When it comes to wedding gowns, I think we all know this prickly truth: They can be expensive. Especially when you’re looking for something that is brand new and custom made for your body… but you’re not planning to spend thousands of dollars in the process. So when belly dancer Zaina Brown emailed us about getting a dress completely designed for her at the price tag of $700, our interest was piqued, to say the least.
Zaina told us:
The idea of getting my wedding dress made from scratch overseas felt slightly reckless, but my mind was made up. I would have one of the many belly dance costume designers create the dress I wanted. It would be completely within their capabilities, and it wouldn’t cost more Just Because It’s White. To be on the safe side, I didn’t disclose what occasion the dress was for. Hey, maybe I was hitting the red carpet in my lace-mesh attire. The obvious downside of this arrangement was not having the chance to try the dress on before buying. On the upside, I wouldn’t have to set foot in a bridal store.
As for the how of the custom-made wedding dress creation, Zaina stuck to what she knows. As a belly dancer, she regularly has costumes custom made in Egypt, Turkey, and Brazil, and often by male designers. Recently, however, she’s noticed an uptick in Eastern European dancer-designers, and she decided to inquire with a few of them instead:
I browsed their work on Facebook, and struck a deal with a Russian woman. The price was six hundred dollars, which included materials and work, much of which had to be hand-sewn, as well as shipping to the US. To keep the cost at bay, I would glue on crystals myself. I fully expected to have to make some small adjustments, which didn’t faze me, as I’m used to tweaking my dance costumes. I asked the designer to give me extra lace, so I could add bits and pieces if necessary. I sent her tons of measurements, drawings, and photos with tape measure against my body—plus the payment in full. Then, I crossed my fingers.
There was just one hitch. To give the otherwise soft dress structure, it needed a solid sewn-in bra. I wanted to use a specific dance costume bra with rock-hard cups, which is manufactured in Egypt. The designer ordered it on eBay, but two months later, she still hadn’t received it. Without it, the fabric could not be cut, and the dress stayed at square one. With the wedding now a few months away, I was getting anxious. If anything was seriously wrong with the dress when it finally got to me—my biggest fear was it would be too short—I would have little time to find a replacement. After contacting two colleagues in Cairo, one was finally able to locate the required bra. In the meantime, I became drawn to anything white in shop windows. I told myself, “There’s a perfect dress waiting for me on a hanger somewhere if this doesn’t work out,” to stay calm. When a fortune cookie declared, “A thing of great beauty will bring you great joy,” I stashed that paper slip inside my wallet and faithfully reread it every day. Luckily, this time the bra made it to Russia, and the tailor could begin her work.
The long-awaited package arrived, and I tore it open with shaking hands. I wiggled my way inside the snug, zipperless dress as fast as I could. It fit like a glove. The length was perfect. It looked on just how I had seen it in my head, if not better. I still spent countless hours perfecting it: gluing on little crystals; lining the bra and adjusting the hooks; doubling the mesh to avoid transparency on, ahem, a few key spots; adding tulle on the bottom; and tweaking the lace coverage. When all was said and done, the total cost came to about seven hundred dollars. This included the Western Union transfer fee, crystals, tulle, extra mesh, and the price and shipping of the Egyptian bra, which I willingly absorbed to move the process along.
For a story that could have absolutely culminated in an emergency dress buy at David’s Bridal, Zaina’s gamble paid off—and by using non-industry talent, she has the added bonus of outsmarting the WIC.