As anyone who's ever been part of a wedding can tell you, bridesmaids' dresses almost always cost more than any other gown you'll buy in your lifetime (with the exception of the wedding dress, that is!). While this can be frustrating—especially as you anticipate the slew of other expenses that are already piling up—it's important to remember why a bridesmaids' dress is associated with a higher price tag. As it turns out, there are a number of reasons why a bridesmaids' dress tends to cost on average $150-$300 more than a gown not marketed to be worn by a wedding attendant.
One of the biggest reasons why a bridesmaid's dress tends to be more expensive than other gowns is the fact that the colors are meant to be customized. "Bridesmaids' dress manufacturers don't have one shade of a color we have many—for example in chiffon we have at least 40 different colors," says Erica Rosenfeld, owner of Bari Jay and Khloe Jaymes. "There is a cost involved with stocking all of the fabric colors and making sure the dresses match." On the flipside, if you purchase a dress off the rack, you would not have as many color options and there is a good chance that the dresses will be completely different dye lots if purchased from different locations.
In addition to colors, bridesmaids dresses come in many different fabrics and sizes to ensure they work for the entire wedding party regardless of size or height. For example, Bari Jay's dresses are offered in sizes from 0-26W, as well as in a petite length, regular length, and extra length, all intended to cut down on the need for alterations. "When you buy dresses off the rack it is nearly impossible to get the same dress in the same color in all the different sizes in a bridal party," Rosenfeld explains. In short: Part of what you're paying for is matching dresses that fit each attendant.
Size and length aren't the only ways bridesmaids' dress manufacturers are accommodating different wedding parties—they also make dresses that are available to junior bridesmaids or flower girls and pregnant women. "Bridesmaids can be young and require a bridesmaids dress that matches, but the dress will need to be adjusted for a younger girl. We have attire for younger attendants that matches the bridesmaids styles in terms of color and fabric," says Rosenfeld. "The same goes for pregnant bridesmaids—their dress will match all of the others at least in fabric, and they will be comfortable on your special day."
Another factor that contributes to the final cost of a bridesmaids' dress is the fact that they're created by a well-trained designer. "These types of dresses are made from the designer's size chart, and are specifically cut from one dye lot and sewn for the party ordering them, which requires a lot of extra time, energy, and special handling at the factory and manufacturing level," says Michael Shettel, founder of Gather & Gown. "Therefore, it is highly encouraged by all bridal salons that the complete order be placed at one time to make sure all of the dress are from the same dye lot, ensuring that the color hue is consistent and matching."
On top of everything, it's important to remember that bridesmaids' dresses are made to order, not simply selected in one size and sent to each bridesmaid. "You are paying for the measurements, sizing, swatches, and customization," explains Rosenfeld. Once these measurements are taken for each bridesmaid, the gowns must be pre-ordered and will take several months to create. Essentially, each woman is getting a custom-made dress. Another factor that often makes the cost of a bridesmaid's dress surge even more is shipping. "Big box stores ship thousands of items at one time, meaning wedding parties who place their orders at the same time get shipped and delivered at the same time," explains Shettel. "If dress orders are placed individually, additional shipping and delivery handling at the factory level needs to happen to ensure proper delivery, which also adds up."
While it is true that bridesmaids' dresses tend to be more expensive than regular gowns, that doesn't mean you can't find a deal. "Shopping for an off-the-rack dress at a department store is another option, and you can score dresses from well-known designers at an affordable price point," says Shettel. Just remember that if you want everyone to match, this isn't always a great option. "Stock and color selection options could be limited."