Saying Yes to the Dress

By Shana Fein

While a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, finding the perfect dress—at the perfect price—can be stressful. If you can’t find the dress of your dreams, consider having one made to measure. If buying a brand-new dress is not in your budget, consider either borrowing or renting a gown.

There’s something very special about wearing the dress of another happy kallah. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have the dress that your mother or even grandmother wore at her wedding, which could be updated with some clever alterations for a beautiful modern-vintage look.

Or, you could ask a friend or relative to borrow their wedding dress with the promise to return it in pristine condition. Many of them would be glad to see their much-loved dress bring happiness to another bride, especially if their dress has sat in a wardrobe for years. However, make sure they are on board with you making alterations to make it fit you. After all, if they’ve kept the dress for so long, it’s likely to have a lot of meaning for them and they might find it hard to let you change it.

If you don’t have a go-to friend or relative to borrow from, don’t discount wedding dress gemachim. They offer a wide variety of gowns, some for free or for a nominal donation. Since they are set up for the religious community, the dresses will usually all be fully tznius, so you don’t have to worry about the extra expense of alterations to make a dress modest enough for your requirements. Many gemachim also offer additional items such as shoes, headpieces, veils and accessories, so you can get the complete outfit without having to shop around.

If a gemach isn’t for you, but you don’t want to buy a dress, consider renting a dress from one of the increasing number of dressmakers that are cornering the rental market. Whether a local store or online boutique, there are high-end rental companies that specialize in offering brides their dream dresses at more affordable prices, so you can wear a designer gown at a less-than-designer price.

If you decide to rent, make sure you consider all the practicalities. Will you need to clean the gown before you can wear it, or will it arrive in ready-to-wear pristine condition? If you receive it in the mail, you might need to pay for steaming or pressing before you can wear it, which adds to the cost.

Remember, in some bridal salons the selection of modest dresses may be limited, so make sure to check each site or store’s alteration policy to see what you can and can’t do. Many will allow alterations that do not affect the dress in any way, but this will vary from vendor to vendor, so be sure to read the fine print.

Many brides choose to have a specialist dressmaker create a dress just for them. Not only will it be unique, it will also be designed to fit perfectly. However, although it initially seems like a cheaper option than buying, the costs can add up quickly, especially if you opt for an elaborate dress and expensive material such as beading and silk.

If you go down this route, make sure the dressmaker can create what you want. Speak to previous clients, ask to see actual dresses to make sure the finish is in line with your expectations and, most importantly, make sure the price is worked out in advance so there are no last-minute surprises.

If you want a new dress, but don’t have the money for a bespoke gown (and if you are willing to take a gamble) you can order a beautiful “made-to-measure” dress from China for a rock-bottom price. But be prepared that the dress might not be quite as wonderful in reality and it could require considerable alterations, at a considerable cost, for it to become the dress of your dreams. On the other hand, it could be absolutely perfect, so if you have the time and the guts – take a chance!

No matter what you end up wearing, nobody needs to know if you spent a small fortune on a couture gown or borrowed it from a local gemach. So, enjoy the special day among family and friends, and know that whatever you wear, you’ll look perfect.