$99 H&M dress is the best thing that will ever happen to the wedding industry

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.

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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

 

64 comments

  • Have to agree, except for the bit about Lover. Lover dresses are also significantly overpriced and the lace is, at best, curtain lace. You could have a Lover replica made in Thailand, with French lace, for less than $100, and you get a holiday. Plus the quality would be much better.
    I think the difficulty in Australia is that we have limited access to international designers, so we assume that our local designers prices are acceptable and that they’re creating something special and different – so we pay more. In reality, wedding dresses are all the same. J’Aton’s use of fabric and ruffling looks very similar to Vera Wang, Steven Khalil always looks like last year’s Marchesa, Leah da Gloria’s designs are very similar to Elie Saab, and so on. But any Thai tailor can make an excellent replica for a twentienth of the cost.

    Commenter
    Zahra
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 12, 2014, 9:31AM
    • It's worth noting that most Lover garments are made in Australia. It's fair for a label to charge a retail mark-up and it should be around 2.5% on top of wholesale. I agree that Lover's material choice can be variable but there's integrity to their designs in fit and modern cut. They make dresses which you can wear beyond the big day, and that's also worth paying for.

      We need to be careful of avoiding getting ripped off versus reducing the value of labour. A $99 wedding dress doesn't make my heart leap with joy. How much was the seamstress paid? Was she (because it probably was a 'she') working in good conditions? An ethical wedding dress would be a bigger step forward.

      Commenter
      Ethics lover
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 10:52AM
    • Jay's Bridal and House of Brides in the United States sell dresses for half the price in Australia.

      Commenter
      Cimbom
      Location
      Real World
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 12:16PM
    • There’s often this assumption that ‘made in Australia’ means that it’s made ethically. But is it really? I think you’ll find that a seamstress is actually paid relatively little in relation to average Australian wages. And particularly when compared with the cut that wholesalers, buyers and other middle-men receive per garment. I wouldn’t jump to assume that its all that more ethical in Australia.

      Commenter
      Zahra
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 1:09PM
    • Please check out "light in the box .com" and "DHgate .com" for beautiful made to measure dresses at an affordable price. I paid $400,00 yes that's hundred not thousand and my dress was a stunner. No to the meringue look and no to the shoulder less, arm less dress that suits no one. The amount of beefy looking arms and exposed shoulders create fashion victims not gorgeous brides. Yes to telling the venue its a party rather than a wedding, we saved a lot of money that way. The owner was annoyed he lost his high mark up, but we had paid so he couldn't suddenly charge 3 x the amount.

      Commenter
      purpleangelb
      Location
      St Kilda
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 1:40PM
    • Designer? Who? Why?
      My cousin just had a $70,000 wedding. I wouldn't have a clue who designed the dress, did the cake etc. It was only last year and I can't even remember what the food was like!
      I got married (at age 28 - perhaps this explains a few things) and my ENTIRE wedding cost no more than $7,000. The dress was $400. I got it from a formal dress place that's in a few Westfield's - I think it was called Harts. It was no better or worse than the $2000 pavlova dresses I tried on the week before.
      Thanks to our inexpensive wedding we've been able to invest in our home/children/lives etc. My cousin is going to be paying off that big day for the next ten years.
      Be smart, have something meaningful and personal. It's not a competition.

      Commenter
      Nel
      Location
      HOW MUCH??!!
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 3:37PM
  • Photographers are also in this category. While paying 2000-3000 for 12hrs for two shutter bugs can be debated (they work hard and they have to make living ) it is the "Albums" that are ripp off. Most will charge $1000+ for an album that they source from China for less than a $200 fully edited and laid out. They just then apply 600% margin. My Advice is to get them to give you high Rez JPEGs (no one will give you RAWs) and then google wedding albums makers online. You will save 1000s.

    Commenter
    GJ77
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 12, 2014, 9:37AM
    • It's what the market can obviously bear though. That will only change when more and more people do it online. One thing to think about though is that everybody and their dog considers themselves photographers now I sure as hell wouldn't want to be trying to make a living in the wedding photography business. That mark up might be pretty steep, but you also don't know they're getting it made there, and even if they are it's hard to know whether it even provides a livable wage with the number of jobs they might get in this photographer saturated world.

      I have more of a problem with the complaint in the article about the $3000 dress being $800 in raw material and Chinese labor. Seriously? That's not a bad mark up at all. You can look at literally any item right in front of you and be amazed at the 200-300% markup on the raw materials and labor. It's called not giving a product away for free and working for love and rainbows! As if that markup doesn't have to cover rent, salesperson wages, maybe a distributor etc etc.

      Commenter
      andrew
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 10:47AM
    • Agreed. I highly recommend Sweet Memory Albums. They are based in Germany. We got a massive 14x14 inch leather album with about 80 sides and all design work/layouts for about $800 including shipping. Our photographer wanted to charge $2000 for an album with 10 pages.

      Commenter
      Cimbom
      Location
      Real World
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 12:13PM
  • you are correct, weddings in australia are a rort. so is pretty much everything else ie. cars, houses, the whole country is overpriced and doomed to fail at some point.

    Commenter
    banggood
    Date and time
    March 12, 2014, 9:39AM

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