A young lady once told me why the gowns she and her sisters
wore to their eldest sister's wedding were, well, out of the
It seems that her mother, an experienced seamstress, decided
to sew the gowns herself for the four bridesmaids and the
maid of honor. She searched high and low for the right
material, but couldn't find exactly what she wanted.
One day she was shopping at Woolworth's (remember the five-
and-dime store chain?) and she spotted it. The perfect
material -- and at what a price! She bought up packages and
packages of bed sheets and sewed them into beautiful gowns!
While she was at it, she bought a shower curtain [no, not a
plastic one!] to make a flounce on the maid-of-honor's gown.
Imagine: five gorgeous gowns for the price of sheets and
As the daughters accepted the compliments of everyone in
attendance, their mother only worried, "I hope no one
suddenly remembers aloud that they have those sheets on their
If only clothes shopping for our own weddings could cost so
little. Besides the bridal gown, outfits must be procured for
parents, grandparents, siblings and grandchildren. Add in
shoes, sheitels and Sheva Brochos outfits and the
clothes budget can easily dip into the red.
Will you buy, rent, borrow or have it sewn for you? Each
option has its advantages and its costs. Let's look into each
Part I: The Bridal Gown
Buying a bridal gown new -- with prices starting at 3,500
shekels and increasing exponentially, based on the quality
and quantity of materials and hand-sewing, as well as the
location of the store -- is prohibitively expensive for most
Israeli kallos. If you're lucky, you may find a small-
size dressmaker's model or a signifcantly discounted gown
from last season at an exclusive boutique.
"I was able to fit into a size 8 dressmaker's model in a
Philadelphia boutique and bought it for $200," says Mrs. T.
of her own wedding gown. "It retailed the previous season for
$3,000; the imported fabric cost more per yard than I
paid for the whole dress. My sister wore the dress after me,
so it was doubly cost- effective."
Nowadays, most families go straight to borrow or rent. If you
do know someone who owns a dress, borrowing is certainly the
most economical option. "My daughter borrowed her wedding
dress from a friend whose mother had sewn it and was lending
it out with the veil as her own personal gemach," says
Mrs. M. "She borrowed the white shoes from a neighbor."
All About Gemachim
When one thinks of borrowing, one usually thinks of
gemachim. Unfortunately, the gemach's image has
been unfairly tarnished.
"When people hear the word `gemach', they think of old,
stained, outdated dresses in a dingy room," observes a bridal
gemach operator in Neve Yaakov. "That's really too
bad, because a girl could be in desperate need for a gown,
but because of social pressure, will put herself into debt to
rent one instead. I met one kalla whose future mother-
in-law refused to consider anything that came from a
gemach. At that time, I had a brand-new gown in my
gemach but she insisted the kalla rent one."
The distinction between gemachim and rentals has
blurred somewhat, as "rental gemachim" also exist with
prices that are lower than those of rental shops but higher
than those of standard gemachim. New and like-new
gowns can be found in all three locations, and each offers
varying degrees of personalized service.
The distinction lies in price. A standard gemach only
charges for dry cleaning the gown -- costs range from 150-250
shekels. A rental gemach charges 200- 800 shekels; dry
cleaning is usually extra. Rentals cost 1,000-2,000 shekels
and up, which includes alterations and dry cleaning.
"All three are trying to help people cut costs so no one has
to spend $1,000 on a new gown for one night," says Esther
Resnick, who just opened a rental gemach in Har Nof
with 40 brand new gowns from Toronto. Regarding the
differences in gemach prices, Mrs. Resnick explains,
"In a standard gemach, someone has access to gowns and
has the means to keep them up without financial support from
the kalla. In a rental gemach, someone has
access to gowns but doesn't have the means to support the
operation. The higher cost covers the expenses of maintaining
the dresses and the shop."
In any gemach, customers leave a refundable deposit to
guarantee return of the gown in good condition. The customer
also pays for alterations. (Be sure to clarify up-
front whether you will also have to pay for
undoing the alterations!) Often, the gemach
specifies which seamstress and dry cleaner you should use, as
these professionals are most familiar with its merchandise
and handling requirements, but sometimes these overcharge, so
you might be wise to check your information with people with
Gemachim are worth looking into as a first option
because of the updated selection they offer. "People can't
believe we have such nice dresses here," says Hadassa Ost,
operator of Lev Rachel bridal gemach in Jerusalem,
which hosts a selection of 30-40 gowns.
Gemach gowns come from various sources. Some were sewn
by the mother of the kalla and given to the
gemach after only one wearing. Others were donated
years after a wedding. Some were received from rental shops
after a year of use. Still others were donated new or like-
new from abroad. Mrs. Ost even has friends who "scout out"
bridal gowns at weddings; they approach the family afterward
to ask if they'd like to donate the bridal dress.
Not everything that's donated ends up on the racks, however.
Today's gemachim are as discerning as their customers;
they have to be. A heavily ornate or out-of-date gown, even
if it cost $5,000 new, won't merit a second look by a
kalla. Pearl- and cream- colored gowns, popular in
America, are summarily passed over by Israeli kallos
in favor of snow-white and eggshell-white. "If a donation
isn't appropriate, I'll pass it on to another gemach
or try to sell it before Purim," says Mrs. Ost.
Gemachim can also be timesavers when it comes to
collecting all the paraphernalia surrounding the bridal
dress, including the headpieces, veils, white shawl or cape,
bracha lace-framed card, candles and candle holders.
Expect to leave a refundable deposit for these items, and be
asked to return them shortly after the wedding.
Gown rentals offer new or like-new bridal dresses and
accessories at a fraction of retail store prices. "It's
something special when a girl gets a new gown made just for
her," says Adiva of Bayit Vegan, who sews and rents new
dresses as well as operating a rental gemach.
Many mothers like the idea of having a new dress sewn or a
like-new dress restored and altered especially for their
daughter. Rental fees generally decrease with each successive
"My daugher selected a gown that had been worn twice before,
and the shop handled all the alterations, including sewing
back on each pearl and spangle," recalls Mrs. E. "The rental
price included the veil, tiara and other accessories, and we
could rent shoes there as well."
Consumers should note that the higher fees for rentals
reflect a business reality rather than a pure profit motive.
"A gown could look beautiful on one kalla and
absolutely no one else will want to wear it," comments Mrs.
S., who sewed a lovely wedding gown for her daughter but
couldn't find a rental shop or gemach that wanted to
take it. "Rentals cost more because not everything is usable
a second time."
Rentals also cost more to maintain because of the heavy wear
and tear to which bridal gowns are subjected. "Repeated dry
cleaning is not good for a dress," explains Mrs. Resnick,
"and dirt is everywhere. Floors aren't ceramic or carpeted as
they are abroad, and most girls get married outdoors. One
kalla walked across a newly paved road in one of my
gowns. My sister's wedding gown was rented out seven or eight
times in America but here, a dress may be downgraded from a
rental to a gemach after only three or four wearings."
[Note: Mothers-of-the-bride often forget to order WHITE wine
for the chuppa so that spills will be less
By way of illustration, one rental shop charges 1,200- 1,500
shekels for a new gown. By the fourth wearing, the same dress
rents for 600-700 shekels.
Be aware that rental prices vary widely from shop to shop.
Some outlets can charge 3,000-4,000 shekels for a new gown
that costs 2,000 shekels elsewhere. It definitely pays to
shop around. You will be more likely to find prices at the
lower end of the spectrum in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak as
opposed to Tel Aviv.
Sewing Your Own
With so many gowns available through gemachim and
rentals, it's not so common to find people sewing their
"It's not worth going to a seamstress unless you specifically
want to keep the dress," recommends professional seamstress
Judy Singer. "The average price for sewing a gown is around
1,000 shekels. One could easily spend another 1,000 shekels
on the material, which brings the cost in line with that of a
If a kalla wants something specific that she can't
find anywhere else, yet she doesn't want to keep the dress,
she may be able to work out a deal with a gemach. Mrs.
L.'s daughter, for example, designed her own gown and paid
for the material only, with the understanding that the
seamstress would keep the gown for her gemach after
NEXT WEEK: Outfitting Children
[Note: A gemach of an entirely different kind: help to
marry off needy brides. This `gemach' gives dowries of new
quilts, pillows and towels to families: nine children and up,
special-needs children, single parent families, baalos
tshuva without help from parents etc. Call 02-5372303 for
more information -- or to donate maaser of wedding
gifts (things, not money).
Also, your phone book's gemach listing will provide
you with many things you didn't know you could borrow!]