Why Are Wedding Dresses SO EXPENSIVE?! + Cheaper Alternatives

Why Are Wedding Dresses SO EXPENSIVE?! + Cheaper Alternatives

If you’re recently engaged and looking for wedding dresses like I am, you are in for a shock. And you will definitely find yourself asking the question: Why are wedding dresses so expensive?!

Wedding dresses are expensive for 11 main reasons, which I’ll be discussing in detail in this article:

  • Wedding dresses are an emotional purchase
  • The name of the designer comes at a cost
  • Luxurious materials and accessories aren’t cheap to source
  • You’re paying for hours of labor, cutting, assembling, and sewing
  • There is the overhead of the retailer to consider for brick & mortar shops
  • The “experience of dress shopping” means the service and attention you get is reflected in the cost of the dress
  • Some dresses are made in “limited quantity”
  • Supply and demand drives up prices
  • A little thing called “the wedding tax” & higher expectations for weddings
  • The custom-nature of the dress (if custom-made)
  • Prices go up if you wait until the last minute

Now please BE WARNED that these are not always GOOD reasons for making a wedding dress more expensive. Sometimes these reasons are fair, and sometimes dress companies are simply ripping people off, and even being deceitful.

I’m going to talk about each of these points and also how you can avoid falling into the trap of overpaying for your wedding dress, like SO MANY people do. There’s also a video I made at the bottom of this article explaining why wedding dresses are so expensive, so check that out too! 🙂

You might also be interested in my post: 20 Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding Dress

Why are Wedding Dresses So Expensive?

There’s an economics term called “asymmetric information” which explains how we get fooled into overpaying for wedding dresses. For most things that we buy in life (groceries, clothes, etc.), we have a good idea of what they’re supposed to cost. But when we’re wedding dress shopping (or buying anything for our weddings — napkins, flowers, whatever), we have ZERO experience shopping for these items… and so we don’t know what we should be paying.

At the end of this post, I’ll give you some alternatives for online wedding dresses that are affordable and from reputable companies, if you want to skip the whole brick and mortar wedding dress shopping hoopla.

First, let’s look at the 11 reasons why wedding dresses are so expensive:

#1 Wedding dresses are an emotional purchase

“Once in a lifetime”… “This only happens once”… “You don’t want to regret not wearing the dress of your dreams”… Sigh. Couples shopping for their weddings are at such a disadvantage in many ways because emotions are on the table, which makes them vulnerable to upselling. Because wedding dresses are fraught with emotion in most cases, these feelings can be exploited, unfortunately, and contribute to a price markup.

The wedding industry and society has been really good at making us feel fear around “not missing out” on this “one opportunity” to wear “the dress of our dreams.” We are told that our descendants will look back on these wedding photos of us in our dresses, that these memories will LAST FOREVER! And that’s a whole lot of pressure for one day, one look, one dress. Pressure that frankly puts us in the hands of dress companies and marketers.

But you can combat this vulnerability! Take all of the movies, pop culture, comments from your friends and family and just SHELVE THEM for a minute. TRY to put your emotions to the side and THINK as rationally as possible before looking at wedding dresses. Take a deep breath and repeat the following affirmations:

  • A wedding dress is ultimately just a thing.
  • A wedding dress has no significance to my future marriage.
  • I will not let my emotions make decisions for me.
  • I will not be pressured into buying something based on fear of missing out.

#2 The name of the designer comes at a cost

This is obvious to many people who’ve grown up with any kind of pressure to buy certain brands of clothing or shoes. A designer’s good reputation allows them to charge a higher price. I don’t know if anyone would disagree with me on this… it’s just how it is. Heck, go to the pharmacy and look at what a bottle of Tylenol contains versus the generic brand… it’s EXACTLY the same stuff!!! Yet many people will pay more for the name brand anyway.

We like well-known brands because we trust them, and in the case of fashion and wedding dresses — we want to show off the designer we’re wearing. And so we pay for that name.

If paying for the name brand of a wedding dress designer is something that makes you roll your eyes, then you probably don’t have to be worried about getting bamboozled on this point! But if you are easily swayed by a fancy name, just keep in mind that a famous name doesn’t necessary mean better, or even good. Even designer wedding dresses upsell you while using cheap materials and machine-made cookie-cutter gowns.

To really determine the quality of the wedding dress designer’s brand: Ask questions about what the dresses are made of and how they’re made, and see if you get a straightforward, honest answer or if they try to dodge your inquiries.

#3 Luxurious materials and accessories aren’t cheap to source

Now this is an actual, legitimate reason why some wedding dresses can be expensive to buy.

Wedding dresses that truly use nice materials can be worth their expense to some degree. Fabrics such as high quality silk and lace, and beaded detailing really do cost a lot of money for the dressmakers to buy. A couple of examples are silk and lace.

The process of making silk, enough of it and in the correct range of quality, from live silk worms is a time-consuming and difficult process that demands a higher price to purchase. Certain types of lace are very costly because they’re made by hand and require expert craftsmanship.

HOWEVER, beware that some dress companies, even reputable ones unfortunately, will either not tell you what materials your dress is made from or will straight out lie. There are some very inexpensive dress materials that can be used in wedding dresses that look very similar to the expensive versions.

In this video, a woman from Slate explains how she was ripped off, and the company where she bought her wedding dress wouldn’t reveal the materials to her:


#4 You’re paying for hours of labor, cutting, assembling, and sewing

So OF COURSE laborers should be fairly compensated for their work. Something like 80 percent of wedding dresses are made in China, by an assembly line of workers who often each do one piece of the dress, over and over and over. Imagine sewing 400 zippers a day. These workers need to be paid. A fair amount of labor costs should definitely be factored into the cost of the wedding dresses that we buy, no question.

However, the problem is that it doesn’t seem to make mathematical sense when you look at the labor wages of the workers and the final cost of some wedding dresses. The labor costs appear to be quite low in comparison to the cost of the dress.

As a consumer, I find this frustrating. If a company tells me that they need to charge X amount of money for labor, I would just hope that the ratio in relation to the final cost of the dress would be FAIR and HONEST.

For some dresses, especially custom-made dresses and dresses made completely by hand, I totally get it. Think Meghan Markle, movie star, couture wedding dresses that cost tens of thousands of dollars. These aren’t mass produced… you’re paying for careful, artisanal attention to detail and hours upon hours of work for one dress. Yes, labor costs are significant in some cases.

#5 There is the overhead of the retailer to consider for brick & mortar shops

If you’re going to a brick and mortar “REAL” wedding dress boutique (“Say Yes to the Dress” – style) to buy your wedding dress, then your wedding dress will be expensive because of the overhead that the store has to pay to RUN that store!

That shop has to pay rent, electric bills, insurance, cashiers, sales people, etc… And all of this will be reflected in the final cost of your wedding dress.

To avoid this, simply buy your dress online. There are beautiful online wedding boutiques such as Blush Fashion (by designer Sheryll Raz Gold, based in Israel) which cut out all of the additional in-person store costs while still giving you the experience of purchasing a quality (and affordable) wedding dress. She even makes custom gowns!

“Traditional” in-person wedding dress shopping is not really all that traditional anyway. It’s a modern invention and something wedding dress boutiques make us feel like we “have” to do. But you don’t! You can avoid that whole experience completely if you want!

And if your friends or family members insist, consider having a little party at your house where you try-on affordable wedding dresses that you’ve purchased online (Check out my Lulus Wedding Dress Review for a list of inexpensive wedding dresses under $100) — and then return all the ones you don’t want to keep!! You can drink champagne, play music, and hang out …without a pushy dress salesperson!

#6 The “experience of dress shopping” means the service and attention you get is reflected in the cost of the dress

Also, shopping for a wedding dress at a high end shop, or any in-person boutique that requires an appointment, will mean that you’re getting service. You’re getting one-on-one attention from a dedicated salesperson (working on commission) to find you exactly what you’re looking for.

Understandably, this is going to make the final price of the dress more expensive. It’s really important that you realize this before booking any appointments. If you’re concerned with the high cost of wedding dresses, maybe opt to not have this personalized shopping experience with a salesperson.

There is the cost of the appointment itself in some cases, and this will cover some aspects of the experience, such as the champagne. But in order for those shops to really recoop their money for the time and energy spent on these appointments, there is a markup on the dresses.

Again, to avoid this, shop for your wedding dress online and skip the bridal dress appointment hassle. My favorite budget options include:

#7 Some dresses are made in “limited quantity”

I believe this one only applies to really high-end couture wedding dresses. Some of them are created as part of a limited quantity line, and therefore COST MORE because of their rarity. Of course, this rarity is sort of superficially imposed, but still. Like all works of art, the rarer the more expensive.

On the other hand, for lower cost wedding dress chains, this works out in the opposite sense. As wedding dresses go “out of style” from one season to the next, you can actually get a much better deal on wedding dresses that they’re phasing out.

#8 Supply and demand drives up prices

Another economics 101 lesson! Wedding dresses only have value because we are willing to pay for them. If there were no buyers of $5,000 wedding dresses, then they wouldn’t be so expensive!

There is a market of people out there who want expensive wedding dresses, either for the designer name, the quality of the materials, the STYLE of dress that they fell in love with… whatever it is, there continues to be (and probably will always be) a demand for these dresses, and so the prices continue to be high and will grow higher.

#9 A little thing called “the wedding tax” & higher expectations for weddings

This one is possibly controversial but I think it’s worth mentioning. It’s also closely related to many other items on this list. The so-called “wedding tax” is the extra amount of money added to any item when the customer says that they are shopping for a wedding.

It CLEARLY exists. Venues do this. Vendors do this. They charge more for weddings than anniversaries and birthday parties, no doubt. But the real question should be: Is this justified? In some case, yes. In many cases, no. Let me explain.

A wedding dress can cost more (or have a “wedding tax”) because society and the bride and her family and friends are putting A LOT of pressure on this thing to look PERFECT. Because expectations are so high (and emotions too — see #1 on this list again), we do need to understand that the vendor is also under more pressure and therefore working harder than normal. And so should be compensated for it.

I don’t know, however, that this extra stress on the part of the vendors always applies to wedding dresses. If the wedding dress is being custom-made, is being tailored to perfection, etc., then sure. Perhaps the “wedding tax” is justified because the dressmaker is going that extra mile. But in some cases, venues and vendors are simply charging more for the same experience, because they can. And that isn’t right.

#10 The custom-nature of the dress (if custom-made)

If a wedding dress is custom-made to fit you like a glove, then that extra time and attention is going to make the dress expensive. Think about the labor and expertise that that takes. This is what you’re paying for when you get a custom dress and to an extent, when you have a dress altered to fit you.

The work involved, the pressure in getting it right, and sometimes 2-8 individual fitting sessions can add up in dollars. If you’re buying a wedding dress off the rack with no alterations, then this won’t apply.

#11 Prices go up if you wait until the last minute

Waiting until the last minute to get your wedding dress can also drive up the price. For several reasons. They’ll have to prioritize your shipping and alterations (appointments and actually getting the alterations finished in time) above other customers — which could potentially cost them business and so is an added fee.

Not to mention that you’ll be in a vulnerable state of mind if wedding dress shopping at the last minute. Your choices will be more limited and you may feel pressured to spend more than you wanted in order to get a decent dress on time.


Alternative (Affordable) Options for Your Wedding Dress

A million of ME trying on online wedding dresses 🙂

For all of these reasons, wedding dresses are expensive. But the fact is, they don’t have to be. You’re not out of options, and you should never, ever feel forced to spend a thousand dollars or more on a wedding dress. In fact, I wrote a post on why expensive wedding dresses aren’t worth the price, which you should definitely check out. There are so many dress alternatives. For. Every. Single. Budget. Seriously!

Here are my favorite alternative wedding dress options and why I like them:

Blush Fashion

I bought a wedding dress from Blushfashion linked here, for under $300 that I adore. It’s lacey and feels buttery soft to the touch. It came in a bag, folded, and yet refuses to wrinkle because it’s made of such high quality material… I’m in love with it. There are tons of really pretty options online to choose from, and you can even have a custom dress made and shipped to you.

Many of these dresses are lace and tend to be in the “boho” and romantic style of wedding dress.

I would also recommend, if your birthday is coming up soon (or even if it’s not), getting on their mailing list — you can do that on their website — because you get a huge discount on your order during your birthday month! This is what I did and I was really excited to save the money.

Lulus Bridal

Check out the dresses on Lulus linked here. I was really curious about Lulus because I’d heard so much about their dresses, customer service, etc. online — how they’re really cheap, but good quality. So I did something crazy and ordered 8 of their wedding dresses. Yep. Eight. I tried all of them on and even wrote a full review about the experience, as I mentioned earlier.

I really liked all but two of the dresses I would say. And even though they were inexpensive, the TOPS of most of them were still quite intricate, form-fitting and unique. I think that they’re able to make these really pretty inexpensive wedding gowns because they keep the bottom half super simple… with just simple tulle or polyester fabric without any embellishments.

They also sell dresses that are a bit more expensive with more details and that are probably a bit more on par with the Blush Fashion and Cocomelody -type dresses. And it’s true that they have great customer service and a return policy.

Cocomelody

…Which brings me to Cocomelody, linked here! This is one I haven’t ordered from yet firsthand, but am planning to try out. They have so many great reviews in the budget wedding Facebook groups that I’m a part of.

The prices are more expensive than what you’ll find on Blush Fashion and Lulus (for the most part) but you can shop in the lower price points that are still lower than the “average” and the $1,000+ starting points found in brick and mortar bridal boutiques.

Finally…

Annnnnd lastly, I want to give a short out to ECO-FRIENDLY wedding dress options, which not surprisingly also tend to be the most budget-friendly.

An eco-friendly wedding dress means a secondhand dress, which you can find in your auntie’s closet, your local consignment shops, or on awesome websites like Nearly Newlywed, which lets brides sell their “used” wedding dresses to to other brides (remember that “used” means worn for 6 hours tops!).

A once-worn dress will save you SO MUCH MONEY, allow you to potentially wear a name-brand designer dress (if that’s what you want), AND save the planet 🙂 Let’s try to make eco-friendly and budget-friendly choices at our weddings wherever we can.

You may also enjoy my post: 9 Most Affordable and Eco-Friendly Wedding Dress Options

Here’s my video on why wedding dresses are so expensive:

Brittany

Brittany is a writer, teacher, and a graduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She started the website Wayfaring Weddings as a way to share her research on affordable, eco-friendly, and less stressful approaches to wedding planning.