The bridal suite at David Jones dress by Collette Dinningan.

The bridal suite at David Jones dress by Collette Dinningan.

Some time after my boyfriend proposed, I popped in to David Jones in the city to take a look at the gowns. Alas I was not to see any actual dresses that day because they are locked away in a sealed hyperbaric chamber not accessible to the unbetrothed.  

You can come face-to-face with your inner-bridezilla in their wrap-around-mirrors only by making a booking. The first appointment was in six weeks time for a weekday, but more like three months if you don’t want to take a day off work and do it on a weekend.

H&M's $99 wedding dress.

H&M's $99 wedding dress.

On the day I was allowed access to the inner-sanctum of bridal fashion I was first asked to fill out a form which I can only assume was some kind of matrimonial-readiness test which I immediately failed. In the box where it said budget I went sky-high and pencilled in $1000.

The attendant told me the dresses started at $4000 but I was welcome to try them on anyway.

I didn’t leave with a dress but I did leave googling, “why do wedding dresses costs so much?”

I’d been reminded of an incredible video I watched years earlier by Caitlin Kenney of NPR's Planet Money. After walking down the aisle she was convinced she’d overpaid for her mass-produced gown. And she was right. Kenney spent $3000 and after taking it to experts - who identified the fabrics and work involved - she was told that the dress cost only around $220 to produce in China and the fabric cost $550.

Why does this happen? There’s a couple of reasons. In Australia the options are limited - there’s not a great deal of dressmakers or gown sellers and they work in unison keep their prices extortionately high. There just aren’t any cheap options and none of local retailers like Country Road or Witchery do a bridal range like Anthropologie or J Crew in the US.

Want to buy it online from overseas? They’re conspiring to rob you as well - unlike the rest of their stock most  sellers don’t do returns on bridal gowns bought online. So when your $8000 dress arrives and you don’t like it? Well, good luck with that Ebay auction.

Secondly, and this was Kenney’s focus,  there’s what economists call signaling, or the message you’re sending with your purchase. Weddings have always been a reflection of your position in society and more and more the wedding industry fuels couples to equate the kind of wedding they create with the validity of their relationship and the success of their life in general. We pay more and do crazy things like put our faces on postage stamps because it says, “This is important to me, I’m doing it once and doing it well.”

According to Bride-to-Be the average cost of an Australian wedding is now $54,294. Which sounds insane... until you start making some calls and hear how much everyone is charging. 

Yesterday uber-retailer H&M released the $99 wedding dress and I was electrified. After months of dealing with people doubling the price of everything because it was a wedding (A small posey of native flowers? $150!) anything that picked at the edges of unraveling this conspiracy seemed worth celebrating. And of course any white dress (or a dress of any colour) can be a wedding gown but retailers billing an affordable dress as bridal? Well, that's a micro step forward.

Surely if H&M can do the $99 dress, maybe someone can offer a $99 cake and $99 wedding celebrant and we can all jump off the carousel and nudge this industry to work in the same competitive framework the rest off the retail world operates in.

Certainly there’s a trend towards simpler, less fussy, less costly weddings if the ceremonies featured on popular (and dreamy) wedding blog Hello May are anything to go by. But we need things not to just look 'low-fi' but be priced that way too (all coming from someone who just spent several hundred dollars on bunting).

I’m getting married in May and packed a picture of a dream dress on a recent trip to visit a friend in Bangkok. In three days a tailor there had created an exact replica of the dress in silk and lace. Total cost? Around $300 Australian dollars. Fits like a glove. No bookings required.

Dress recommendations:

  • Lover do an incredible (and affordable) range of white dresses
  • J Crew have an amazing returns policy on stunning, well-priced gowns 
  • See a dress you like? See if someone is selling it pre-loved first at Still White