The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Wedding Dress “Try-On” Fees: Intellectual Property Protection, Or Just Another Way To Make Brides Pay?

Posted by Clem Bastow on June 30, 2008

An interesting trend is emerging (via a trickle-down effect from overseas) in the booming Australian bridal industry: wedding dress retailers and designers are starting to charge brides-to-be for the privilege of trying on a few gowns.

Their word is that this is as much about the designers’ intellectual property as it is anything else – and, in some respects, that’s a compelling argument. In the haute couture end of bridal fashion, less reputable designers will send lackeys posing as blushing brides to their competitors salons, where they’ll try on a few while taking happy snaps on camera phones “so I can show the bridesmaids”; the photos are then shipped back to the head seamstress and an exclusive, one-off dress suddenly appears in multiples on the racks at a competing ready-to-wear store.

Designer Alex Perry already charges $350 for a two-visit consultation with women interested in buying one of his haute couture wedding creations, which are priced from $8000.

He said the charge, which was deducted from a purchase, was a good way to determine if they were serious about buying.

“It deters people who just want to come and pick my brain,” he said.

“I’m at that stage in my career when it’s fine if you do that, but you’re going to have to pay me for it.”

That’s fair enough – an enormous amount of time, effort and workmanship goes into Perry’s gowns, and the same goes for his peers in the higher-end of bridal couture (you know, the dresses that have the ominous “Price On Application” in their style notes in bridal magazines). Most artisans working on a big job – portrait artists, architects, and so on – secure a deposit to make the ‘contract’ binding.

But what concerns me about this trend is that in every other instance – i.e. where actual custom-made gowns aren’t involved (because that’s the thing about couture/made-to-order dresses – you can’t go try it on for fun, because it doesn’t exist yet!) – this seems to be an opportunity for mass market bridal salons to hit average brides-to-be where it hurts: in the bank account.

Halliwell (accidentally?) makes a salient point in the piece when mentioning the sequence in Muriel’s Wedding where Muriel tries on a series of dresses “for fun and fantasy”. Most of the time, a dress-trying-on expedition is a bonding experience for the bride-to-be and her attendants (and mother, usually); it’s an oasis of enjoyment in the increasingly high stress process of staging a wedding.

It’s true that dresses in ‘high traffic’ salons do get shopworn and require dry cleaning from time to time, but not to the extent that every single bride who passes through the doors would need to pay $50 to “cover dry-cleaning and any repairs”. On any given Saturday, that could net the salon, conservatively, more than $1000, and last time I checked, spot-repairs weren’t being done with diamonds.

(And, mind you, mass market gowns – in other words, ones that are not “one offs” – are not necessarily any cheaper than couture gowns; browsing with an engaged friend at one franchised bridal store, we spotted off-the-rack gowns at upwards of $9000.)

You need only have a cursory look in Cosmo Bride to see that an “average” wedding ends up costing around $25,000 or more; “wedding mortgages” are now not uncommon. In fact, in Cosmo Bride‘s “Budget Brides” section (where couples “made their dollar work harder”, apparently), a wedding of $10 – 15,000 seems to be considered a steal, where only three or so years ago, celebrations in the same section were more likely to have cost $5000.

Hence, there’s not a lot about a good deal of Australian weddings that actually is still simply about “fun and fantasy”, and – couture industry aside – I fear that, for the average bride-to-be, this emerging trend will be the final nail in the coffin of the idea of a wedding being a celebration of a couple’s love, rather than their credit card debt.

I would be very interested to hear from any recent brides or current brides-to-be about your experience navigating the bridal industry. Did you come up against hidden costs? Did you set a spending limit? Do you think $15,000 is a “budget” wedding??

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