Every industry will have good and bad aspects, and the bridal and formal industry is no different. There are still so many predatory practices that exist to this day, so we're taking you through all of the red flags you need to know about before you purchase a wedding gown or formal dress.
Custom, with alterations..?
A custom wedding dress is a gown made to fit your exact body, made to your specific measurements. No custom wedding gown should require alterations unless you've taken the gown home long before your wedding and then gained or lost some weight. If this were to happen, the brand would usually alter your dress for you.
If the designer informs you that you require alterations at the pick up of your wedding dress, then you didn't get a true custom wedding dress. This can sometimes happen if a brand takes your design and sends it overseas to be made and posted back, which requires you to undertake alterations. While your design may be custom, the dress itself isn't an authentic custom wedding gown.
Designed in… vs. designed and MADE in…
One common misdirection brands throw at consumers when they know the bride wants a locally made gown is claiming it's designed locally, but not designed AND MADE locally. What the brand is not saying here is the key: it's designed here but sent overseas to manufactured at a cheaper price to increase the profit margin.
If having your gown made locally matters to you, and you're worried about how genuine a brand is, ask to see where their gowns are made or for photos of your dress being brought to life.
Reselling with fabric manipulation.
There's been a recent tactic by some stores around the country, and the world, where they'll buy cheap wedding dresses off AliExpress and then place lace over the top or make minor alterations and call it their own before marking the price up drastically. These AliExpress gowns can be $80-$200, but when you're unknowingly buying them from a store at $1500+, you're paying much more than you ever should.
If you see a gown and think it's too good to be true, it probably is. Always check cheap sale sites like AliExpress before committing to a dress in a store. There's nothing wrong with going for a cost-effective gown. It would be best if you always shop within your budget, but predatory pricing on dresses that have been marked up by 600-2000% (or more!) It is a terrible practice seeping into the bridal and formal dress industry.
Make To Fail.
In recent years, gown rental services have taken up much more space in the formal and bridal industry, something some brands aren't happy with. A new method of preventing gowns from ending up on sale rails, resellers, marketplace, or hire/dress loan companies is 'making to fail.
The idea behind 'making to fail' is to utilize things like cheap lining, poor zippers, or cheap tulle to create a product that will only stand up to wearing once or twice or deteriorate when dry-cleaned. Brands will intentionally source fabrics that will break down fast, like glitter sparkles in formal gowns, so that you cannot sell your gown to a rental company, or the company cannot buy the brand's dresses to rent out.
Making gowns to fail doesn't just affect resellers, though. Suppose you were to buy a gown in advance of a formal or wedding that's months away; in the time between, your dress may break down and force you to spend even more money buying another one, costing you twice as much.
Always stress test things like tulle or zippers. If the brand is buying quality, there shouldn't be a problem with seeing if the tulle is strong or will tear at the slightest movement or if they use reinforced zippers or cheaper easy-to-break ones. Feel the fabrics on a gown, especially glitter-based materials. If you rub your hands on the fabric gently and it causes damage, you've just spotted fast signs of a 'make to fail' brand.
If you're worried about gowns being 'made to fail', it's important to do some thorough research, and not just go off gossip. Gowns that have been made to fail will generally have pretty bad reviews, or you'll see signs of wear and tear in customer photos.
Incorrect sizing, intentionally, leading to upselling and alterations service.
Some stores will take your measurements when ordering a gown but purposely inflate them to upsell you on alterations later.
Suppose you see a dress you want, and a store has to order it from overseas; they need to know what size you'll wear on your wedding day. To find your size, a staff member at the store will take your measurements; this is where you want to pay attention and take notes. They'll usually take bust, waist, and hip measurements and ask for a copy of what they've recorded to be safe.
Sometimes, if you're a size 16, a store may order in size 20 intentionally so that you'll need your gown to be altered, and it just so happens that they also do alterations…adding extra cost onto you, the consumer, through no fault of your own.
Stores intentionally mislead you on possibilities.
Stores will often have sample sales to get rid of old stock, this is standard in the bridal industry, and there's nothing wrong with it. However, sometimes a bride might see a sample and want it with something like sleeves attached, for example. We've seen far too many instances of a store telling brides they can buy the gown and have sleeves added, neglecting to mention that this gown might be several years old. When a dress is older, the color has changed over time from being constantly worn, or maybe the fabric it was crafted in has been discontinued - this means it's impossible to color or fabric matches the sleeves for alterations.
If you're considering buying a sample gown but want alterations, ask the store to supply the fabrics for alterations at your cost - if they cannot do this, nine times out of 10, it's because what they've promised you is an impossible alterations project. While you can still have sleeves attached, for example, it doesn't mean they'll look the way you want them to because the coloring is off or the fabric is different.
Sample sales: sample gowns can be stretched out, maybe a size up. Having alterations can be difficult to a dress made 4 years ago. There are many reasons for this, including faded fabrics mean you can't fabric match, tulle fabric will stretch over time after repeat wear & tear, or If it's been on a hanger with weight from beads or heavy fabric will pull down on the structure of the gown, causing damage.