How not to buy a cheap wedding dress

This picture shows a 1950s Chantilly lace wedding dress with full skirt, bullet bust, and paper doll silhouette.

My wedding dress before the boob job (the dress's, not mine)

As someone who prides herself on spending as little as humanly possible on clothes—25 cents for a plaid skirt, $15 for Frye-ish campus boots, $2 for a coat worn by a former chauffeur (chauffeuse?) of Winston Churchill’s—I decided it would be extravagant to spend any more than $100 on my wedding dress.

Now, most brides-to-be are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on that dress they’re only ever going to wear once. I think they’re insane, and I’m sure that if I asked, they’d say I was, well, cheap. But I’m also pretty sure those gals are not reading this blog (is anyone?), so we’ll never have to have that conversation.

When I went looking, my first stop was craigslist. Nothing (although I got a kick out of those ads from recent brides trying to get rid of their dresses, where they use their own wedding pictures with their faces blurred out). I checked the thrift stores; Value Village had one or two heavy, long-sleeved ’50s/’60s dresses for between $25 and $50. But they just didn’t stand out. Besides, they would be too hot—we were getting married in Winnipeg, in August, where temperatures can get infernal. Long sleeves would simply not do.

eBay to the rescue

Then I moved onto eBay, where I quickly discovered that two types of dresses were particularly hot: the ’50s party/bridal dress with full skirt, lots of crinoline, and tight bodice—the classic paper doll silhouette—and sleek, cut-on-the-bias satin dresses from the ’30s and ’40s. I decided to go for the ’50s look because 1) the ’30s/’40s dresses were going for around $400; 2) that paper doll cut is far more suitable to my, ahem, maturing figure; and 3) satin is the fabric from hell: it will crease as soon as you sit down, and you’ll spend your entire wedding reception trying to hide the big long wrinkles across your gut with your bouquet.

That’s not to say the ’50s numbers were going for cheap. Many were selling for upwards of 300 bucks. But I got stuck on those ’50s dresses, and eventually fell in love with one: a Chantilly lace, tea length gown with bullet bust and sequins along the neckline. The waist measurement was perfect, but the bust…whoa. I mean whoa. Whoever wore that dress in the first place must have made her husband a very happy man. If he was a boob man, that is. Anyway, it was like I was wearing blinders. I wanted that dress so bad, I convinced myself that maybe the bust wasn’t as big as it looked (and maybe the seller had measured it wrong.)

Bidding started at $9.99, but that didn’t last. In a couple of days it was up to $49.99. I began biting my nails, silently willing the other bidders to back off. Did they really need this particular dress? Didn’t they know that t***m was bidding on it because she had her heart set on it for her wedding day? Were they so selfish that they would prevent a bride-to-be from having her one and only dream dress? And, importantly, did any of these bidders have breasts big enough to fill it out?

The higher the bidding went, the more I wanted that dress. Soon it was $79.99. On the day the auction was ending, the bidding was up to $108. That’s a good luck number in Buddhism, but not necessarily in the world of online shopping. I was willing to go as high as $200—$100 limit be damned—but during the last few minutes, I chickened out and thrust my laptop at M, who was spending a quiet afternoon in the bedroom reading up on conspiracy theories, to take over the bidding process. He took the laptop while I went and hid in the bathroom. After I knew the auction had ended, I crept back into the bedroom to discover that I had won the dress for $147. That was $47 over my limit: not bad, not bad. But then, shipping cost $27. Suddenly I was $64 over my limit. Well, it was my dream dress, fer chrissake. I vowed I would make up for it by spending no more than $10 on shoes.

Holy bazookas

When it arrived I was impressed: it was in mint condition. The waist fit perfectly, but the bust, oh that bust. I needed to either stuff that thing with about 16 pairs of wool socks or have it altered. I wasn’t really keen on looking like Dolly Parton at her communion, so I decided on the latter.

I took it across the street to our friendly neighbourhood laundromat-cum-alterations place. The woman had me put it on and declared that the bust was too big to be altered down, as it would change the look of the dress. She suggested I buy a bustier and she would replace the bodice with it. I was horrified. It would ruin the integrity of the dress! I thought. I can’t do that! So I quietly gathered the dress up and snuck up to the street to the Italian tailor shop.

Post op: my bouquet hides the scars of the boob job.

Inside sat an ancient man who suggested he just take the dress in under the arms and a bit on the shoulders, and then we would see what I thought. Why not? So he did that and, while the bodice fit better, those pointy cups still stuck out like pylons. No problem, he said. We can take in the bust.

Long story short: the bust was taken in, the bullets were lost (alas), but at least the damn thing fit. Then I took it home, only to discover one of the side seams in the bodice had opened up. Back to the tailor I went. Then I found that a number of the sequins had fallen off. A trip to good ol’ Dressew, on East Hastings, took care of that.

The alterations cost $72. So, all told, I spent $246 on my wedding dress ($246.99 if you count the sequins). Could I have done it any cheaper? Probably not. Do I recommend that you buy your wedding dress online? Sure. As long as you don’t overestimate the power of your breasts to fill out a bodice built with Jane Russell in mind (unless, of course, you have a rack like Jane Russell).

As for M, he did way better than me. He picked up a vintage tuxedo in a Hope thrift store for $6. Alterations (plus dry cleaning) cost him a mere $40. Still, my wedding ring was cheaper than his. But that’s another story…

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2 responses to “How not to buy a cheap wedding dress

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. It is well written and humorous. The reason I got into the business of selling used gowns back in 1972 came about after marrying off two daughters. They both had a budget of $1000 including their gowns. Both gave me three months to plan their weddings for 200 guests. It was hectic. It was fun. It was a wonderful time for everyone. When I heard the average price of a wedding is over $20,000 I knew I had to do something to help brides-to-be out.
    You may be cheap but I know you are very proud of what you accomplished by sorting out your priorities and working hard to make it happen. Best of luck to you, keep up the good work. Have a long and happy marriage.

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