April 5th, 2017

A note on dresses and prices

I went shopping recently for a dress for a certain formal-ish occasion. Spent quite a few hours doing it, to no avail. So I decided to look online instead. I thought that would save me some time and effort.


Ever look for clothing online? On my computer, the photos can take quite a while to load, although some sites are a lot better than others. And then really looking at each dress takes quite a while, too. Then when you click on one you like, you discover it’s not available in your size, or not in the right color, or not available at all.

Or, when you order it and it arrives, it doesn’t fit right or doesn’t look good, and you often have to pay to return it. Then, back to the drawing board—or the stores, in person.

Ah, woe is me! I know, I know—first-world problems.

However, what I really wanted to say is this: I was looking at dresses online at a few stores, and for the most part the prices were relatively reasonable, considering these were cocktail dresses or evening dresses—in the $100 to $250 range. But then suddenly, without warning, there would be a huge leap, and the dress prices would be like these.

Take a good look at that link. 4K for this little number? I know designer clothes are constructed far better than dresses for us peons, but how much better? Nearly four thousand dollars better, for a dress that looks like it’s maybe $75 off the rack, and isn’t what you’d call a remarkable feat of tailoring?

Sorry, I don’t get it.

Or this hideousity, a steal at $3,660? It makes even the model look a trifle fat, and that’s quite a feat:

There are some pretty dresses there, too, of course. But not all that pretty, and certainly not pretty enough to justify those prices, and not consistently prettier than the far more reasonable ones.

Seems to me that couture clothing used to look more special and more beautiful. Or maybe it’s the glow of memory. I wonder—have the couture clothes gotten worse, or have the ready-made clothes gotten better? My vote is for the first.

[NOTE: By the way, that Nordstrom’s website I linked to is one of the best and fastest-loading. Bravo and kudos, Nordstrom’s! On the other hand, boos to Lord & Taylor’s website. Much room for improvement.]

18 Responses to “A note on dresses and prices”

  1. Griffin Says:

    As someone who is tall with an apparently long upper body I find that I can’t buy any pants, shirts or jackets online. There seems to be absolutely no standard in sizes as most times an XL is right but then others times I need an XL Tall. And waist sizes seem to vary also for jeans and more dress pants. I’m always amazed when people buy clothes online as that would be a recipe for disaster for me.

    And that doesn’t even take into account that sometimes the item looks completely different when you get it.

  2. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    I’ve had to buy several formal gowns for family weddings in the past few years. I live in a deeply rural area, far from any elegant shopping, so by necessity I did most of it online. I have just one word for you, Neo: Nordstrom.

    As you said, the site is well-designed, with lots of ways to sort for hemline, sleeve length, color or whatever. But more important, shipping and returns are FREE. This means you can buy two sizes of a dress if you aren’t sure which one will fit, and easily return the one that doesn’t, just by dropping it off at the nearest UPS center. There’s no time limit for returns, so if in doubt about a particular dress, you can keep it for a few weeks while trying others. All told, in the course of shopping for three weddings over a couple of years, I probably ordered 10 or 12 dresses and eventually returned all but two of them. (By serendipity, I ended up finding one dress locally.)

    Dillard’s is good too, and Macy’s isn’t bad, but Nordstrom was far and away the best.

  3. Sharon W Says:

    Since 2011 I have bought almost all the clothes (jewelry & shoes) I wear (and I became a “clotheshorse” after paying for the last child’s college tuition) online. It started w/Amazon’s Flash Sale site–MyHabit. I bought designer clothes, shoes, household items, etc for pennies on the dollar–no exaggeration. When Loehmanns was still around, I shopped their sales online and still frequent lastcall (Neiman Marcus). Amazon’s return policy was free (and the items were at my door in no time). The other 2 I could return to the store for free. Once you know what designers’ clothes work for you, you just look at those items, a big time-saver. There is no replacement for MyHabit since they closed down…Gilt prices don’t compare. But since I don’t really “need” anything, I still look when the “super” sales are on at lastcall & Gilt. I love shopping and the key is to buy things before you need them. I don’t wait for occasions–that’s pressure and you can end up settling on something. My closet(s) are well-stocked for whatever comes up.

  4. Cornflour Says:

    As with most things postmodern, the explanation lies at the intersection of supply/demand and comedy.

    Recently, there’s been a radical increase in demand for designer frocks, hence the high prices.

    Why so many more buyers?

    Cross-dressers (excuse me, transgenders) used to be just a few hairless androgynous ex-y-boys, but no more. The hairy multitudes are now proudly wearing fancy dresses.

    You think I jest? Here’s the link to the story on Yahoo: http://tinyurl.com/l8jmgts

    Neo may have an eye for fashion, but for true understanding, it takes hairy men.

  5. stu Says:

    Now you are talking! I am doomed to a life of poverty, given my wife’s love of couture dresses. She has the figure to wear these body hugging dresses by the likes of Azzedine Alaia, which have price tags guaranteed to shock the uninitiated and cause nausea for those of us who have to cough up the bucks.

  6. mollyNH Says:

    I second Nordstroms, got a gorgeous mom of the groom dress there in a beautiful sapphire blue & it had tiny spangles that made it look like a star lit night ! It came with a jacket that gave an immediate slendering effect. AND it only ran around 100 bucks.!!!!!

  7. Sharon W Says:

    I bought both gowns for my sons’ weddings (Nov. 26 & Jan. 14) at Nordstrom and was very happy with them. One cost $400 (most I’ve ever paid for a dress–and the other under $150). Both fit perfectly without need of any alterations. They do have an excellent return policy. As long as the tags are still on it, and it hasn’t been worn–bring it back anytime.

  8. CV Says:

    Amazon already sells us practically everything, but they apparently want more of our clothing dollars:


  9. Sharon W Says:

    CV–From your link: “In 2011, Amazon debuted the membership-based flash-sale site MyHabit, a move to directly compete with Gilt Groupe, which was thriving at the time and boasted a valuation of approximately $1 billion (Amazon shuttered MyHabit last year).”

    I shopped that site every week from 2011 til it closed. I love sales and it delivered like none other. When they messed up, they had me keep the item for free. (Example: left the ink tag on a $500 silk French dress. They refunded the $60 I paid and let me keep it. I was able to remove the tag-deal with the ink successfully, and discovered in the process that I could hand-wash the silk and it looked perfect.) I paid $90 for a beautiful Dawn Levy suede coat that retailed for over $1000. One Christmas I gave my husband and sons over $7000 worth of clothing that cost me under $1500. Very high-quality items. It was fun while it lasted.

  10. Lee Says:

    I got married six years ago. Small wedding, me and my husband. I wanted a nice white dress. I started looking early enough, but I couldn’t find anything. I was a she zaftig and wanted something flattering. I even though that overweight Indian women look nice in saris so checked out several sari ships. Overweight Indian women look good on saris; overweight Irish women look stupid. At least this one did.

    I found a lovely White dress on Nordstrom’s web site. I could’ve gotten it altered at Nordstrom’s too — it was clearly made for a six foot six large bones woman.* But I was moving to no Nordstrom land. I did lóok lovely for my wedding.

    * Maybe the dress was designed for transgenders… Crap. Just took the wind out of my sails. But I looked nice. I did have to get about eighteen inches cut off to bring it to ankle length.

  11. Lee Says:

    Oh, and the dress was about $200, well within what I was willing to pay for my wedding dress. One friend suggested some other dress site. They do a lot of actual wedding looking dresses. Five grand was escaping cheap. Our wedding only cost $1200!*

    * Package at a B&B. Two nights, a cake, the photographer, the officiant, and a bottle of $50 champagne. Not to mention delightful breakfasts!

  12. Yankee Says:

    I am no great expert on these matters, as I try to get years and years of use out of every item of clothing that I buy. But in my experience, there is too much individual variability with looks, feel, and fit of clothes to make them worth while buying online.

    LL Bean is also good as an on-line clothing retailer, if you can’t visit the store in person.

  13. charles Says:


    Holy cow?

    While I do think it is a pretty dress – especially with that bird print – no way is it worth anything in that neighborhood!

    It kind of makes me wonder why they don’t bring “home economics” back to schools?

    For the price of the material and some hours of sewing that should be pretty easy to put together – and get a pretty good fit too.

    Gosh, does that thought make me “old school”?

  14. AesopFan Says:

    I think you are all out of my league.
    I get very good clothes at our local thrifts, some with the tags still on. Much more selection than retail if you don’t like the latest crazes (deep v necks on blouses, for instance). I can take home a cart-full for under $100, then sort things out at leisure and take what I don’t need to another thrift or charity. And if it gets ruined in the wash – no big deal.
    Even dressy-dressy clothes and prom formals for next to nothing.

  15. Sgt. Mom Says:

    I’m like AesopFan – thrift shops for the day to day stuff … and as Charles advises – sewing machine for the special occasion. There are some fantastic sources out there like Mood Fabrics for specialty fabrics, and I was schooled by my mother in doing the complicated and high-end designer patterns. Designer Vogue was Mom’s favorite for her best outfits. I used to do Vintage Vogue for my work clothes when I still worked in an office.
    Now I do period outfits for my author appearances – no way can I afford to purchase them, online or otherwise!

  16. huxley Says:

    I’m a male tech guy, entirely average in my physical attributes, so buying clothes online isn’t much of a risk. Unless the vendor happens to send the wrong size, I’m happy.

    In stores I’m often annoyed to discover that the middle-of-the-road sizes and colors I buy are sold out, leaving behind a bunch of XXS and XXL or some weird lime-green plaids.

    I don’t know what I would do if I were female. Finding the right clothes looks much more daunting.

  17. AesopFan Says:

    Sgt. Mom Says:
    April 6th, 2017 at 8:18 am
    * *
    Our family is big on period events – Renaissance fairs, Dickens on the Strand (Galveston), etc. We also did a lot of drama, so I have much more experience making costumes than “real” clothes; in fact, one DiL and I “bonded” while doing costumes for one of my sons in HS, although she ended up marrying a different one. Two of our kids had “costume themed” wedding receptions – loads of fun.
    Right now we are costuming Shrek!-The Musical for our church (rented the really wierd ones, like green heads).

    We have great costume shops in town also, which helps.

    The most fun recently: seeing the costumes from Star Wars on display at the art museum, including mock-ups of the design studios. The women’s gowns from I, II & III were incredibly complex, detailed, and expensive.



  18. Mark Says:

    A little late here …

    A few years ago, before my mother’s death, my brother got married. Mom needed a dress and the woman she relied on for transportation and help shopping suggested a fancy place to look. Mom said, “Let’s try Dress Barn first.”

    Meanwhile, I was spending $79 + shipping on a first-rate trifold dress carrier bag.

    Mom got her dresses, two of the same model, one a rich blue and one somewhere near emerald. They would, I think, have been perfect prom dresses in her high school years.

    Come the wedding, and the bride’s family’s women are wearing what must have been $300-and-up dresses. They looked very good, too–but everyone there said that Mom was by far the best-dressed woman at the wedding!

    She paid $37 each for the dresses … less together than I paid for the carrier bag!

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