Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5763 - January 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Outfitting the Wedding Party
Cost-Cutting tips for Weddings

by Yonina Hall

Part I

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 ordinary.

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 shower curtains!

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 beds!"

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 closely.

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 experience.

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

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 wearing.

"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 noticed.]

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 own.

"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 rental."

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 the wedding.

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!]


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