What should mums in Scotland realistically expect to spend on their outfit for their son or daughter’s wedding? Claire Muir sat down with those in the know at occasionwear boutiques and chatted budgets, options and how to get the most for your cash
Karen Charles knows what she’s talking about. As the owner of long-established Broughty Ferry boutique Patricia Forbes, specialising in mother-of-the-bride and -groom outfits, she has bags of insight when it comes to special-occasion shopping – and she is a firm champion of independent stores.
“There’s hardly anywhere to shop for occasionwear on the high street now,” she points out. “You could do it online, but you’ll be ordering, trying on and sending back for months on end – and probably not really enjoying the experience. Visiting a boutique takes the hard work out of it. Come in, have a glass of fizz and have some fun. It’s a special experience, just as it is for the bride when she’s picking her dress. Plus, you can get everything you need, top to toe, in one place.”
Let’s talk figures
At Catwalk in Falkirk, Louise Brown and the team are conscious of price concerns, so urge customers to do their research: “You’ll find all our styles with images and prices on our website so there are no big surprises when you come in for your appointment,” she says.
Louise also prides herself on stocking something for every budget from the most sought-after designers: “We offer varied price options with Lizabella, Frank Lyman and Veromia Occasions starting around £200. The Veni Infantino, Condici and John Charles collections are in the £500 to £800 price range. They’re all flattering, modern designs in stunning, high-quality fabrics.”
At Patricia Forbes, Karen suggests you might pay between £750 and £1,200 for a full high-end outfit – dress, hat, shoes and bag: “Yes, shopping online might be cheaper – and I agree it’s great for ‘just a top’ when you don’t need the perfect fit and don’t mind if someone else has the same style,” she tells us. “With a specialist boutique, though, you get something different and more special. It’s about the wow factor. And you get something tailored to fit your body. We alter 95% of our occasionwear, even if it’s just a tiny tweak on the shoulder or sleeve, so it fits the customer exactly.”
With that in mind, alterations are an inevitable spend (“getting the right fit is make or break,” advises Karen), and although they should be factored into your budget, they shouldn’t break the bank. Patricia Forbes caps its alterations and generally they never cost more than £60. In fact, it’s usually an average of £25 to £30 – and absolutely worth it when you’re making a big investment, promises Karen.
One way to cut out alterations is to go for a made-to-measure service. You can try on a selection of styles and pick what you like from each – from shape and colour to fabric and features – to craft your dream look.
Karen works with Spanish design house Fely Campo to offer this service at Patricia Forbes. “If you like the hemline of one dress, the sleeve of a second and the neck of a third, we can pull it together. It will be completely individual and no one else will have it because you’ve helped design it. And guess what? It doesn’t cost anything extra to customise the outfit. The price remains the same as it would be to buy off-the-peg from the same designer.”
Buying on a budget
Of course, once you’re in a boutique, swooning over beautiful colours and quality fabrics, it can be very easy to fall for an outfit that’s way beyond your budget. What happens then?
Catwalk offers the option of a payment plan with up to six months’ interest-free credit. Or you could splash out while promising yourself you’ll sell the clothes after the big day: “This is a good way to recoup some of the cost, especially if it’s a sought-after designer and you have matching accessories,” confirms Louise.
One place to pick up a bargain is at end-of-line or sample shops, such as The Dressing Rooms in Grangemouth (where Catwalk has its sales). Here, you can expect to pay between £150 and £400, which equates to a saving of 25% to 60%. With occasionwear generally timeless and transitional across the seasons, who’s to know if you’re wearing a sale or sample piece?
“You’ll find a great range of past seasons’ outfits at a fraction of the recommended retail price, along with matching headpieces and accessories,” adds Louise. “The stock is end-of-line but brand-new with tags and in perfect condition. So, if you’re lucky with your size, you’re bound to have scored a genuine bargain.”
Any other options?
Currently enjoying a surge in popularity when it comes to wedding guest outfits, MoB/MoG dress rental is certainly a cost-cutting option – but it does demand patience as you trawl through masses of online listings.
As an alternative idea, how about keeping costs small and styles simple for most of your outfit then splashing out on one item to really make a statement – your hat or fascinator, for example? At Patricia Forbes, these start at £49 and go all the way up to absolute showstoppers coming in at £370. “The hat is paramount sometimes,” Karen tells us. “It can give an outfit the wow factor and make people really notice you.”
Get a head start
Just as with the main parts of an outfit, you can rent, buy off-the-peg or go bespoke with your hat. “There’s essentially something for every budget,” confirms Stephanie Gallen, owner of Glasgow treasure trove Stephanie Gallen Millinery.
The bespoke route, she adds, would be her choice as it gives you the freedom of having something created solely for you: “No one else is going to have the same hat, even in another colour. You can add in the little details that make all the difference – maybe some fabric from your outfit can be incorporated in a binding, or petals from a flower?”
The general assumption is that having a piece made especially for you will be super-expensive, but don’t dismiss the whole idea without investigating a little further, urges Stephanie: “Going bespoke means you can choose the materials used, and the intricacy or simplicity of the design. Both of these have a direct bearing on the cost.”
In other words, having something tailor-made with less-expensive fabrics and a very straightforward design could make your show-stopping headwear more affordable: “Some of our simplest bespoke pieces have started at as low as £180,” Stephanie says.
If this is still beyond your budget, renting a hat or fascinator opens the doors to high-quality millinery at high-street prices. It’s also a much more eco-friendly option – an easy way to be green and sustainable while looking stylish and saving money.
“Wedding hats often sit in their boxes for years after a single use and eventually end up in landfill,” explains Stephanie, who offers five-day rentals starting at £40. “Renting means hats are worn multiple times and it also encourages you to wear your outfit more than once since changing the headwear can give it a completely different look.”
A little forward planning…
Whatever you’re spending, your stunning outfit is likely to have been one of your biggest investments in a while. So why not make the most of it? Here are a couple of top tips for mums looking to maximise the future wearability of their wedding attire…
“The most important thing is that your outfit is amazing on the day, but if you can use it again that’s a real bonus. Dress it down with different accessories for someone else’s wedding or team it with a stylish cardigan for a summer event. If the outfit came with a jacket or coat, how about wearing that over a dressy pair of trousers? It would be perfect for a cruise or function. And you could always come back to the boutique and have it altered – we could make a long dress shorter, create a dipped hem or customise it in some other way.” Karen Charles, Patricia Forbes
“First and foremost, make sure you’re comfortable in the hat. You’re never going to wear it again if you feel awkward in it – and you shouldn’t be buying it in the first place if that’s the case! Next, go for a good colour that works with different palettes. Afterwards, find a milliner who offers an alteration or upgrade service to change certain aspects of the hat. A different coloured band/feathers/features can be added, or it can be reshaped to work with a different outfit.” Stephanie Gallen, Stephanie Gallen Millinery