How Some Women Said Yes to the Dress

Two weeks ago, I watched 12 hours of Say Yes to the Dress (I was sick.) I was left with some questions. Like, are people actually spending $2,000 on wedding dresses? Are they crying in the salon? How many dresses are being tried on before you find “the one”? What happens to these dresses after the wedding? Who will tell me these things? As it turns out, I know a lot of married people.

The Friend Who Ran With the Brides:
I did Running of the Brides, which when it existed, was more a feat of athleticism than a moment in a store with sales help. I had heard I could buy a wedding dress for a couple hundred dollars instead of a couple thousand; I didn’t like the idea of spending a couple grand on something I’d only wear once.

My sister and I lined up around 7:15 a.m.; the doors were open for 8. Women fly in from all over the U.S. to get as close to the front of the line as possible.

Here’s what you don’t realize until you do it: Filene’s hangs up all the dresses on racks, and then they open the doors and the first 2 dozen or so women that get in, grab every dress and hold them for ransom. You have a team and you wear coordinating shirts or maybe hats with feathers so you could find each other. You go around with signs—”I need a size 12,” “Something with feathers,” etc. My sister walked by someone’s pile and just dove in and grabbed a dress, so at least we’d have a bargaining chip, but it turned out to be my size and it was very pretty. You can try stuff on in public (I dressed in a sports bra and soccer shorts), and I slipped the dress on and it fit, so we paid for the dress. The cashier was in shock. Apparently, that had never ever happened before. My wedding dress shopping experience took an hour, if you count the waiting in line, but 15 minutes of “shopping” and I tried on one dress and bought it.

 

The Friend Who Rented a Dress:
I decided to rent because it was $300, including alterations, which is insanely cheap. Also, I liked the idea of it getting more than one use. (It’s also more of a cultural thing in Utah.) I went to a Mormon bridal rental place in Utah, which was great, because I wanted shorts sleeves and no cleavage. I was looking for something that I looked good in, something simple and classic. And I wanted something I could move in and not have to think about too much on the day of. I spent a couple hours trying on different options, the way it works at this place you had to make a bunch of decisions, because you choose a top and a bottom piece, and then different decorations, veil, etc. I definitely got excited when I found the combination I liked, but no crying.

 

The Friend With Two Dresses:
Those wedding-based reality shows are exaggerated and whacked. I still have the dress from my first wedding, I guess I just didn’t know what to do with it, and throwing it away seemed mean. I will probably donate it to a charity. It was the first dress I tried on. I had a frugal mind set and didn’t want to exceed $400 or so. Therefore, my options were limited right from the start. In any case, after trying on about 10-12 dresses, I went back to the first one I put on. I knew it was it all along.

WEDDING #2, 10 years later. Still frugal. I wanted something old-fashioned looking and very specifically, no train, not poufy, and not elaborate or lacy. I mostly only looked online. I searched with terms like “budget bridal gowns” and “cheap wedding dresses”. I wanted more of an evening gown look, so I looked at dresses meant for bridesmaids, guests of a wedding, etc. I bought one for $99 in champagne. Returns were not allowed, so I bought one size too big, and had alterations made for about the same price as the dress! All done for under $200.

 

The Friend Who Googled It:
My mom and I went to the Saks boutique after browsing some off-the-rack dresses there and the ladies there helped me figure out what silhouette worked best for me … then they declared that I was shopping very late and I needed to decide right away and spend thousands of bucks. My mom got all neurotic but I Googled and discovered all these places that sold off-the-rack dresses for much less money. After that it was just pure fun.

I didn’t find it stressful. I have the dress somewhere, but it has grass stains and coffee stains and is basically worthless now.

 

The Friend Who Knows That the Average Amount to Spend on a Wedding Dress is $1,200:
I did not cry. I did not “know.” There was no drama, no one I had to please, and no crowd of people waiting outside the room for me. I went to several different stores, with a HUGE range in terms of prices, styles, etc. I don’t think I really knew what I was looking for. It was such a process.

I know that I thought I got a good deal (I was able to buy the sample, so they gave me an extra 25% off or something. It cost about $600, but I think I had budgeted potentially up to $1,000? ( My husband thought that $600 was WAY too much—in fact, when I asked him just now if he remembered how much it cost, he went on and on and on about it.)

According to CNN, the national average is $1,200. But I feel like most of them are way more.

 

The Friend Who Hung Out in Her Underwear for a While:
Throughout the wedding planning, I felt this weird tension: I was aware how ridiculous it was to spend so much money on one day, but I also really wanted to feel special (and felt like this was my one opportunity to get away with spending like that). This feeling was doubled when we went to look for a wedding gown because I had already purchased one for another fiancé and hadn’t sold it yet. It continued to taunt me from the back of my parents’ closet. I have now moved on from that whole thing, thanks to my therapist.

My mother, sister, and my then fiancé’s mom went to a boutique and looked through some dresses to get an idea of what was there and then all went into a dressing room. The three of them were fully dressed and I was hanging out in my underwear. I tried on a few gowns and mostly felt like I was playing dress-up in someone else’s closet. The two most important things were that I could dance in it and I would not have to worry about the dress falling down.

Our budget was a bit over $1,000. I think we ended up spending between $1,200-$1,300 including the veil, corset, and bustle.

 

Chanel Dubofsky lives in Brooklyn and is interested in your personal decisions

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56 Comments / Post A Comment

Jaya (#5,478)

I’m spending just over $2k on mine, which was around my budget anyway. It was the first dress I tried on, though I tried one five or six more after it. No crying, no family drama, just my mom and my stepsister saying I looked really pretty and me agreeing and feeling comfortable. Sometimes I wonder how I’m ok spending that much on the dress, but the design is such that I can get it hemmed later and it’ll be a kickass party dress. If I wasn’t going to get some lasting use out of it, I don’t think I would have spent that much.

megra (#2,906)

@Jaya My best friend’s dad still wears his wedding suit to every wedding he attends. After 30 years he still looks great in it! I love the idea of it becoming his “wedding suit” instead of just the suit he was married in.

When my sister was getting married, we stopped in a bridal store to get ideas for bridesmaid dresses. Somehow we started looking at wedding dresses instead and she ended up getting the very first dress she tried on. Of course, she tried on a good 10 dresses that day but she walked out with the first one. This is how we knew it was meant for her: only one left in the store AND it was her size, needed no alterations (!!!), and was marked down/on sale for $99. What?? Yep.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@totallyunoriginal What! That’s magical.

I also love the idea of buying a light-colored bridesmaid dress. E’rybody so smart.

BornSecular (#2,245)

I tried on a bajillion dresses. I had no idea what I wanted, and I felt a lot of unspoken (probably imagined) pressure from my mother (who was paying for it) to get a cheap one. I ended up with one that was about $500 before taxes, etc. My husband’s grandma did alterations for free. I tried on a $99 clearance dress in one of my first trips and liked it but thought my husband wouldn’t like the color (not white) and didn’t get it and regretted it for every trying-on session after. The dress I ended up with was as similar as I could find.

EA_Mann (#5,000)

My wife bought a white dress from J. Crew that was stunning. I forget if it was a ‘wedding dress’ exactly, but it fit right in, and after her teacher discount it was about $250.

Not sure if all J. Crews have them, you may have to go to a flagship store in a big city.

andnowlights (#2,902)

Most of my friends have spent anywhere from $600 to $10,000 (not kidding) on their dresses. I’m going to tell my wedding dress story even though it’s long.

My mom and I went to a mid-priced wedding dress store. Even though I had a significantly larger-than-average wedding budget, the dress was secondary to me and I didn’t really care about having a designer name. Turns out I HATED everything I thought I wanted in a wedding dress, but I found a dress I really liked! I think it was the second one I tried on after I figured out what wasn’t working for me? Anyway, I loved it but my mom hated the material, so we decided we would have the dress custom made by someone else that my mom had heard about. I didn’t love this idea, but I went along with it because I wanted to make my mom happy (not out of guilt, I just really love my mom and she was so excited about everything).

So we met with this woman who claimed to make custom dresses. We showed her the design and put down a deposit ($600?). Went back 2 months later to try on the dress and it was the WAY WRONG COLOR. It was basically flesh colored and kind of creepy looking. My mom asked how she didn’t realize that it was the wrong color when the fabric came in and the woman kind of gave a half-assed answer. She promises to get the correct fabric and remake the dress.

I go back the week before my wedding to get final alterations done on Sunday, and the woman calls and says she doesn’t have my dress. It’s stuck in a snow storm in Alaska. My wedding dress! A week before my wedding! I had to go back to the city I was actually getting married in on Monday to finish up a million other things and couldn’t wait for it to get here. Turns out the woman outsourced all her work to China and it got stuck in a snowstorm. She didn’t make them herself at all.

TL;DR: I bought a dress off the rack the Monday before my Saturday wedding because my original dress maker was a liar, got it rush altered and it was even prettier than my original dress (I guess. Everyone else liked it more). Total cost for the lost deposit, new dress and alterations: $2k.

OllyOlly (#669)

@andnowlights you couldn’t get your deposit back?? This pisses me off so bad and I am not even marginally involved.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@OllyOlly Probably if my mom had wanted to fight it enough, we could have. The woman was being a pill, though, even though she was totally in the wrong. Mom decided it wasn’t worth the fight.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@andnowlights OMG so stressful, glad it all worked out for you though, wow.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@andnowlights !!!! That is bananas.

I tried on a bunch by myself at J. Crew, and then I tried on a bunch with my mom and sister at a bridal shop, and I liked one from each place. I bought the J. Crew because it was 1/3 the price of the other one and I could order it online and not have to go to the bridal shop for alterations. The other one was prettier but not worth the hassle. (We had a “not worth the hassle”-themed wedding.)

@cuminafterall Forgot to mention, I spent $330 and there was no crying.

@cuminafterall (We had a “not worth the hassle”-themed wedding.)

I think you and I had similar approaches to getting married. I only managed to bring myself to try on one dress; I ordered it from David’s Bridal’s website on sale and it was fine when I got it, so that was that!

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

I am not married, and my only desire for my hypothetical wedding is that we do it at city hall and then eat BBQ and cake and ice cream in the backyard with everyone we love. That being said, I absolutely LOVE “Say Yes to the Dress!” I find wedding shows completely transfixing.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@LookUponMyWorks I AGREE! I’m not married yet but I am living with the person I plan to marry and as time goes on I just become more and more obsessed with/horrified by wedding reality shows!

I also love all these stories because I love wedding dresses, which are at odds with my frugal and feminist nature in some ways, but who cares because we are all made of contradictions!

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@honey cowl Oh, I don’t even love wedding dresses (although I do tend to like pretty dresses!) but there is just something about SYTD that has me glued to my TV. I can loose hours out of my life watching it.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@LookUponMyWorks I was DYING to have our reception at the mini golf course (because I am not a dancing type person) but that idea got nixed by literally EVERYONE involved in my life. I was so sad. :( This is related only because I had planned on having it catered with BBQ and it reminded me of that.

jquick (#3,730)

@andnowlights So…did you die?

Allison (#4,509)

@andnowlights I am that person at a wedding who skips cake so I can keep dancing (BADLY but shamelessly), but idk how it’d be if I was the bride. Minigolf sounds awesome though, but in general floating of ideas because cousins were getting married, my mom and I basically agreed that getting married at a baseball stadium would be neat. So.

Stina (#686)

@LookUponMyWorks Who else waits for the Pnina dresses to be requested? Especially the net see through corset one? (a.k.a. stripper fairy dress by someone a lot funnier than me)

garli (#4,150)

@LookUponMyWorks Ha, I did get married at city hall (without the party) and still get sucked into this show. My husband thinks I’m insane when ever he comes home and I’m watching it.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@Stina OMG that Pnina dress! It’s so horrible and yet so many of the women LOVE IT. I think the producers of the show must have a pretty good sense of humor to keep picking women who pick that dress.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

@LookUponMyWorks I completely agree with all of this. My best friend from high school had a small-ish but fancy wedding that ended with everyone invited to meet back at her parents’ house for a big backyard BBQ. We all changed into drinks and hung out while her uncles grilled tasty food for us. Livin’ the dream.

Marissa (#467)

@LookUponMyWorks Same! I have no idea why I watch SYTTD either. Four Weddings, too. It’s even more awful but I love it.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

I wore a $15 white sundress from TJ Maxx. We had a cookout at a local state forest and my mom made a cake decorated with marzipan salamanders. It was pretty awesome. I’ve been to some big, beautiful weddings, and had a great time at every one, but I don’t regret our low-key celebration. I do wish we had sprung for a professional photographer.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@Derbel McDillet Looking back at the pictures, I also wish I had worn a bra.

jquick (#3,730)

@Derbel McDillet Who wears a bra when out with nature? Rejoice!

Stina (#686)

@Derbel McDillet Bet you were comfy though.

twofish (#5,481)

I just bought my wedding dress a couple weeks ago! I went to a bridal salon with my mom and sister. It was the last dress I tried on – my mom actually pulled it off the rack and made me try on One. Last. Dress. even though I was feeling burnt out after trying on close to a dozen. It is beautiful and everything I ever wanted and makes my butt look like a badonkadonk. No crying, actually a lot of laughter, and I jokingly yelled “I say yes to the dress!” because that fulfilled a deep inner need in me.

It cost just under $1,100, which was right around what we expected to pay. This is really the one and only thing where I have been willing to pay exorbitant wedding prices, mainly because my mom offered to pay for the dress. In fact, she’s basically been trying to spend all of her hard-earned savings on this wedding and I’ve had to talk her down from $100-per-plate venues and renting a limo and having an aisle runner made of real orchids. The dress was the one thing that I decided to not refuse. It felt great to make one decision based entirely on loving the thing and feeling luxurious and beautiful, whereas the rest of the wedding is much more about staying on budget at all costs.

sosellen (#4,353)

after a long day, say yes to the dress + wine = heaven. the atlanta version is the best of all! (Lori4lyfe). I’m not interested in wedding dresses for myself, but somehow they write the show so that all of the drama of life comes out in that moment of dress shopping. it’s brilliant.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@sosellen I tried on dresses at that place! And found one I loved that would have fit in my budget, but there was NO WAY I was spending that much on a dress I would wear for one day. Food > dress.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@sosellen Yes, exactly what you said. The Atlanta version always makes me cringe because it seems to encapsulate every terrible stereotype about the South, but it. Is. So. Good.

Allison (#4,509)

@LookUponMyWorks I just want to rent myself out as a person who stands next to the bride and shouts at her grumpy friends/relatives “THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU, IF SHE LIKES IT, SHE LIKES IT AND STFU.” also “If you picked something over the budget, you’re paying the difference.”

Atlanta does have a higher concentration of dads and brothers being creepily involved in how sexy their daughter/sister looks.

@Allison I used to work as a bridal consultant and that is basically what I did. Part therapy, part sales, part “If this is what Jenny wants, awesome! It’s Jenny’s wedding day and she looks gorgeous!”

Stina (#686)

@Allison Ooh and young brides too with “teen” still attached to their age. I do have one friend who married at 19 and is still happy but that is not for me. Although the New York one has shown a decent amount of gold diggers (meaning: young, cute bride buying a 10,000 or up dress paid for by her 50 year old guy with plugs groom. CLEARLY a union of soulmates there.) I haven’t as yet seen a gold digging Atlanta one.

Stina (#686)

Spent $225 full price and had a good selection of cheaper gowns because I started at a cheaper place. Hey don’t go to the Coach store if you have a Nine West budget. It was the Jessica McClintock store, but I am not sure those are around anymore but it had good service. My Mom got a little teary but that was sweet.

At a different store I had tried on a full on poofy ballgown. When I turned to leave the dressing room the dress was still facing forward. So I had to pick up the hem and throw the dress in the direction where I was heading.

Jaya (#5,478)

Also, this is a really good post about how we talk about money and weddings http://offbeatbride.com/2013/03/one-lowmanship

@Jaya Thanks so much for reiterating that. A lot of times discussion around weddings gets bogged down into “who paid less/well we got married on the side of the road and had our reception in a cardboard box” and it has a lot of really awful undercurrents of “weddings like this are more meaningful than weddings like that” and what have you. So I like it when people are reminded that money is just a tool and you trade it for things you need or want to have, and there is no shame in that as long as everyone is happy and being treated fairly. Additionally, weddings pump a ton of money into the economy, and frequently a lot of it goes into the pockets of small businesses like florists and independent caterers and local venues and photographers and stuff like that, and that is AWESOME because everyone deserves to make a living!

@The Lady of Shalott Yeah, I was definitely trapped in the one-lowmanship mindset until about halfway through the planning, when we realized we had enough wiggle room in our budget to pay some problems to go away. Our wedding was not DIY or freegan or handcrafted or even particularly reflective of our deepest inner selves or whatnot, but we fed and watered our relatives and nobody died and we were married at the end, so money well spent in my mind. It was one (albeit large) dinner party.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Jaya This is a great post–I’ve read it a few times. I have the reverse mindset–sometimes I feel guilty to be able to spend so much on my wedding (THANKS PARENTS), but as my mother and father like to remind me, this is their money, it gives them pleasure to spend it this way, and they would not spend their money this was if a) they couldn’t afford it and b) they didn’t want to. They want to throw my pre-husband and I a big slamming wedding with all our family and friends, and yes, that costs some $$, so I am slowly making myself come to terms with that. And a big YES to @The Lady of Shalott, so many wedding businesses are small businesses, and it is great to support them! We’re having our wedding in a local theater too, so I love that our rental fees will go to support the arts and maintenance of that space.

DairyCat (#5,482)

I got married this September and spent just over $100 – including pattern and fabric. My mom has been making clothes for me for 29 years and knows my weird body better than anyone. I knew essentially the design I wanted, bought two vintage patterns of Etsy, sat down last Christmas with my mother and tried to make both. One was the clear winner. Went fabric shopping this April and fell in love with $100/yard fabric, only to go to Joann’s and realize $6 (with another 50% off coupon) crafter’s lace was really what I wanted. Mom started my dress 2 weeks before my wedding and sewed me into it an hour before I walked down the aisle.

I felt like a million bucks in that thing.

Stina (#686)

@DairyCat Awww. Talk about an extra special gown.

DairyCat (#5,482)

@Stina It was, and even more so, because she had gotten married 32 years and 1 day before me, wearing a dress she also made herself.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

I am going to tell my long dress story because I am officially under 200 days from marrying my person (according to an e-mail sent to me by one of my registries, ha) and that is exciting!

I bought my dress in September on a trip to NYC with my mom (my sister, who lives in NYC, also came with us). I went specifically to visit Saja, a tiny independent boutique in NoLiTa, whose work I had discovered on East Side Bride (best bridal blog!). I fell in love with the dresses IMMEDIATELY. Simple silhouettes! No frouf! Just the right amount of cool detail. And in my price range (approximately $1,000-$1,500). I bought the first dress I had ever seen by the designer, the one I fell in love with immediately on the Internetz, although I did try a lot of the other dresses on because they were super pretty. Amazingly a lot of them looked great on me, which was heartening because a lot of what I had been trying on earlier had been so “meh.”

It was just my mother, my sister, the sales girl (who was very low key), and me. We all agreed the dress looked slammin’ on me. I was happy that it was light weight and comfortable and allowed me to breathe, eat, and dance. No applause, no tears. Done.

Before that I had tried on some traditional bridal dresses in a salon in my hometown and hadn’t liked ANY of them. I also went to one other place in NYC but, again, nothing had that WOW factor. A lot of bridal style isn’t my style, so I was thrilled when I found Saja.

The dress is now hanging out in my closet waiting to get altered–Saja gave me the name of a few tailors where I live. The alterations will be simple (hemming, shortening the straps, and taking in the waist) so I won’t start that process until the new year. No idea what alterations will cost, but nice of the designer to have a network of tailors around the country to give to her buyers. Spent a little more on my headpiece than I had intended (Twigs and Honey, so pretty!) and now looking for shoes.

I did say to my mother at the end of the trip–which was very much a fun girl’s weekend with a lot of fancy dinners and Broadway shows–that even though the dress itself was in our budget range, we had totally gone a little nuts with the trip to get the dress. But we had a lot of fun and did a lot of bonding, and I don’t get to see my sister as much nowadays so that was good. I am also glad that my sister was able to be a part of “the dress finding,” since I know she is feeling a little left out of the planning since she doesn’t live by me. Memories + Family + Warm Fuzzies = Priceless.

Basically I didn’t want to make it a production and I know exactly what I like, so it all worked out.

Also get thee to Saja future brides who are put off by ballgowns or strapless column gowns or fit and flare. Gorgeous dresses, 95% under $2000, most under $1,500.

Stina (#686)

@TheDilettantista Well I applauded a little. Yay to marrying your person! I’m glad that you found something you like.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Stina Thank you! One thing I have noticed about much of the wedding industry is that the hype is on THE STUFF and THE FLOWERS and THE REGISTRY and THE THINGS and less on HEY YOU ARE MARRYING THE PERSON YOU LOVE, so whenever I get irritated by something wedding-y I am like “My pre-husband rocks and I am super excited to marry him and to have this fun party with friends and family to kick it off, LOVE IS ALL THAT MATTERS.” So, it keeps me grounded.

@TheDilettantista Saja made my runner-up dress! It was so beautiful and lightweight. I ultimately decided on a less expensive dress, which was the right choice for me, but I still love to look at the photos from when I tried on the Saja :)

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

Oh and while we are talking trashy wedding shows (I never watched Say Yes to the Dress until I got my dress and DAMN it is fascinating), does anyone watch Four Weddings? That’s my favorite crazy wedding show.

Marissa (#467)

@TheDilettantista I love to hate Four Weddings. I always root for the least nitpicky bride because even though the point of the show is to be judgy, calm down! Why dock four points because one appetizer was cold? Enjoy the free food and fun!

antheridia (#2,995)

Bought the first dress I tried on at David’s Bridal literally five days after getting engaged. It was on sale, I didn’t need alterations, and I could take it home that day itself. $400 and no tears. Bam!

Must have been a great dress because our wedding was feature din Wedding Bells magazine! :)

Marissa (#467)

Those people are the worst and it makes me appreciate my easygoing family. If I were to actually go wedding dress shopping, it would make for such a boring episode. My mom and aunt and grandma and friends would be like “Do you like it? Cool! It’s pretty. You should get it.”

Marissa (#467)

@Marissa Oops! Meant to respond to an earlier thread about Say Yes to the Dress.

emilia (#5,496)

Coming out of Lurkdom to share my top secret wedding dress tip. When I married my person this past October, I did so in a $220 BCBG dress, marked down from $368 (I think I paid $300 with alterations). It got SO many compliments. Any time anyone asked where I got the dress, it turned out THEY knew someone who got married in BCBG. They have a good selection of wedding-ish dresses on the site, and I’m actually going to have the hem taken up on mine so I can just wear it as an all around party dress. This was the first dress I really loved, ordered it from online, and never looked back…

This is the dress, BTW: http://www.bcbg.com/Mara-Long-Length-Halter-Dress/WQR6W274-2J6,default,pd.html?dwvar_WQR6W274-2J6_color=2J6&cgid=dresses#start=119&sz=40

stinapag (#2,144)

I paid about $700 for mine. I saw a designer I liked on Offbeat Bride, and I stalked her website for about six months deciding out which one I wanted. I e-mailed her my measurements and a deposit, and she sent me the dress six weeks later. I had some alterations made locally. I loved it. Hassle free, easy experience, and exactly what I wanted. Plus, I can wear it again.

This is the dress: http://wai-ching.com/content/bliss-dress and this is the dress on me: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stinapag/7490025638/in/set-72157630516593470

lemonadefish (#3,296)

I got an $80 cocktail dress at Dillard’s, and paid $10 to have the hips taken in. It was comfy and cute, and I didn’t mind a bit when I spilled tequila all over it later. I’ve worn it several times since, too…

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