A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

BBB offers tips to avoid problems, added expense when purchasing the perfect dress for that big day

Shopping for the perfect wedding, prom, or other special occasion dress can be a fairy tale or a nightmare. Like many purchases with a big price tag – and high stakes – a lot can go wrong.

Recently, popular women’s formal wear chain David’s Bridal filed for bankruptcy again – the second time in five years – leaving many brides nervous.

“Buying a wedding dress or prom dress can come with unexpected expenses, delayed orders, surprise policies, and unwanted stress before a big event,” BBB President Judy Dollison said.

(Photo from BBB/Creative Commons)

Follow this advice to ensure dress shopping goes smoothly:

Start shopping early: While experts recommend buying a wedding dress six to nine months before the big day, consumers don’t need as much time for prom or another special occasion. Still, starting a few months ahead lessens the stress and lets consumers comparison shop. Delivery and alterations can also take time, and spring is a busy season for seamstresses.

Have a clear budget: Be upfront so the salesperson shows you dresses in your price range. You don’t want to fall in love with a dress only to find its way over the budget.

Factor in alterations: Dress alterations can be costly, so double-check policies in advance. Some dress shops offer alterations for a flat fee or cap expenses at a certain amount.

Don’t pay 100% upfront when buying a wedding dress: Most salons ask for a deposit of about 50% of the dress price for expensive gowns. Consumers should not be pressured into paying the entire cost of a wedding dress upfront.

Check the cancellation policy: Always check a store’s policy for each specific order. Each contract is different, and custom orders may have a strict cancellation policy.

Clearly communicate the schedule: Brides have complained to BBB that their dresses arrived too late for alterations. Be very clear about schedules and leave extra time to resolve any issues.

Take the dress home: Promptly pick up the dress after alterations are finished. Consumers can’t control what happens at the store – it might even go out of business – so the safest place for the dress is at home until the big day.

Want to rent? Do your homework: Renting a dress is an increasingly popular option for proms and other special events. Be sure to start early because popular styles and sizes will sell out.

What to look for when buying a gown online

Some online sellers offer gowns that look like designer dresses for a fraction of the price. Buyers expect these dresses to be low-cost replicas, but BBB often hears that the dresses that arrive need to be more fitting and constructed from better-quality materials. When buying a wedding dress or prom dress online, keep the following tips in mind:

Beware of counterfeit gowns: Authorized retailers are the only stores allowed to sell designer gowns. Anyone else claiming to carry them is likely selling counterfeits. Many dress designers do not sell their gowns online at all.

Shopping for a deal? Be realistic: As much as a budget-conscious bride or party-goer may want to find a $5,000 dress for $350, it will probably not happen. Many designers don’t allow their dresses to be discounted below a certain margin. An in-person sample sale, not online, may be a bride’s best bet for finding a discounted gown.

Double check delivery promises: It’s vital that the dress arrives on time, so be sure the seller clearly states its typical delivery times.

Understand the return policy: Review the guarantee, return, and refund policies before purchasing. Know if there is a way to return the dress (and how much it will cost) if you are not happy with it. Make sure there’s a way to contact the company where you find the prom dress or wedding dress in case of problems. A website without contact information is a big red flag when shopping online.

Be wary of overseas sellers: Buying wedding dresses or prom dresses from an international seller may seem like a good deal. However, U.S. laws and consumer protections will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

Never send cash or pay with Peer-to-Peer payment apps: Paying with a credit card usually affords the buyer some level of protection.

Read BBB’s tips for shopping online: Although a wedding or prom dress may be an extra special purchase, much of the general advice for shopping online also applies.

BBB Central Ohio

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