Loving Others Through Buying a Wedding Dress

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the way our fashion purchases contribute to the condition of those who make these products--either for good or bad. The following is a documentary trailer that gives a brief overview of the issue at hand:

Unfortunately, not only is this real, but it's extremely prevalent in the wedding industry. The markups on many wedding gowns are astronomical, and often both the materials and the sewing are produced in far-from-decent conditions. But even for those designers and retailers who have good ethical sourcing policy statements, the question remains: Why do these dresses cost so much?

Check out this investigative video:

Now, granted, when you buy a designer dress, you're paying for the design work itself, not just the materials and construction. And as an artistic endeavor, there is definitely value to this work. Unfortunately weddings just carry with them a higher markup than other events would. Studies have shown that vendors will increase the cost of the services when told it is for a wedding versus a birthday or corporate event. And a dress in different colors can cost significantly less than an identical dress in white.

For many brides, purchasing a designer dress is not a reality, so some will look to off-shore sites or ebay retailers who offer designer knock-offs at a fraction of the cost--knock-offs that are undoubtedly produced in sweatshops out of materials that have most likely also been produced in sweatshops.

So do we have to sacrifice style for ethical sourcing? Sometimes, yes. But increasingly there are more options for brides who want both style and substance. Here are some paths to consider as you seek to love your neighbor--the one who makes your dress:

  • Check Policies - As you look at designers and retailers, check to see if they have a statement that describes their sourcing strategies. Do they mention fair wages, child labor, factory oversight? Ask shop owners if they're aware of brands that are particularly purposeful with ethical sourcing. Also, looking for companies whose gowns are made in the USA is a good way to ensure some labor oversight.
  • Consider a Secondhand Dress - OnceWed, Tradesy, NearlyNewlywed, and other sites are great resources for snagging a designer dress at a fraction of the price. The reality is that these dresses have been worn once and are going to be in great condition and save you a fortune. If you find a dress you love online or while shopping, it's worth taking a few minutes to check these sites to see about buying it used. The great thing about shopping pre-owned clothing is that it does not contribute to the demand for products that may not be produced ethically.
  • Hire a Seamstress - I never set out to have my wedding dress custom-made, but it ended up that way after I fell in love with a designer dress but couldn't afford it, and also wanted some changes made to it. An employee at a boutique gave me the name of a woman whom they recommended for alterations, so my mom and I visited her shop, showed her our ideas, and she immediately sketched a design incorporating exactly what I wanted. I went in for a few fittings, she made changes according to my suggestions, and I had a custom-made gown for less than 25% of the designer dress that hadn't even been exactly what I wanted. Plus, the materials were of a higher quality than many of the dresses I had tried on in stores. So you might try a local seamstress and see what you can find out. (At the bottom of this post is a poor quality photo of my dress)
  • Try a Fair Trade Designer - Celia Grace specializes in fair trade, eco wedding gowns (see gown below for a sample)

Have more ideas for wedding dress options? Please let me know in the comments!

Next up: Bridesmaid dresses and accessories

(Here's my dress. And he still makes me laugh like this)