The truth about wedding industry markups

Have you noticed that "men's rings" might sell for between $50 and $200, but that "men's wedding rings" sell for between $500 and $5000? Or that white dresses sell for anywhere between $20 at H&M to $300 at Aritzia, but white wedding dresses sell for $1,000 and up? OR, better yet, that when renting a venue for a wedding reception, you're likely seeing a 20-30% markup over just hosting a "party", even though they are ostensibly the same thing? Amid the many potential perils of wedding planning, this is perhaps the most insidious: the wedding industry markups. 

These are the markups that are so consistent across the entire industry that many people don't even notice them. Couples instead budget to accommodate these markups, because it seems there is no other way. But that isn't necessarily true.

The Standard Markup

Standard wedding industry markups often see a product, say, a ring, or a gown, sold for eight to ten times its market value. That is, a gown which is $1,000 to construct would retail for between $8,000 and $10,000. Because the industry is so specialized in many ways, companies are able to get away with these markups—because while H&M does sell cheap dresses that probably could pass for a wedding gown, very few people are actually happy wearing a fraying polyester shift that they purchased for $20 on their wedding day.

Photos from Junebug Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Lauren Lash.

There are several reasons for these markups, and they're not what you might think. Generally, you can't have things done cheaply, quickly, and very well—you've got to pick two. Goldsmiths, for example, have an extremely sophisticated skillset which requires a higher compensation for their labour. Similarly, the cost of the materials often used in wedding products are more expensive: like diamonds, silks, and fine foods. Those costs are often unavoidable. However, there are some aspects which can be avoided.

Purchasing a ring at Tiffany & Co, for example, will likely cost thousands more than a comparable product at a smaller shop. The reason is pretty obvious: Tiffany is a highly coveted brand name, and that is what you pay for. Similarly, when purchasing from bigger companies like People's Jewelers, or Michael Hill, or Melanie Casey, you will run into markups even without the big brand name: as companies get bigger, they become more expensive to run. The costs of marketing, storefront overhead, salaries, and capital investments are all passed on to the customer.

Weddings are really expensive!

The average wedding in Vancouver, according to Vancity, Heirloom Magazine, and Slice, rings in at around $30,000CAD. According to the Knot, the average in the USA is closer to $33,500USD.

When wedding planning, that might not seem so crazy—and for many people, that amount is absolutely worth spending on their big, beautiful wedding day. But for comparison, you could easily purchase a 2020 Honda Civic, or another sensible car. That's not all, though—you could also purchase a Mercedes CLA-Class, or a Ford Mustang, or a Jeep Renegade, according to Top Speed! You could put up a down payment on a home in many parts of the USA; you could take a world class trip for several months around the most beautiful parts of Europe. Or you could invest it, pay off student loans, or save for your children's college education (in most parts of Canada, that amount covers just about an entire Bachelor's degree; it would normally pay for two Master's degrees). You get the picture. 

Can't we have it both ways, though? A beautiful wedding for a fraction of the cost? In short, yes—but you will need to be a bit creative.

Making the most of your budget

Don't call it a "wedding," at least when hiring vendors

When you start the arduous process of calling around for quotes and availabilities to your myriad vendors, don't tell them it's your wedding. A CBC Marketplace investigation found significant increases in identical services and products when ordered for a wedding versus even an anniversary party. Vox called the same vendors and found a significant markup between their unspecified event and a wedding.

So when sorting your caterer, just request quotes for an afternoon party with your ideal number of guests. Call it an anniversary party—it kind of is! Similarly, when booking venues, hotels and reception halls will often tack on significant price hikes, again for various reasons. Weddings are more prone to get a bit rowdy, and require more clean up; weddings are also cause for great celebration, and the venue might roll into that price a surprise bottle of champagne for you and your partner to sip in private before rolling into your reception. If the frills are not important to you, though, or if you'd rather arrange them yourself, opt for the straight up "event" rather than "wedding", and save yourself a couple extra dollars! 

Shop small and local

In kind with our gripes about big box wedding vendors that overcharge because they are bloated at the top, we always recommend shopping small or local whenever you can. 

Small companies like ours, or our friends at Foe & Dear, or Sarah Mulder, or Hailey Gerritts, are good examples of where you can save. We design everything in house, for example. All of our products are made by a very small team of talented seamstresses and hand wirers.

Because our production and marketing costs are lower than Michael Hill's, we're able to charge less per product. For these reasons, when you purchase a product from a store like ours, or like our sister store Evorden (where we always charge below appraised retail price on our vintage rings), or from Foe & Dear, you are guaranteed to save, and you also support a love-driven small business.

It's also possible for you to develop important relationships with smaller vendors than it is with big companies that often don't have time. Need an off season custom bouquet? Maybe your local florist can source it for you if you agree to purchase from her for your first anniversary party. Need a sweet deal on centrepieces? Maybe she can concoct a gorgeous look using just about off-season florals, so you save a nice buck and she's able to clear her stock. Mutually beneficial relationships are the real deal.

Photos from Evorden, featuring our Daphne Hairpin, and a gorgeous cake we found on Pinterest. Goals.

Go vintage

This might seem obvious, but we'll say it again for the people in the back. Just because a ring is not titled "Engagement Ring" on a company's website does not mean it isn't perfect to accompany your proposal. Always follow your heart. The moral of the story is this: look in unexpected places—it often saves you a lot of money, and is chock full of sentimental value as you retell the story of happening on your perfect wedding dress, or your dream ring, in a vintage shop.

Vintage itself is a serious game changer in the wedding industry. When our sister store Evorden sources vintage rings, we shine them up and we might change out the centre stone for something more brilliant. That labour, however, is far less than the labour costs of designing and producing a ring from scratch. In scenarios like this, then, you are almost always going to save money on that labour differential. 

Be wary of the "shabby chic" vintage trap, however—we've all seen how vintage can actually be a specific selling point. But by considering vintage rings, dresses, and hairpieces, however, you can often save several hundred dollars because generally, these are items that you otherwise would have made to order. 

Ditch the brand names and titles

We get it—we also love Tiffany & Co. We would never turn down a little blue box. But is that the most important thing about your engagement, or your relationship? Obviously not. It's tough to remind yourself sometimes that the size of your diamond, or the brand name attached to it, is not really that important. The wedding industry, and much of popular culture, will tell you otherwise—but if you are trying to avoid that wedding tax and save money, you'd be well suited to look elsewhere. Check out small Etsy sellers, or other local companies where you can avoid the brand name plus the wedding tax.

We alluded to this earlier as well but it's worth emphasizing—try finding beautiful products which are not made to be wedding specific. Source flowers for an unspecified event. Check out weird display cases at the Bay. What's important is not the "wedding" label on the products or services you're seeking, nor is it the brand name: it's whether or not you love your purchases.

Bundle!

Never doubt the power of the bundle. As you'll see in the CBC video linked above, many vendors—especially when you meet with them in person—will offer you bundles on goods and services in an attempt to secure your business (and budget!). This doesn't mean you aren't being upcharged still, but you might save enough to make that venue or service worth the expense. 

When you shop for wedding gowns, for example, seek out vendors which will give you a highly discounted veil. Work with your photographer to get a deal on engagement photos when you book them for your wedding. There is almost always wiggle room on goods and services, especially when you develop a relationship with a vendor. It never hurts to ask!

How did you cut costs at your wedding? Have you felt the burn of the wedding tax? Share your stories below!

xo D&C

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