No matter what the economic situation, one thing is for certain: people will still get married, and most of them still want at least some of the trimmings. Chief among these trimmings for many brides is the wedding gown.
It’s no mystery why this should be. The wedding gown is an iconic piece of clothing filled with emotional meaning.
The fact also remains that it’s one extremely expensive piece of clothing.
Many engaged couples are cutting back at least a little on their wedding budgets with the current economic downturn. In fact, according to an article this week in The Big Money, the average wedding budget has dropped from an all-time high of $26,450 in 2005 to $21,814 last year. Over the first quarter of this year, the average has dropped again to $19,212. My guess is that unless there’s some incredibly rosy economic news pronto, the number will continue to slip slightly for a while.
The Big Money notes that into the breech has stepped David’s Bridal. While retailers all over the country are closing down or cutting back, David’s is expanding. In fact, in the past year David’s has opened some 20 stores, keeping up with its average since 1999 of 15 – 30 new storefronts a year.
In fact, David’s has grown to take about one third of the market share in wedding gowns, and about half of the market under $600.00. With a recent survey showing that some 55% of upcoming brides plan to spend $600.00 or less on their wedding gowns, David’s would appear poised to take an even higher share of wedding gown dollars.
All in all, the Big Money article seems somewhat mystified at the idea that women would choose polyester wedding gowns from a big box store to get married in. Friend of the blog Kate Harding defends the choice of brides to pick according to their budgets in an article at Salon. She feels that the Big Money article fails to comprehend the realities most modern American brides face today.
I have to agree that bemoaning the lack of champagne toasts and a somewhat shocked reaction to polyester are seriously out of touch. I do agree with Kate that picking with the pocketbook in mind makes good sense, and that spending thousands of dollars on an elaborate outfit one will wear only once is an extravagance that many of us just plain can’t afford.
What bothers me more about David’s isn’t the lack of pomp and circumstance. It isn’t about champagne or carpets or even polyester. In fact, my worries for the small boutiques it’s edging out of the market isn’t my top priority, either. I do feel that businesses need to adapt to changes in the world, and reaching out to a more budget-conscious market makes good business sense in a time when so many people are facing unemployment, loss of investments, and long-term pay cuts. A standard bridal boutique cannot go about adapting in the particular manner that David’s has (huge numbers of stores, keeping every available size in stock, etc.), but I tend to believe that they can find other ways to cater a little more to this growing end of the market.
What I dislike is the way that people keep assuming you have to choose between the champagne toasts, the gowns that start at a thousand dollars and take six months to get on the one had, or the big box store with uncertain customer service (I’ve heard brides talk both about getting the most thoughtful treatment and being ignored utterly by salespeople who can’t be bothered in different stores, as well as return/exchange nightmares) and rows of polyester on the other. And by the way, quite a few of those same polyester gowns are available for purchase at the boutiques, too. They just cost less at David’s and you can grab your size off the rack.
What I hate is homogenization. Whichever you go to, you’ll find a lot of the same things: white or ivory, hoopskirts or mermaid lines, strapless or halter topped, satin or taffeta. What you’re truly choosing between is your wallet and your interest in being pampered for getting married.
We aren’t that stuck. There are other options. If you can’t afford the boutique and you can’t abide David’s, keep in mind that you can go another route. Don’t be afraid to explore the question of getting your gown at a department store formal wear department, a custom tailor, or wearing an heirloom gown previously worn by a relative, or even a rental.
Choose according to your budget, your feelings about being a bride, and – perhaps most of all – your personal taste. Whether what you truly want is an ivory, strapless ballgown from a boutique that serves champagne or a bright scarlet miniskirt you found at your favorite thrift store, what you really want to wear is waiting somewhere out there. If you pay attention, you might even be able to get it at a good price while being treated consistently well.
Just remember to choose with your own priorities in mind.