego the designer label. I bought my dress off the rack and got it for $350 - alterations were free, but that's because my mom is a seamstress.

  8. Another tip is check out the dress you liked online. There are many reputable online stores (that have an actual store front, but usually just in another state). They're usually MUCH cheaper than stores.

    Case in point, my Maggie Sottero dress was $1,200+taxes at the store, while online it was $928. I was ready to buy online but decided to haggle "this dress sells for $928 online, no taxes. Would you do it for $1,000, including taxes?"

    They did it, so I went with the store (simply because it was easier having a place to go to), but had they not, I would have bought it from Jay's Bridal (who also emails me loads of coupons).

  9. Just read your comments that you still need a seamstress, these are two HIGHLY recommended in the DC area (I made an appt with Angie, who said my alterations -- taken in + bustle would be $250):

    They've been reviewed at the knot, etc, and I received wonderful recommendations for Angie from other brides. They book fast though.

  10. This is really great advice! I am definitely in the camp of wanting a dress that is a wedding dress- not a slinky evening gown. I plan on checking out the Alfred Angelo Bridal store in Glen Burnie- does anyone have any experience there?

  11. I had good look with a non-wedding dress from a discount department store, and I got (what I now know is) an excellent price on alterations from Miss Lydia at The Tiny Tailor, 218. W. Read St. in Baltimore. Her shop is small, and visiting there isn't a pampering experience or anything, but she shortened my dress (tiered lace, so hemming didn't just involve lopping off the bottom) fitted the bodice, and fitted the bust for $200.

  12. Ellie ... I am in the DC, but the seamstress is in CA.

    Depending on what you need done I may be able to help though ... I've altered quite a few dresses in my time. =)

  13. Also, some stores include alterations in their price. And price-shopping among stores is a really good idea - check with other stores that carry that designer even if they don't have the same dress, because they can probably order it for you. I actually tried my dress on first in one store, but was kind of sketched out by the service and their in-house alterations were extra. I looked up online what other stores in my area sell the designer, and did some research on those stores. One of them had some decent reviews and also included alterations in their dress price. I called them, asked them if they carried the dress (they did NOT - probably because it was in the designer's cheap line and this store tended to carry more expensive lines - but since they carried the designer they said they would order it for me) and asked if they could beat the price the other store was offering. They did, by far if you are factoring in cost of alterations, which I was. I got a cheaper price, free alterations, AND avoided a store that sketched me out.

  14. And this is why you're in my planning/resources section of the blogroll!

    I went to David's Bridal in MoCo and my experience was good. The lady was very good to me and I was impressed that they always had my size. Other than that it kinda smelled in there. And you can't just go in and try on a dress (which was my impression) you have to sign stuff and provide your address. My poor mom... I knew they would mail me all kinds of shit so I gave her address. haha! And now she gets stuff from Jos. A. Bank and the Men's Store reminding me that I need to dress my man. Ahhh... wedding culture cracks me up.

    I also want to thank you for all of the dress advice you gave me. I felt pressured to find something wedding-y at a boutique or something non-wedding at a department store. So you sent me pics and links to stuff that were wedding-y, but found in places I could afford and visit. So yes, thanks for that encouragement! :)

  15. Huge agreement on the J Crew dresses! These were recommended to me and they were the first dresses I tried on. First of all they looked terrible on me, and I am a slender person. They had no shape at all. Also most of them were around the $800 mark. Now I paid $800 for my dress much to my chagrin, but it was a full out wedding dress, and I wouldn't call the J Crew dresses full out wedding dresses.

    I know Ellie, the dress thing is tricky. I wanted a big white dress and had a hard time finding alternatives. I finally just paid for it, and believe me previous to my own dress experience I made fun of women who spent hundreds on their dresses (I spent $800). But you know what? I love my dress, and we budgeted for it, so I just kinda forgave myself for spending so much on it. Best of luck!

  16. @A Los Angeles Love -- I'd never heard that about designers making you ordering multiple white bridesmaids dresses! Wow, that's kind of evil.

    But it made me think of another unexpected resource: mother of the bride gowns. A friend of mine wore a lovely, drapey white chiffon dress with a small train at her wedding. When I gushed over it later, she confided that it was a mother of the bride dress! Which raises the question: what kind of mother wears a white gown with a train to her daughter's wedding? Regardless, it was a great dress, and I doubt designers will apply the same "multiple gown" rule to MOB dresses, since no one buys multiple identical dresses for moms.

  17. * "making you order," not "making you ordering." My brain is officially mush.

  18. Gee. To think I designed (with her input) and sewed my GF's dress for free. It certainly was complicated but lots of fun. I took of the things I do "on the side".
    She got loads of compliments and it fit her like a glove. Also have done tons of alterations free, and sewn bridesmaids dresses for free that looked way better than a paid seamstress.....