Our goal at Anomalie is for every bride to find her perfect wedding dress. While Anomalie’s online model is the best choice for many brides, we aren’t the right fit for everyone. We wrote this guide to help any bride-to-be find the best wedding dress retailer for her.
While there are many variations, wedding dress shopping options generally fall into three main categories:
- Discount retailers, of which David’s Bridal is the leading option.
- Brick-and-mortar boutiques such as Kleinfeld.
- Online-only retailers of which Anomalie is a leader.
This article analyzes these wedding retail options based on six parameters we have found are most important to brides:
- Body-inclusive sizing
- Return Policy
- Customer Service + Shopping experience
According to The Knot, the average U.S. wedding dress cost is $1,600.
David’s Bridal dominates the discount (under $1,000) segment of the market. While brides have commented that the stores are “no frills,” David’s Bridal has a reputation for empathetically serving brides on a budget. As the largest seller of dresses in the United States, their best-in-class supply chain allows them to deliver significant value to brides for the under-$1,000 price point.
The other large segment of the wedding dress market is a dispersed set of brick-and-mortar boutiques such as Kleinfeld (New York), Patsy’s (Dallas), and Chernaya Bridal House (Miami). Dresses at these stores often run for at least several thousands dollars. For example, dresses at Kleinfeld (the most popular U.S. boutique) start at $2,000 and can go well past $10,000. BHLDN, one of the few chain stores in the market specializing in the Boho style, is a bridge between the prices of David’s Bridal and the boutiques – with dresses ranging between $800 and $2,000.
It is important for brides to add mandatory alteration fees many boutiques add to the cost of their dresses. Kleinfeld, for example, charges a flat $1,395 fee for alterations. Brick-and-mortar retailers, from David’s Bridal to Kleinfeld, often have websites that make up a very small portion of revenue because they don’t offer the “high touch experience” touted at their stores.
E-commerce has made very little penetration into the wedding dress market. More than 90% of U.S. wedding dresses are still sold in a store. While there are some websites that sell gowns in the $100-$300 range (such as Azazie and Cocomelody), there have been very few purely online retailers that sell wedding dresses with luxury craftsmanship and materials before Anomalie.
Anomalie started when a bride researched the workshops that supplied brands at Kleinfeld, and realized she could make her dress directly with them cutting out the designer markup) and sell directly to brides (cutting out the boutique overhead). Anomalie’s insight is that an online model can offer a top-quality custom dress at a price that stores cannot match by cutting out these markups. Anomalie Collection dresses, which are made using the same materials and workshops that go into $6,000+ boutique dresses, retail for $1,399 including shipping.
The Verdict on Price:
David’s Bridal is a great option for brides with a budget between $300 and $1,000. By cutting out the designer + boutique markups, Anomalie is able to sell luxury dresses for less than the boutiques.
At both discount retailers and higher end brick-and-mortar boutiques, selection is limited to the inventory held in the store. These stores generally carry between 30 to 200 styles of dresses.
The Anomalie Collection allows brides to browse thousands of popular wedding dress combinations in a simple interface. Choose between eight styles that incorporate preferences data from previous brides. Once you choose an Anomalie Collection dress, you can change elements such as sleeves, train length, silhouette, fabric, lace, and neckline to create your look. Have a specific vision of your dress? Anomalie Bespoke allows you to bring it to life through a high-touch design process facilitated by a dedicated expert stylist.
The Verdict on Selection:
Stores have an advantage in allowing brides to try on sample sizes of gown, but this comes at the expense of selection. Anomalie online model allows the company to carry an almost unlimited selection of dresses, and a simple online interface helps brides visualize the exact dress they are buying.
For a bride looking to spend under $1,000, David’s Bridal is your best bet for a quality dress. The company’s scale and vertically-integrated supply chain mean they get the best prices on materials and have rigid quality control practices. BHLDN is a great option to capture a Boho look for around $1,000 but because the retailer carries other designers (meaning they pay a designer markup) and has showrooms (meaning the boutique overhead is baked into the cost of the dress), much of this cost reflects markups and these dresses use lower-cost materials such as polyester and nylon.
A typical upscale boutique dress is made almost entirely by hand and utilizes silk blend or upscale synthetic fabrics. Again, because of the designer and boutique markups, these dresses often retail for over $5,000.
Anomalie uses the exact same workshops as luxury brands and is able to offer more customization and a lower price than boutiques through its online model. While there is a middle-man (the designer) between the retailer and workshop when buying at a boutique, Anomalie’s workshop partners are part of our team – we are communicating with them every hour of the day to maintain consistent quality. Anomalie can re-create the most popular wedding dress styles at the same quality as top boutiques (often at the same workshops) but if you are longing after a signature lace pattern or design from a boutique designer, we recommend brides consider that original dress.
The Verdict on Quality:
David’s Bridal and BHLDN (if you’re looking for that Boho look) are great options to check out if you are on a budget, but you are sacrificing some quality on materials and craftsmanship. If you’re longing for a specific boutique designer’s dress and have the budget, go for that dress – you will never be able to create an exact replica. If you’re looking for a high quality dress incorporating popular wedding dress trends, Anomalie is a great option.
Fit & Body-inclusive Sizing
Body-inclusivity has long been a problem for the bridal industry. At wedding dress boutiques, most off the rack wedding dresses stop at size 14; even brands that claim to be “body inclusive” stop at size 20! Brides often report that when a store does carry plus size dresses, the options are lacking:
“It’s a shame that us plus size women can’t find dresses that are MODERN in our size. They were all typical ballgowns & I’m a lace loving tattooed hippie. Just couldn’t find a dress to match my aesthetic.” -Courtney, Anomalie Bride
David’s Bridal and some larger boutiques have improved on size inclusivity in recent years. While stores do have a benefit versus online models by allowing customers to try on a physical dress, brides are still beholden to the inventory of the store and are forced to envision what the gown will look like on them by trying on a sample size that is often too small or too large.
Anomalie was started in large part to address the issue of fit in bridal – with the goal that no bride feels left out of the wedding dress shopping. We have developed innovative modular sizing for Anomalie Collection dresses and an At Home Try-on process for Anomalie Bespoke. Our online model and scale has allowed us to develop proprietary fit processes from the thousands of measurement sets we’ve received, which has led to Anomalie brides seeing alteration costs that are on average 65% lower than Kleinfeld’s average tailoring cost.
The Verdict on Fit & Body-inclusive Sizing:
Size inclusivity has long been a challenge for bridal and Anomalie was created to serve brides of every body type through: (1) innovative measurement processes, (2) online visualization tools to see exactly what the dress will look like, (3) Policies to ensure you’ll love the dress ou receive.
If you fit into the standard sample size (general size 10-12), then boutiques could be a great place to see what specific dresses look like on you.
Brick-and-mortar boutiques very rarely offer returns, according to The Knot. Kleinfeld, for example, requires 100% of payment up front for many dresses and does not offer returns (a bride sued the store several years ago for not refunding a $12,000 dress that was in the wrong size). The two leading chain stores, David’s Bridal and BHLDN, offer 30 day return policies if the gown is returned in its original condition. All Anomalie Collection dresses come with a free return policy.
The Verdict on Return Policies
With a 10-week delivery timeline and free returns, Anomalie offers a much lower risk way to try a high-quality wedding dress than luxury boutiques (which generally don’t offer returns).
Customer Service + Shopping Experience
A top reason more wedding dresses aren’t sold online is the vaunted “Say Yes to the Dress” moment in stores. There is no doubt the staff in wedding dress boutiques often go above and beyond to ensure bride’s visits are magical. Although stores have limited inventory of dresses, staff at bridal boutiques also do whatever is in their power to find a great dress for the customer’s style. In reviews of mom-and-pop boutiques throughout the country, brides can often be seen heralding the dedication and service of staff in the stores. On the other hand, brides report this high-touch experience can come with a lot of sales pressure. At high-end boutiques, a mere visit to the store can also come with an appointment fee – a Vera Wang store once charged brides $500 to try on wedding dresses!
Anomalie was created by a bride who enjoyed her boutique shopping service, but couldn’t find the dress for her in the stores. The guiding assumption of Anomalie’s business is that a remote stylist team can provide brides A+ customer service, while an online model can provide brides better selection, price, body-inclusivity, and even experience (because our tech-enabled service is no pressure and allows our stylist to provide personalized service to brides). The stylist team is the backbone of Anomalie, and is responsible for our company being the best reviewed national retailer according to WeddingWire. Here’s a representative review from Anomalie bride Rhiannon:
“I just received my wedding dress in the mail, and it’s actually even better than I could have imagined. There was absolutely no pressure from… my stylist. She completely saw my vision and Anomalie executed it flawlessly. I tried the bridal boutique experience prior to contacting Anomalie and I couldn’t believe the prices. Brides should not have to pay $5K+ on a wedding dress. With Anomalie, I paid a FRACTION of what it would have paid in a boutique. The best part, the quality is flawless.”
In addition to the stylist team who is available whenever a bride has questions, the Anomalie online interface lets brides view dress options and visualize what the dress will look like on their bodies. With these online tools, physical fabric samples, and expert stylist help when needed, the Anomalie boxes brides are unboxing around the country contain the exact dream dress each bride was envisioning.
The Verdict on Customer Service
Employees at boutiques go above and beyond to create a magical experience, but the in-store experience also comes with high-pressure sales tactics in addition to higher prices and lower selection. Anomalie brides have often noted that the experience provides more personalized service than boutiques through a modern online interface and empathetic stylist team available to provide expert guidance when needed.
The Final Verdict
Even in 2020, most wedding dress shopping still occurs in brick-and-mortar boutiques. And stores certainly carry some advantages, from letting brides touch and feel gown options to free champagne to empathetic service of in-person staff. While the majority of brides don’t go wedding dress shopping looking for a specific designer, if a bride loves a signature style of a specific brand we always recommend she buys the real thing if it fits in her price range. On the budget end, David’s Bridal is the unrivaled leader in providing great value for brides looking to spend between $300 and $1,000.
While brick-and-mortar bridal boutiques have some advantages, they come up short in several areas that are most important to brides: price, selection, body-inclusivity, and even customer service.
Anomalie’s online process provides brides a better experience along each of these areas:
- Direct relationships with workshops and lack of overhead results in lower prices.
- Brides aren’t beholden to the limited inventory of a store, leading to almost unending selection.
- Anomalie has used data from thousands of measurement sets to create proprietary measurement processes that ensure a better fit than boutiques for any body size.
- Anomalie’s online tools allow brides to browse and customize at any time, with an expert stylist team available to help whenever needed.
With free returns and delivery under 10 weeks, Anomalie is the best way for brides to find their wedding dress online.