Why do wedding dresses cost so much?
So he finally asked; you said yes; your parents (or your credit card) have come through with the cash, and it's time to find the wedding dress you've been waiting for all your life!
You're looking in stores, online, you're calling dressmakers, and there are a few ideas you like the look of.
But wait - how much?
This is ridiculous. You know clothes. You've been buying clothes all your adult life. Clothes don't cost this much. What a rip-off! This isn't just expensive, it's verging on criminal! And everyone's doing it! You can't win!
Woah there, girl. Wedding dresses are more expensive than you're used to, yes. But this isn't just the result of a mercenary industry profiteering from your childhood dreams.
Wedding dresses can come from one of two sources. They're either mass-produced (many of the same dress are made in a factory) or they're individually made by a dressmaker you've hired. Let's look at both of these options.
Manufactured wedding gowns
When you walk into a regular bridal store, you'll find racks of wedding dresses made by a range of designers. The owner of the store is making her living from it. She's paying rent on her store and all the other costs associated with retail, and yet there aren't nearly as many brides buying wedding dresses as there are women buying clothes. She has to charge more to make it work, so she has marked up each dress by 100% or so. In other words, half of the price you're paying goes to the store.
The dresses came from design companies where a designer is paid to come up with each season's new look. These few looks must be taken to shows and promoted to the bridal stores in the hope that our bridal store owner will buy - trust me, this costs big bucks! Again, these companies aren't making as many dresses as, say, Banana Republic or Next, so each must cost more so that everyone can still pay the rent.
And somewhere, perhaps in the Third World, there are some women sitting at sewing machines making a few pennies a day making your dress. They get the least of all. (Spare a thought particularly for the lady who must sew beads onto your wedding dress - this cannot be done by machine.)
Hiring a dressmaker
Have you tried asking a dressmaker for a quote? If she knows what she's worth, your ears will have melted on hearing the price. Many dressmakers try to compete with bridal stores, but they're doing themselves a disservice. A great custom made wedding gown should cost thousands. But why?
The easiest way to explain is to use food (bizarre as it sounds!)
Katie decides that she wants to go out for dinner tonight. She has a choice of places to go. She can go to a local restaurant and select what she wants from a menu. The chef has prepared most of the dishes in advance, and he simply needs to heat it up, add the finishing touches and out it goes.
(This is a lot like buying a wedding dress in a store - you find something in the store that you like, they make a few adjustments and you're good to go. This works for most people.)
But what if Katie's very particular? Actually she wants a specific meal (whether or not it's on anyone's menu), tailored to her personal dietary needs and her taste with just the right amount of seasoning, just as she likes it. It's an important meal, the most important of her life perhaps (ok, now I'm stretching the metaphor) and she wants it done right by a true professional. Nothing can go wrong.
She's going to have to hire a professional chef. How will the price of hiring him compare to the price of a spaghetti bolognese at Mario's around the corner?
Now you're getting the picture!
A dressmaker or couturier will design a single gown just for you. It will have every detail you heart desires. A unique pattern will be made just for you, and the fabric will be bought at retail price (your dressmaker won't be needing hundreds of yards of your particular choice of creamy, slightly pinky-blue silk satin, so wholesale isn't an option.)
While hundreds or thousands of store dresses are cut at once with a huge machine in the factory, your dressmaker will cut each piece of your unique gown individually with scissors. She will work out how to put it together and go through that process step by step. The "Black Pearl" dress that you see here took over 70 hours to make; the gold corsetted one further up took around 140 hours to make. (How much are you paid for a month's work?)
The ironic thing about the price of a wedding dress is that however expensive it seems to you, no-one on the other side of the fence is rubbing their hands with mercenary glee.
Most ironic of all, the skilled dressmaker or couturier will charge a lot for your gown, yes, but after all the fabric is bought and the sewing machine is paid for and so on, when she spends 120 hours making your gown how much does that work out at for her, overall, a skilled craftsperson with a long career and much expertise?
In my experience over the last twelve years, a dressmaker makes between $6-$14 per hour. Trust me, no-one's ripping you off!
- Harman Hay
See more of my wedding gowns and corsets here