Think About Different Options to Find Your Ideal Wedding Dress
In previous articles we have looked at buying a wedding dress from a bridal shop, following are further options on where to find your ideal wedding dress.
Wedding Dress Hire
It sounds like a very good idea but the reality is that there aren't many places that actually do it. The choice of styles and sizes is also limited. Finally, how many times can a dress be altered and dry cleaned and still look pristine? On the positive side you could save a nice sum if you hire instead of buying. If you are lucky to find what you want for hire make sure the dry cleaning is included in the price, it can cost over£100 to dry clean a wedding dress. Also check what the policy is in case you damage the dress beyond repair, for example if you make a lovely cigarette hole in it, spill something that won't come off in dry cleaning, rip the train etc. It's also wise to check the dress for pre existing damage.
Prices vary but you can expect to pay around £100-200 plus a refundable deposit.
Secondhand Wedding Dress
This is the option where you can really find a bargain but you should have tried on dresses beforehand and be really sure of what you want.
There are quite a few internet sites offering second hand dresses and internet auctions are also a good place to have a look. Most dresses are in good condition since they have been used only once. If you have found a wedding dress you like in a shop but your budget is tight it's worth having a look at getting it second hand.
On the other hand if you see something you like on the net but would like to try it on beforehand you could try finding out where it's being sold and try on a sample in the shop. If the seller's wedding was fairly recent, you should be able to find it and bridal fashion doesn't change that quickly so shops might have the same best selling design for years.
Points to remember if going for secondhand wedding dress option and you can't try it on...
1) Wedding dress sizes are usually smaller than the average high street ones so check or ask for the dress measurements and compare them with yours.
2) A wedding dress CAN'T be taken out if it's too small. Well, it can but it won't look very good so don't risk it, better too big than too small. Ideally it should be a little bit too big. The length is also very important, it can be taken up but not down.
3) You won't know whether it will suit you or not so you are limited to the shapes you are sure will flatter your figure.
4) Search for a competent seamstress for the alterations and show her a picture of the dress before you buy it. She will be able to tell you straight away if it's a possibility or not and will ask the right questions if she can't tell from the picture.
The price of a second hand dress depends on how much it was originally and the condition it is in. If you buy it from a shop, expect to pay about half of the original price. On the internet, the prices are lower and on an internet auction you can get amazing bargains.
Having A Wedding Dress Made
Probably the most expensive option but the one that makes you feel the most special. You get to choose everything about your dress and since it's made for you it will fit like a glove.
Beware of the next door neighbour who occasionally makes a skirt when she offers to make your wedding dress. It could be an expensive mistake. Good bridal tailoring is not easy and only practice makes perfect.
Make sure you discuss all the terms and conditions with the seamstress.
This is probably the most expensive option if you go to a shop but there are some great seamstresses working from home at a fraction of the price. The difficult part is finding them. You could try asking designer shops (not bridal obviously) which offer an alteration service if they know of some retired ex employee who would be willing to undertake the work.
Making Your Own Wedding Dress
The first thing to ask yourself is, are you good enough? If you are you don't need to be reading this.
Sales Event Options
Bridal companies usually organise sales events during the quiet period to shift old stock. Wedding dresses tend to be bulky and storage space is not cheap. A large area in a shop or a hotel is hired and the sale is set up for a day or two. Sales events usually are in central locations and advertised in magazines or daily newspapers.
What is on sale is usually ex samples, ex displays or cancelled orders.
You can pick up some great bargains but only go if you have already a very good idea about what suits you and what you want. They can be hectic affairs, there can be long queues and due to the sheer number of people you might be allowed to try on only about 4 or 5 dresses. The browsing time could also be limited.
They feel like a big charity shop, most of the stock is not great and that's why it was put on sale in the first place but occasionally there is a fantastic bargain. It is really down to luck.
A cancelled order would be a new dress so in theory it should be perfect but check it out thoroughly anyway because it might have some construction defect and that's why it was rejected in the first place.
Ex samples are trickier, they have been tried on many times and although they would have been cleaned and mended some faults can't be corrected.
Look out for stains, if they are still there it means that the dry cleaners couldn't get them out and neither will you. Don't believe anybody who tells you it's only a bit of lipstick/dust and will come off with a bit of water. It won't and if you use water you'll make a water mark on top of it. The stains would also have been there a long time which makes them virtually impossible to remove. Dry cleaning it again would be a considerable waste of money. Ask for a hefty discount instead and think about how you could hide it. Depending on the position of the stain you could consider a brooch, making a pleat, a flower etc. Remember they need to clear as much stock as possible.
Other problems with ex samples are wear and tear. They tend to have missing buttons and you'll never find a matching one especially if they are covered buttons. The same applies to beadwork. Rips occur mainly around the hem area where clumsy brides have stepped on them so check the underskirt too although it won't show.
A lot of damage happens around the zip or fastening areas, there is always a size 16 who wants to squeeze into a 12. Seams around the waist could also be strained, weak or torn due to the same unrealistic size 16 girl. The back of ex samples could also have a lot of pin prick marks which happen when a size 8 girl is pinned into a size 12 dress. Pin marks are often found on the front towards the hem when a dress was pinned up many times to fit the petite brides.
Thin, sheer fabrics don't age very well so remember to check the underarm area for rips or stains if your chosen dress has chiffon or organza sleeves. Yellowing due to age or light exposure does not come off in dry cleaning either. Dyeing is difficult, expensive and rarely completely successful.
Don't bother with shops which have a long running sale on, the stock is usually not worth it.
The same advice about alterations and return policies applies to sale dresses.
Unlikely Places To Find A Wedding Dress
Do check out the evening wear section of department stores.
High street chains.
Some of them have started selling dresses which could be suitable for a wedding.
Discount designer stores.
They buy surplus stock, seconds and last season stock to sell on at discounted prices. They won't always have wedding dresses but they'll have evening wear.
Some bridal stores offer bridesmaids dresses in ivory. Do remember that in this case you have to order the dress and it will take a few months. Some department stores do have a wedding section where they keep adult bridesmaids dresses.
Don't bother, I've never seen anything worth the trip. They are usually big meringues from the 80's.
Some companies offer wedding dresses online. You choose a style, send in your measurements or compare them to a chart, order your nearest size and the dress is posted to you. Prices are quite low and it might sound like a good option but it has quite a few pitfalls. First, do you really know how to take your measurements properly? You need a second person to do it. Second, these dresses are made for a standard size and height and chances are it will be too loose on the bust, tight on the hips, long in the waist etc. Third, the quality is usually awful, cheap fabrics and poor construction. Personally, I would avoid this option. On the other hand, there is an American company which sells bridesmaids dresses in shops but also on the net at lower prices. This happens to be a reputable company which at least gives you the opportunity of trying it on.
About the author
Lucretia Agnus was born in Hungary in 1947.
She trained as a costume designer and worked on theatre and TV productions all over Europe. She settled in England after her marriage to raise a family and transferred her skills and experience to the bridal industry where she stayed for the next 20 years. She has now retired and enjoys cooking, gardening and skiing.
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"How ude who the hell does she think making nasty comment about charity shops selling wedding dresses and thats an insult to those who can only afford charity shop wedding dresses."
"This article is fantastic i myself am a bride on a budget and i found the dress i wanted and it was way to expensive to buy in a bridal shop (£1200) so i shopped around and started to look on ebay i found the exact dress i wanted and it was brand new with tags un-alterd and i bet you could never guess how much well £230 she wanted more but i hagled the price down i couldnt belive my luck what an absolute bargain so anyone wanting abit of advice on wedding on a tight budget i have lots of suggestions and ideas "
"The general comments about sample dresses may apply to larger retailers where customer service is not the best but independent shops such as my own will make sure that their dresses only leave the shop in great condition. I do all my own alterations and check everything is perfect down to the last bead. Though I have to say some girls will just not have anything less than a newly ordered dress costing at least double what they could have paid. I am now planning to retire from my business and am having difficulty moving my sample stock even though they are amazing bargains."
Pat at Chatsworth Bridal
"I thought this article was excellent as I was thinking of hiring a wedding dress but after reading this I have now changed my mind as I feel it highlighted things that I had never thought of"
"As a Bridal charity shop manager, I found your comments extremely offensive. We stock hundreds of beautiful new gowns in our ten shops across the UK, kindly donated from designers and bridal showrooms, and have had thousands of satisfied customers over our twenty years trading in Bridal. Perhaps you would like to arrange a visit?
On behalf of Oxfam Bridal Shops.
(Admin: I'm sure after working in Bridal shops for many, many years she wouldn't like to visit.) "
"the comment on charity shops is not true. Barnados got 4 from another shop for me to try and i have a great dress to wear in september."
"The comment about charity shops is not true. There are dedicated charity shops that have bridal depts (ie red cross in Dorking) that have lovely dresses that have been donated."