The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Online Wedding Dress Shopping

I often get questions about online wedding dress shopping. People who know me or have read my website bio know that before I got into wedding planning, I went to college for fashion design. I worked for a bit in the bridal fashion industry as a designer, dressmaker, and alterations specialist. I have worked with everything from David’s Bridal bridesmaids dresses all the way through fully beaded couture gowns which cost upwards of ten grand.

Like everything in the wedding industry, with wedding fashion, you need to understand the difference between price and value. Ideally, you want to find bridal gowns, suits and bridesmaids dresses which are of the best quality and value for the amount of money you are willing and able to spend.

Research Styles & Set your Budget

When you get engaged you might be feeling excited to rush out and start shopping for a gown but it is important to sit down and do some research first. Figure out what you are comfortable spending on a gown and take some time to look at what is available within that price point before you make any appointments to try dresses on. Call the bridal salons and ask them about their price ranges and whether they can accommodate your budget. Also ask about average alteration costs and consider that in your budget as well.

Now you know what you are comfortable spending and what styles are available in your budget. If you are able to go to local shop where you can see the dresses in person, you will have a pretty good idea what to expect from your dress when it arrives. Independent shops or chains like David’s Bridal are going to have pretty consistent quality control and high standards, even for more modest price points.

But what if you have decided to shop online… How can you know that the gown (suit/bridesmaids dress/romper/etc..) will be what the seller claims it to be when it arrives on your doorstep? We have 5 tips to help make your online wedding dress shopping experience great, plus some red flags and other issues to watch out for in addition to the tips.

Photo by Charisse Kenion

5 tips for Online Wedding Dress Shopping:

1. Shop with an established & reputable sellers:

With brands like BHLDN and Modcloth on the scene, online shopping for weddings can be pretty much stress free. These are my go to suggestions if you are looking for a Wedding Gown under $1000 and you want something that is unique and different from what is sold at the bridal chain stores like David’s Bridal. For Bridesmaids dresses, try Weddington Way, Brideside, or Azazie.

2. Consider non-Bridal websites & stores:

The world is your oyster and you can find gorgeous evening wear and trendy, fashionable wedding looks just about anywhere! One of my favorites is ASOS for budget friendly options, but you could also branch out to some of the higher end department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstroms, or Bloomingdales.

3. Independent Online Designers:

There are some incredible independent designer brands who you can order from online. Lace & Liberty, Celia Grace, Chotronette, and Amy Kuschel to name a few. These won’t all necessarily be money savers, but they are unique and you can trust the quality of the gowns and your overall experience should be a positive one.

4. Designers on Etsy:

There are absolutely some incredible designers and dressmakers doing incredible work on Etsy, and many of them offer a couture experience without the couture price tag. The important thing to understand about Etsy is that it is very easy for someone less reputable to set up shop and steal images from other designers, misrepresent the product being sold, and leave you with an unusable dress. Research the designer extensively. Read reviews, both the good and the bad. Look for consistency in their product images and overall style.

5. Rent or purchase a used gown:

Companies like Once Wed, Borrowing Magnolia, Still White, and Rent the Runway… all are resources for buying or renting used and even sometimes never worn gowns at a discount. These sites inspect and guarantee the gowns are legitimate (not knock-offs) and in good condition before putting them up for rent or sale, so you can feel confident knowing that you won’t be getting a dress that is trashed. Many of these sites also have at-home try-on options.

Photo by Heather Miller

What to watch out for:

1. Importers Disguised as Small Businesses or Independent Designers:

These importers will masquerade as small independent designers and will sometimes even make false claims about where the garments are made. A true small, independent design business would be hard-pressed to have even 20 gowns in their repertoire with quick turnaround, so if you see 100+ unique designs, you can bet those are being sourced from a variety of factories overseas. A seller offering a bunch of color options is also likely sourcing from a factory. When shopping on Etsy, be wary of any shop boasting a ton of designs, colors, fabrics all available with only a few weeks turn around at a low price.

2. Ultra Low Prices:

If you see a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. You might get a great dress for a steal, but you may also be taking a gamble when it comes to quality or you may not even get the item you think you ordered. Ultra low prices generally indicate that the gowns are being imported from overseas and when it is not coming from a reputable distributor, there is no guarantee that the gown you get will be of decent quality or even the same dress you thought you were ordering.

3. Ethical Concerns:

While you may not have the budget to spend thousands on a dress, which is totally fine, it is important to understand that discount wedding gowns and bridesmaids dresses are often made in sweatshops. While many garments sold in the US and UK are made in China, India, Bangladesh, etc… there is at least a little more oversight if you are buying through established brands and companies. When buying direct from these overseas sellers, there is less accountability for the worker’s conditions and buying on price alone contributes to the race to the bottom that we see in the garment industry today.

4. Knock-offs and Counterfeits:

The internet is rife with designer knock-offs and counterfeits. Overseas factories that produce designer dresses have even been known to take the patterns, cut them in a similar (but cheaper) fabric, and sell them as the real thing at a significantly discounted price. This is stealing and it is super illegal and immoral. If you see a dress that is being advertised as a designer label gown but at a super low price, it is likely a counterfeit or stolen. In addition to the ethics concerns, counterfeit and stolen goods can be seized by customs, leaving you with no dress at all!

Likewise, it is not cool to take a design and ask a dressmaker to copy it detail by detail just because the original is outside your budget. Please don’t do that. It devalues the original designers work as well as the time and skill of the dressmaker you are asking to recreate it!

Photo by Celia Michon

The Intersection of Price and Value

The fashion industry in general has some pretty major shortcomings for sure, and many of those shortcomings extend into bridal fashion. The best thing you can do is educate yourself and understand the intersection of price and value. Stick to trustworthy brands and support independent and local businesses when possible. Be skeptical, ask why garments are priced the way they are. Read reviews (all the reviews, not just the 5 star ones!). It is entirely possible to have a fantastic online shopping experience when looking for wedding fashions, you just have to do a little research to make sure the product you are getting is worth the money you are investing in it!

This post was originally published on the Bridechilla Blog on 10/19/2017

About the Author: Erica Greenwold Reisen is the content editor of Bridechilla, owner and wedding planner at Folie à Deux Events, and a former wedding gown designer with a BFA in Fashion Design. You can find her various projects online at Folie à Deux Events and Secularly Wed or chat with her in the Bridechilla Facebook Community!