MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Caitlin Kenney from our Planet Money Team reports on just what brides are getting for their money.
CAITLIN KENNEY: Before wedding gowns reach stores across the country, they come here to New York International Bridal Week.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Style 2053 is definitely one of our top looking dresses so far this season.
KENNEY: What dresses you'll see in stores this fall, those decisions were made here in April. To figure out why those dresses cost what they do, you first need to understand what goes into making them.
ANNE BARGE: It's not just a white dress. It's the fabric and it's the workmanship and it's the lining and it's the fit.
KENNEY: Anne Barge has been designing wedding dresses for over 20 years. She points to a dress on one of her many racks and says, here, let me break it down for you.
BARGE: Here you're looking at a dress that has 25 yards of pure silk satin in it.
KENNEY: How much does that cost?
BARGE: Over a hundred dollars a yard for just the satin, not the tulle. And then on top of it, it's a very expensive embroidery which is done in India, because they do the most beautiful handwork of anywhere in the world.
KENNEY: Yurizan Morales works for the designer and I asked him what this dress cost.
YURIZAN MORALES: In dollars it would be around 2,700.
KENNEY: If it wasn't a dress for a wedding, if you were just selling it as a regular dress, do you think it would sell for the same price?
MORALES: No, it wouldn't.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KENNEY: Designer Anne Barge gets this. When she talks about her dresses she's selling emotion.
BARGE: It's the dress of your life. And if there's ever one picture your ancestors have of you, it's the one in your wedding dress.
KENNEY: That's a lot of pressure to put on a bride to be. Veronica Guerrieri was married last summer in her home country of Italy, and she says she felt it.
VERONICA GUERRIERI: They were trying hard to convince me that it was the best day of my life; that I shouldn't have thought about economics.
KENNEY: Not thinking about economics is hard for Guerrieri because, well, she's an economist at the University of Chicago. She says we're part of the reason prices are so high. They're high because that's what we're willing to pay.
GUERRIERI: I think on average, there's a lot of status and signaling going on on wedding days.
KENNEY: And this urge to spend a lot to send a message, it applies to brides with all kinds of budgets.
MARYANNE MARCHESE: We're for the middle man that works hard.
KENNEY: Maryanne Marchese owns Angel Bridal on Staten Island. The dresses in her store sell for between 700 and $2,000.
MARCHESE: I had a customer that the price was - that the gown was beautiful. And she says, well, you know what, that's too cheap, she says. I'm looking to spend more money.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARCHESE: I said let me change the label. Let me change the price. I'll add a two or three in front of it, will you be happy?
KENNEY: Caitlin Kenney, NPR News, New York.
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