I freely confess it (although I should probably confess it less freely): I really appreciate TLC’s “Say Yes To The Dress“. Especially when followed by “Say Yes To The Dress: Bridesmaids”. And if you throw in “Strange Attractions” and “Sex Hospital” after that, then you basically have my Sunday evening*.
*Reality television – it’s improved dramatically. Fullest sense of the word.

When it comes to these bridal programs, I am entertained by three things in particular:

  1. Jealous Siblings. Because clearly, when it comes to weddings, sabotage is always an option. And it’s never inappropriate to insist that you get to stand out from everyone else; in bright tangerine, or summat too high up the thigh to be serious, “because I’m the bride’s sister and I gots to gets me a man”. These brides really should just bridezilla up already – because you know said sibling won’t hold back on her day*.
    *And I would pity the fool.
  2. Crazy Mothers-in-Law to be. Who need to be slapped. Frankly – you’re lucky you’re even included. So sit back down quietly. And if you feel like you want to voice an opinion, drink champagne until that need goes away.

Let’s take your average white gown and break down the costs:

  1. From a brief internet search, it seems that all the materials for a silk/satin wedding dress (including the veil, etc) cost around $500 – which still sounds like the bride must be the size of small house to be wrapped in that much silk.
  2. You can apparently download designs off the internet.
  3. If you get a “professional dressmaker”, you’re going to spend between $6 and $14 per hour for her time.
  4. Those thai dressmakers will do it for much less.

To put this into perspective, the H&M store recently announced that it would be retailing a wedding dress for $99. Here’s a picture:

abito-sposa-HM-wedding-dressNow obviously, wedding dress stores are not selling plenty of dresses each day. So it makes sense that they would have hefty mark-ups on each dress in order to cover their overheads. If it costs, say, $10,000 to run a store, and you only sell 10 dresses a month, then each dress needs to have $1,000 of overhead cost included in its price. If, on the other hand, you’re H&M, and you’re selling many items of clothing each day, then the overhead cost might be pennies.

But even that can’t be all of it.

Why Do Wedding Dresses Cost So Much?

Asymmetric information*. And some signalling.
*It seems that my theme of 2014 is asymmetric information.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on bad restaurants in tourist hot spots (a post that I’m still very proud of). In it, I explained that the central problem was asymmetry of information:

  • On one hand, you have knowledgeable restaurant owners (the sellers), who know that tourists are ignorant about quality, because they only ever come in once. This means that restaurant owners are not looking for repeat business. So food quality is not important – instead, more money might be spent of bad decor and glam to try and draw the tourists in.
  • On the other hand, you have ignorant tourists (the buyers). Who are tired and hungry and are trundling around under the mistaken belief that not every restaurant nearby can be a bad one.

And the wedding dress industry suffers from much the same problem:

  • On the one hand, you have the knowledgeable boutique owners (the sellers), who know that every bride is only planning on buying a wedding dress once. They also know that, because prospective brides don’t associate wedding dresses with normal dresses, they really don’t know how much a wedding dress should cost.
  • On the other hand, you have excited (and ignorant) brides, spending daddy’s money, who would really like money to be no option. It’s all about the pricelessness of looking amazing in that wedding dress.

Which is an economic way of saying that weddings make people crazy.

And then, of course, you have “signalling”:

“Can you imagine what people would think if I arrived in an H&M dress?!”

Unless you can weave the “I’m alternatively awesome and amazingly thrifty” into your bridal narrative, and “it was cheaper to go with an H&M dress and spend the balance on some lipo and a beach holiday for natural bronzing”.

Fortunately for my Sunday nights, the asymmetric information story is unlikely to be remedied. Mainly because, I suspect, no bride wants to know any different. Wedding dresses are super special, and therefore, they should be super expensive.

I’m thinking of buying a boutique.