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Why Is a Wedding Dress So Expensive?

The pros break it all down here.

Contributing Writer
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Photography by: Kyle John Photography

You've probably spent years, or even decades, dreaming about what your wedding dress might look like, but have you thought about the cost associated with it? You don't have to have walked down the aisle before to know that wedding dresses often come with hefty price tags. In fact, most brides in the U.S. spend an average of $998 on her wedding dress, according to a new survey by e-commerce site, Lyst, and averages in major cities are even higher. That's probably more than you've ever spent on any one piece of clothing in your life, not to mention something that you only intend to wear once. Sounds like a lot for less than 24-hours of wear and tear, right? Although what you're comfortable spending on any one garment is an entirely person thing, we can say for certain that the price tag on your wedding dress is definitely worth it. Don't believe us? We went to the experts who are involved in the creation of these beautiful gowns to learn more about their cost. 

 

There's one very good reason why wedding dresses are so expensive, and it's the same reason that they're also so jaw-droppingly beautiful: They're made of expensive and intricate materials that are pricy for designers and bridal salons to purchase, too. "Especially when you get into the more expensive brands, elevated internal construction using top-notch fabrics available on the market, such as genuine silk or chantilly and venice laces, ensure the wedding dress fits you to perfection," explains Lori Conley, divisional merchandise manager at David's Bridal. In fact, many designers refuse to use more affordable materials, like tulle and lower-cost laces, over the top-shelf fabrics that drape beautifully and feel luxurious to the touch. 

 

Related: Tips for Choosing Your Wedding Dress

 

The process of creating a wedding dress, especially one with embroidery and beading, is not only artistic and creative, but also mathematical and requires great dexterity. "Many people assume a fabric is chosen and used to complete a gown in its entirety, but a lot of times the artwork is customized to the pattern and placed with intent of something truly aesthetic," explains Allison Webb, head designer for her namesake Allison Webb bridal collection. "When it comes to grading for sizes, the process becomes even more complex as the artwork must be modified to work with the pattern changes and curving of the design lines." In short: A wedding dress isn't just designed once. After the designer creates the sample, they then have to recreate the sample to work for every size they offer, adjusting detailing as necessary.

 

That's why you'll often find that wedding dresses with extreme detailing cost more than those with little-to-no embellishments. Additionally, if these embellishments are hand-stitched or crafted with handmade lace, the price will be higher than that of a dress made entirely by machine. "What many brides may not consider is how these accents are woven into the dress since that's really what impacts pricing," says Dareth Colburn, CEO and founder of USABride and the Dareth Colburn Bridal Collection. "Dresses that are hand sewn will come with a much heftier price tag than those that are crafted by a machine."

 

Related: The Best Wedding Dress Shopping Tips

 

Much like the clothing and accessories you purchase for wear on a daily basis, wedding dresses with designer labels are more costly. "Most notable fashion houses produce their gowns in their own factories in the U.S. or Europe, while less expensive gowns may be produced by a licensee brand or in China," explains Mark Ingram, founder of Mark Ingram Bridal Atelier. "Sometimes the gowns produced outside of the U.S. or with synthetic materials are just as fashionable, they are just less expensive to produce." That's why it's important to be clear about your budget and ask your bridal salon consultant to show you all of your options.

 

Whether you purchase your wedding dress off-the-rack or order one from a designer, it's highly unlike that it will fit you perfectly without any alterations. To ensure you don't have sticker shock when it comes time to pay for your gown, factor alteration costs into your dress budget. "Know that these costs can be up to a few hundred dollars or more depending on the needed changes," explains Colburn. What's with the high price tag here? These alterations require several hours, if not days, of hand-sewn work. The labor costs alone have to be above minimum wage at least. When you do the math, it all makes sense. 

 

Related: Why Is a Wedding Cake So Expensive?

 

Another thing that makes the price tag associated with your wedding dress skyrocket? Waiting until the last minute to purchase it. Whether that's because you had a hard time finding "the one" or because you were waiting for an end-of-season discount, delaying your purchase might mean you have to spend more. In fact, the most common expense Ingram sees is the rush charge brides will incur from a designer when they order their gown too close to the wedding date, usually anytime under four to six months. "The reason there's a 'rush fee' is because the designer will have to put that bride's order ahead of others in their production line and rush to complete their work," he explains. "This may be an additional 10-20 percent of the cost of the dress!" His advice: Shop early and order your dress at least six months before your big day.

 

With so many components involved in determining how much a wedding dress costs, it's important that you, the bride, determines you priorities early. "If you have your heart set on a particular designer you know will cost a pretty penny, go for it if you have the means," he says. "If labels and intricacies are less important to you, a more cost effective wedding dress could also be an option."