When Aiste Ray found her dream dress, which usually retailed for $1,300, for sale online for only $320, she jumped at the chance to save hundreds of dollars. But as she told ABC News, the dress that arrived looked nothing like she expected – the wrong beading and the wrong color.
"It looked like a high school project," she said.
As Ray discovered, it's all too easy to be tempted by the impossibly low prices of designer gowns offered online. But as Hedy Lapkin, the executive director of the International Bridal Manufacturers Association (IBMA), told Inside Weddings, these dresses are not what they seem, and buying them is usually more trouble than they're worth.
First, although these discount websites may include photos of real designer dresses, the photos were likely stolen off the designers' websites. Customers are led to believe they'll be receiving an exact copy of the dress in the picture, without realizing the photos don't depict the gown the manufacturer will create. "If [brides] think they’re getting that dress, they’re wrong," Lapkin warns.
What you actually receive can be scary. Lapkin says the lace, beading, and even color can be completely different than the original design. It's often not even sewn together properly. The dresses are usually manufactured in China and cannot be returned for a refund or for alterations. "Once you give them your credit card, I don’t even know if the credit card company will stand behind you," Lapkin shares. "You're just on your own to deal with everything."
Even worse, you'll likely have to shell out hundreds of dollars for alterations or even buy a completely new dress, eliminating any potential savings on your wedding gown.
So, how do you spot a counterfeit dress manufacturer? (Here's a good example of one.) Look for the red flags:
- There's no money back guarantee. There might not even be any contact information or return policy listed on the website; or, if there is, the website may not actually respond or honor returns. Seek out customer reviews of the website to see what other shoppers' experiences have been like.
- The company doesn't have an alterations department or brick-and-mortar store you can visit to see the dresses in person. If you buy online from a legitimate seller, like BHLDN or J. Crew, you can always go to the store if you have problems or complaints.
- The website isn't listed on the designer's website as an authorized retailer. Authorized retailers are the only stores allowed to sell a designer's gowns. Anyone else claiming to sell them is likely selling counterfeits.
- The price sounds too good to be true. A $3,000 dress for $400? It's probably not the real thing!
Of course, it's understandable that brides want to find affordable dresses, but Lapkin urges women to check out brick-and-mortar stores and be upfront with the salespeople about their budget. They may be able to find deeply discounted sample dresses, for example, or inexpensive gowns that look similar to higher-end designs. BridalBeware.com, the IBMA's website dedicated to informing shoppers about counterfeit dresses, offers guidelines for shopping online.
Sure, it's possible to buy a counterfeit gown online and be satisfied with the design. "There’s always a chance," Lapkin says, "but do you want to take a chance with the most important dress you’re ever going to buy in your life?"
Opening photo by Ryan Phillips Photography