Say Yes To The Mess: That White Dress Is Gonna Cost You

Meghan Keane is getting married in October. This column is helping her cope.

According to my rigorous internet searching, in 1890, Ladies Home Journal wrote that, “from times immemorial the bride’s gown has been white.”

That is not actually true! But like many customs, it doesn’t matter. Because, if enough people do something, it becomes tradition. And then once you have tradition, you can charge more for it!

And white wedding dresses cost plenty more than other dresses. In a way, that makes sense, because they’re often very complicated (or at least very poufy). So, if you want a really big dress, or one with lots of layers, or something very structured, there are a lot of options.

It’s hard to say exactly what premium you’re paying for a white wedding dress, because not many women today wear long crystal covered dresses with trains to events other than weddings. And all the expensive white dresses that fit that bill are surrounded by other overpriced dresses, so there’s no way to get a baseline price comparison.

If you want something pretty simple, it becomes a lot easier to figure that out. For me, I didn’t want a train, and I didn’t want a really complicated bodice. I just wanted a simple white dress that looked good on me. At the first few places I went to, the fact that I wanted to spend less than $2000 on my wedding dress was an issue. So I started looking around at shops that weren’t strictly for wedding dresses.

After going to a few department stores and regular retailers, I found a dress I really liked at Jenny Yoo, which is mostly a bridesmaid dress shop, but they also sell their dress styles in white.

I wasn’t really thinking I’d wear a halter dress to my wedding, but it looked nice on me. At $1225, it was still expensive, but definitely a lot less than other dresses I’d tried on. And then I looked at it online, and noticed that they sell the same dress in other colors. For about $800 less.

When I asked about the price difference, I found out that they use a “special treatment to get it that white.”

Oh, and the dress is slightly different in length! “Because it’s white and it’s such a light fabric, it has to be double lined,” the salesperson explained, “that’s so you can’t see through it. It’s lined in silk versus lined in polyester. That’s for feeling, breathability, and the luxury of the fabric in bridal versus bridesmaids.”

Is that true? Probably. Is it a $800 difference? No. But I guess that’s how people make money with these things.

And I was almost OK with that. The dress wasn’t fancy. Or intricate. But it’s hard to find a long white dress under $1000. And then I found the same dress (minus the halter) available at J. Crew for $300 on sale. If I brought that dress to a seamstress and asked for a halter addition, it would probably run me $400 for my wedding dress. A wedding hack!

This kind of stuff can drive you crazy if you let it. It’s not so much that wedding items are so expensive. It’s more that it’s so patently obvious that you’re simply paying a wedding tax that makes it so insufferable.


And especially with the wedding dress, it’s hard to pretend like you’re purchasing something for some random recreational activity. You can go the route of getting a coloured dress. (Colored dress. Is that dressist? If so, my apologies.)

But that actually sounds more stressful to me. There are so many white dresses to look at, I just got tired after awhile. If I had included dresses of color (is that better?) in my search, I might have gone insane.

In the end, my J. Crew dress/seamstress plan didn’t work out. Mainly because I didn’t actually want to wear a halter dress, I just liked the idea of spending less money.

Instead, I bought my wedding dress at a shop called Lovely in the West Village. I think it really suits me. But also, they were very nice there. No one pushed me to buy something. They listened to what I said. And they let me look at and choose dresses I wanted to try on. (What a novelty!) In the end, I decided that if I was going to spend some money on my wedding dress, it should at least be purchased from someone I like.

(Photos: ThinkStock, Jenny Yoo, JCrew)

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    • Molly

      There’s a wedding tax for everything! I designed my own dress and got someone to make it for me for a very reasonable fee. But sometimes you don’t really have a choice, and you will end up paying more for makeup, hair and music, even if you go for a low profile look!

    • Colleen

      My mom wore a yellow flowered dress when she got married–I think she sewed it herself. My aunt wore a blue mini-dress to her nuptials. A cousin married with black & white T-shirts for the entire wedding party.

      My family will just be happy if I marry one day, and hopefully not to a complete tool. This really takes the pressure off the whole dress-shopping experience for me. :D

      Remember that the wedding is one day……the marriage is (hopefully) the rest of your life.

    • Chef

      It must be because you’re in NY. There are plenty of places here you can spend <$1k on a white wedding dress.

      • Meghan Keane

        That is definitely part of it. Everything is more expensive around here.

    • Crystal

      Two words: prom dress. There are tons of simple, white prom dresses that would work for a wedding. Of course, I plan to buy my wedding dress on eBay. Most dresses are under $200 and they’re custom made, from Hong Kong, probably.

    • Megan

      My friend who is about to get married ordered a few dresses online for a few hundred dollars from Ann Taylor and J Crew. Whatever didn’t work, she sent back, what did work, she had altered. I think it cost her less than $500, and that price would apply no matter where you are since it’s purchased online. Definitely going that route when the day comes.

    • j.cruel

      I just got married a month ago and wore a beautiful vintage find that I got for $25. I didn’t even have to have it altered. I just paired it with some teal peep-toed heals and a little gold broach. For the rest of my life I can tease my husband about his wedding ensemble costing 10 times as much as mine.