I Got Grifted Trying to Buy My Wedding Dress on Ebay

It sounded too good to be true, and I know how these things end. But I’m a sucker for a bargain -- and a bit of a gambler.
Publish date:
February 12, 2013
dresses, weddings, ebay, fails

I knew I’d be a thrifty bride. When I hear about ladies spending five hundred or five thousand dollars on a wedding dress, I swell with smug pride: I would never spend such money on a dress! I am such a legendary cheap ass, that I translate sums like that into airline tickets and primary vehicles. I’ve never spent more than $2,000 on a car.

I started wedding-dress shopping a few months before the wedding; I was living on a sailboat, in a small Alaskan town, so making one was out of the question, and I was limited to the Internet. I’m not immune to the splendor of a gorgeous designer dress. Is anyone?

Over-saturated photos of miles of cloud-like chiffon, delicately structured bodices that cradle waif-thin 12-year-old girls’ ribcages, set in overgrown gardens and Chilean countryside. What statuesque angels are these? Sigh. I looked at Vera Wang. Christos Yiannakou. BHLDN. I looked at hundreds of them, frowning at the price tags in the glow of the laptop screen.

(BHLDN Lita Gown, $2,400)

I knew I’d never shell out for a designer dress. I won’t even buy brand-name toilet paper (no, seriously). I shop only at thrift stores, and even then I feel like I’m being gently robbed ($13.99 for a Banana Republic wrap dress from last season? Should I cut out my left kidney myself? Or is that something the nice folks at Value Village can do?).

I’ll patch a cardigan before I’ll toss it. Sometimes interventions have been staged by my sisters: “Trista, you look homeless. No, not cute-homeless like an Olsen twin.”

Of the thousands of wedding dress sites, most are the fly-by night “100% Custom!” jobs where you see photos scalped from wedding magazines, sold at the fraction of the designer price tag. I’ve read some horror stories, and some brides gushing how their $250 Vera Wang knockoff looks JUST like the real thing. It’s hard to know who to believe: Do these satisfied brides know what a real Vera Wang looks like, or did the disappointed ones expect too much?

Most wedding dresses are made in China; whether you buy them from a local bridal shop, online, or even from some Couture houses, chances are that the dress was made in the garment factory somewhere in Asia. Does that make it okay that tons of designers’ dress designs are stolen and "recreated"?

What about the questionable working conditions for many foreign seamstresses? Is there a way to avoid the ethical dilemma, aside from making your own, or buying one of Etsy’s infamous "STEAMPUNK++faery princess++REN FAIR++EXPERIMENTAL wedding GOWN+INDIE" train wrecks?

Don’t act like I’m being an asshole. You know exactly what I’m talking about. The Old Navy dress with a trail of cat sick and feathers tacked on it with a glue gun being sold for $200. I know there are some fair-trade or made in America options, but who can afford them? Not this girl.

But I fell in love. Hard. With a dress made by an Australian Couture shop, Pallas. I could only find one photo of it online.

When I Googled it, I found out no one sold it except upscale bridal shops, mostly in Austalia. Then a few hits from Ebay popped up. My heart skipped a beat. USED. Is it possible?!

I clicked on the grainy photos, the same shots that appear on the Pallas site. A front and back view of a glorious dress that seemed to float on Michael Parkes clouds. $151 (oddly specific?). Made in Xiang Hou province, China. 4 weeks, and they’ll make it to my ever-growing measurements (Did I mention I am pregnant? Also broke, living on a boat. Winner.).

They will even deliver it to me 3-day air. Sounds too good to be true, and I know how these things end. But I’m a sucker for a bargain -- and a bit of a gambler.

I ordered it, and immediately got a message asking for my measurements. Such customer service! I was delighted. I checked my messages obsessively every day. Sent chirpy messages about how excited I was to get the dress. Finally, a week before I expected it, I got the dress. It arrived in a ketchup-and-mustard coloured DHL bag.

My sisters were with me, and they squealed the entire way back to the house. I opened it, and pulled out a delicately wrapped pageant dress made for a porpoise. I’d like to say that my heart sank as I ran my hand over the gaudy and unexpected silver sequins and pearls, but I’m a grey, shriveled pessimist at heart, so I just laughed.

I tried it on for my fiancé, and he quickly dubbed it “The Moby Dress.” Not because it’s all sexy and rocks my body, but because I look like a little white whale on the go in it. Or you know, a lady in a sequined trash bag. (** The Fiancé maintains that it was my fervent, relentless search for this designer dress that earned it the "Moby" moniker. Right.)

I spent 5 hours on my crappy internet connexion trying to find a dress that will make it in time for the wedding. I’ve given myself three weeks wiggle room to get a back-up dress, and I get dress #2 in a week. It was $250, which made me a little faint a little bit. I know it’s made in China, but I ordered from a legit site this time, so I won’t be left with a pile of stiff day-glo tulle with a return address nearly 7,000 miles away.

In the immortal words of Alanis Morisette: You live, you learn, right?

But, uh, what should I do with the dress? Use it as a cozy for a trash can? I think it’d probably cost more to send it back.