De-mystifying the Delay

Darren asked an interesting question in the comments of my last ranting entry (for the record, I feel better now that it’s out of my system):

Hey, I have a related wedding question. Julie’s going to be a bridesmaid this summer, and so she has to obtain a dress. The bride is mostly handling this, but I was shocked to learn that the dress store requires Julie’s size details more than seven months before the wedding.

Seven months? Why such a ridiculously long lead time? One theory I had was that it’s totally artificial. They want you to order your wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses really early in the wedding planning process, when you have more money to spend. What do you think?

There is actually a reason behind all this (or at least this is the one I’ve been given). It just further highlights the insanity of the wedding machine:

Dress manufacturers (because the stores are really just resellers for a whole gaggle of designers) wait until they have a certain number of orders for any given dress in order to produce it. Then they obtain a gigantic swath of fabric, set their machines to “Dress A” and create eleventy-frillion copies of Dress A in the sizes and colours that have been ordered. Then they do Dress B, and so on.

This is extremely financially beneficial for the dress manufacturers (though I suspect that any savings are definitely *not* being passed down to the purchasers) and does have the added, sensible bonus of having any matching dresses (hello, bridesmaids!) come from the same fabric dyelot, so they do truly match.

By the time enough orders are collected and dresses are made, then shipped, it’s usually many months later (for example – I ordered my dress in September-ish and it showed up at the store in early January). I believe the latest one can order a dress is 3 months before an event, and then there is usually a hefty “rush” fee.

Once the dress arrives, the wearer of the dress needs to go to the store to make sure the correct dress arrived and that there are no major flaws – if there are, at least there are a couple months to rectify the issue.

Orders are often botched, because dress stores are completely paranoid about “Dress Piracy.” The stores cut all identifying tags and markers out of all their dresses, and assign their own style numbers as a reference. That way, unless you spend hours pouring over the internet and/or bridal magazines, you can’t simply say “Oh, this is Alfred Angelo dress A612” and start “shopping around” or worse, have an independent seamstress copy the design for you. This is also why nobody lets you take pictures in bridal salons (until after your dress is purchased).

This is also why you must make an appointment to try on dresses. Because a) you can’t order one without a gatekeeper between you and the cryptic labeling system and b) you must be watched to ensure you’re not being devious!

Yes it is entirely stupid, because I have had no trouble finding any of the dresses I tried on and was interested in on the internet, including the one I purchased. And I took plenty of cameraphone pictures alone in the dressing room. Also, I have not met any seamstress or tailor worth his or her salt who will just blatantly copy a dress design. There are some professional ethics and integrity at play.

(Note: I have been to one store – Frocks – who let you take pictures to your heart’s content and keep the designer’s names and styles apparent – but this great little store is the only area vendor for most of these designers who don’t sell direct – and the dress designers manufacture the same way, with large batches, so you still need to order well in advance).

Anyhow, if the store didn’t botch the order, and the dress arrived intact, it’s now time for fittings! Because the dresses are made on a template that increases and decreases universally with the ordered size, and are all made to fit someone quite tall, it’s pretty much a given that one will need to have their dress hemmed at the very least, and usually let out/taken in at some points as well – since few women are perfectly proportionate top and bottom.

So on with said fittings! And as I mentioned, bridal salons generally have very strict times when they will do fittings (as referenced in my previous post). Kindof like cell phone companies, the best times, perks, etc. are reserved for those whose money the company doesn’t yet have their fists firmly on.

Go in, be pinned up, wait a few weeks while the seamstresses do the necessary work, go in and try it on again to be sure, then finally get your dress!

There you have it. The gigantic, Fordist machine build upon the fragile psyches of women who’ve had it beaten into their brains that they must look like princesses accompanied by a troop of Barbie Dolls on their special day.

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5 thoughts on “De-mystifying the Delay

  1. donna

    Huh. I think the no-pictures rule must be new… I had no problem taking approximately seven gazillion pictures in both ’97 & 2000 for the two weddings I’ve been involved in planning, in full view of the staff.

    But… that may have been before they recognized the sheer power of the internet. It was also pre-affordable-digital cameras, so I ended up spending probably 40-50 on film & developing for said pictures, too.

  2. Darren

    Fascinating. Thanks for the very authoritative explanation. The whole intellectual property thing is hilarious, and clearly an enormous waste of energy for the vendors.

  3. Oana

    When I called to make appointments at the bridal salons, I asked if they allowed photos. If they said ‘no’, then I said ‘ok, no thanks’. I ended up trying on dresses at 3 great salons which all allowed photos, and did not cut the tags off the dresses, so I could see what I was buying. In the end (and this is where I feel totally dishonest), I comparison-shopped on the internet and bought a dress from an online vendor in the US. I saved more than 50% off the salon price, money that I had not expected to have in our budget, which has been very useful.

  4. Sue

    I forgot to mention on the previous post one reason which I think may result in the insane hours for fittings…

    Fitting and altering a wedding dress is a dying art. I have been sewing for over ten years and am pretty confident in my skills, yet no way no how would I be willing to risk touching someone’s wedding dress. The fabrics used are often quite unforgiving, and because of the various layers etc. the actual task of taking something in is time-consuming and complicated. Hemming itself is one of my least favorite activities, and hemming a wedding dress takes quite a while with all those layers of often-times slippery or transparent fabric.

    So, chalk another one up to the labour market: the people who have the skills to do wedding dress alterations are in short supply, and the people who have the desire to risk doing it professionally are even more rare. Ergo a store probably has to fight for time for their seamstress to even appear. And are these people getting paid anything close to what they’re worth? Of course not… because everyone views sewing as one of those menial domestic chores that are beneath them, and the pay is dirt. Our generation simply hasn’t stepped to the plate to learn how to do it, but the people left who CAN do it are getting shit wages. Not a pretty occupational profile.

    I’m not condoning the behaviour of the wedding stores. God no. They’re probably marking up the services by three or four times what they’re paying the seamstress.

  5. peechie Post author

    Sue: they *must* be marking it up like crazy. For the 30 minute fitting appointment, taking in a corset insert, taking in the bodice, installing bra cups, hemming the entire thing and then the final fitting appointment, I’m only paying $187 after tax. At that rate, the seamstresses must be making about $12/h.

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