What Is a Wedding Dress Worth?




Before anyone gets all excited:  I am not in the market for a wedding dress.

However, this girl was (link goes to the video, in case it didn't embed properly). 


She ended up with "Eva" from the Enzoani 2010 Collection

The website's description of the dress is:  Venice lace, modified mermaid silhouette with strapless sweetheart neckline. Organza layered ruched bust with Swarovski crystal applique. Scalloped hemline with detachable train.

The lining/under-fabric was diagnosed as polyester, but the lace would sell at retail for about $150-165/yard, and was fully backed with and sewn to a netting.  It's worth a click on the link (annoying flash website so you have to scroll through to Eva) to see the ruching detail on the bust and the applique.  All in all, a very nice dress and the bride looks beautiful in her photos and videos.

She paid about $2700.  She goes to B&J Fabrics in New York and gets an estimate of about $1200 retail/$600 wholesale for the materials.  The she goes to a dressmaker and gets an estimate of about $200 for the labor (in China, in a factory--not in the US or custom-made).  Adding these up, with some unspecifed allowance for design services and overhead, she decides she's been ripped off.

Now, I am certainly in shock and awe over the prices of retail clothing generally.  $395 pull-on blouses made of polyester!  $695 sack dresses, also polyester!  That's insane, and I don't know how normal people dress themselves--the balance between price and acceptable quality (such as for work) is difficult to find.

I also know that adding the word "wedding" to anything automatically adds a mark up.

But I think this girl's outrage is misplaced.  I don't know what her estimate for overhead was, but I suspect she lowballed it.

First, there's design.  The cut and fit of this are pretty great, and the bodice ruching detail is flattering and intricate.  So you figure it took about six or 10 prototypes to get to the pattern. (This is based on my very amateur understanding from the great Kathleen Fasanella and discounts the fact that they probably have stock patterns for this mermaid silhouette and tweak it each year).

Then the pattern has to be graded to various sizes.

Next comes sourcing the fabric, or getting it custom-milled.

 Then samples have to be made for every bridal salon that carries the line.  I went wedding dress shopping with a friend once.  Those samples are trashed.  So that's just a loss.

She says she went to a bridal store and chose the dress.  Was it the first bridal salon she went to, and the first dress she tried one?  Doubtful.  That's a lot of rent, salary, electric bill, and advertising for her to choose a dress.  Then she called around to other bridal salons until she found the best price.  More rent, salary, electric bill, and advertising money down the drain.

Then she finally bought the dress, and it was (most likely) made to order in China.

I think she did the wrong math.  She added up the wholesale costs ($800) and went from there.  But I think she needed to start from the other direction:  ask how much that dress would have cost as a custom creation from a dressmaker.  $1200 for the materials at retail.  I have no idea what wedding dressmakers cost, but I'm going to aim low at $25/hr.  To develop the pattern, fit muslins, and make the final dress:  what, 100 hours minimum?  So we're well past the retail bargain she got, and I'm pretty sure my estimate for a custom dress is quite low.

The thing about the RTW I linked above is that I could make each piece in about 5 hours.  Even at splurge $20/yard "nice" polyester (is there such a thing?) and valuing my labor at $50/hr, I'd come out ahead.  (Granted, I would start with a pattern--but I purposely chose simple shapes that could be drafted from a block without much time or effort.) She cannot say the same for her dress.

It seems that because she doesn't know what it takes to put that wedding dress into her hands, it can't be worth much.  Now, I don't mean to abuse her.  She seems sincere and intelligent.  But unless you've cooked a fancy meal, you don't know that it's worth so much more than the sum total cost of its ingredients.  And unless you've sewn your own clothes, apparently, you don't know how much they're worth.  And this seems to result in a lack of respect for all the people who made those things happen.  Buying clothes for pennies at places like Forever 21 make this easy--how much can the people behind the clothes be worth if it has made it around the world and into your shopping bag for $12?

What do you think?  What is a wedding dress worth?

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