The Weird, Wacky World Of $3.99 Dresses That Seem Too Good To Be True

The Weird, Wacky World Of $3.99 Dresses

That Seem Too Good To Be True

Photo Courtesy of Savvy Bridal

Upon receiving an invitation to an event — be it a spring wedding, Black Tie Gala, or a summer BBQ — one of the very first things you do, naturally, is thinking about what you’re going to wear. Thus, the mad search for “flowing maxi dress” or “bodycon gown” begins. You scroll through the splurge-y options at Anthropologie and Nordstrom, and you may even hit TJ Maxx or Ross in hope for a good deal.

Nothing, however, competes in terms of price point with that $7 dress from a random Chinese retailer that keeps popping up in the advertisement bar on your browser. Like the many who’ve shopped those e-racks before you came along, you somehow end up convincing yourself that even if it’s a total disaster of a dress you’re only out a few bucks. And that, friends, is how these companies make the bulk of their money.

The Weird World of Chinese Clothing-Retail

Like we said, if you’ve purchased clothing from one of these websites or have at least been seriously tempted, you are among the majority. There are entire social media channels and hashtags dedicated to hilarious cases of Chinese retail gone wrong — such as Knockoff Nightmares on Facebook or the belly-laugh inducing hashtag #onlineshoppingfail on Instagram.

There are entire social media channels and hashtags dedicated to hilarious cases of Chinese retail gone wrong — such as Knockoff Nightmares on Facebook or the belly-laugh inducing hashtag #onlineshoppingfail on Instagram. Photo Courtesy of @sosnboutique

Sometimes these shopping experiences move beyond “funny” and into straight-up traumatizing territory, though. There are horrifying stories of women who’ve shopped for their wedding dresses via online Chinese retailers only for their gown to arrive, days before the big day, an unwearable hot mess. Halt Pachelbel’s Canon and cue the haunting nightmare music…

For more insight into this wacky world, we hit up some pros, including a shopping expert and fashion stylist, as well as a handful of women who’ve purchased clothing from these retailers. Our first question was, “How in the world can a dress be that cheap?”

“The answer is inevitably that the manufacturer has cut a lot of corners,” said Lindsay Sakraida, a shopping expert with DealNews. “Most obviously, the materials are likely lower quality and they probably didn’t invest much in the ‘research and development’ phase where fit and sizing are fine-tuned. There are usually fewer size options, in general, to avoid ending up with extra inventory after it goes on sale, and the clothing likely uses a cheap, manmade fabric with stretch so that technically the item can fit a wider variety of body types.”

All this adds up to a garment that likely won’t satisfy your needs and looks nothing like it did in the picture.

Speaking of pictures, those aren’t accurate representations of the product because, well, they’re almost always not a picture of the product you’re buying. Images featured on Chinese retail sites are often yanked illegally from another online source and then the retailer attempts to recreate it using the cheap materials and labor mentioned above. The truth is that there’s no way you’re going to end up with a $2000, $500 — even $50 — dress when you’re spending pennies. That’s just not how clothing manufacturing works.

Images featured on Chinese retail sites are often yanked illegally from another online source. Photo Courtesy of @kells_advice

“While $4 might seem like it’s cheap enough to take the risk, the odds aren’t in your favor, and it’s still money wasted,” said Sakraida.

Alexander Allen, celebrity and entertainment stylist, added, “If it sounds too good to be true, more times than not you’re probably right. I say you get what you pay for. There are plenty of stores where you can get inexpensive clothing. Not as low as $5, but $10 to $20 is low enough.”

Tales from Chinese Clothing Shopping

So does it ever make sense to buy from these retailers? Our experts shared a few times when it might possibly work out in your favor.

“Some body types might have better luck — if you have slender hips and a small bust, the ‘one size fits all’ mentality is usually more forgiving,” said Sakraida. “A friend once bought a pencil skirt from one of these sites and it was essentially a small tube of thick stretchy material that on first appearance looked more like it was sized for a doll than a human being. But because she was a slender woman, the skirt did fit her. But she didn’t wear it often, and eventually, she threw it out.”

Another thing to consider, as we mentioned, is that the sizing is usually way off, even if the quality isn’t 100 percent terrible. That was the case for Carolyn Oosterlinck, who said she orders from Chinese retailers approximately once or twice a year.

“Quality has been good enough for what we needed it for, but everything runs two sizes smaller,” she said. “I am usually a small to medium in U.S. tops, but I ordered a large in the last Chinese top I bought and it just fit. An extra-large would have actually been a bit more comfortable. Can you imagine, when I can usually wear a size four to six top? But it’s not worth sending anything back. Return shipping costs more than the garment. What I can’t wear, I’ve given away as gifts.”

Oosterlinck said that her daughter actually purchased a custom-made wedding dress from a Chinese retailer and it worked out, but three of her four bridesmaids who did the same ended up sorely disappointed.

“Two paid extra for custom-sizing but still needed alterations when it came. One came two sizes too small and they didn’t get a replacement back in time for the wedding,” she said.

"It was very unfortunate because the style was very pretty and, despite what some girls have experienced, the fit was perfect. The material was just very poor-quality.” Photo Courtesy of @blackswandress

Amanda Eaton also had an #onlineshoppingfail experience.

“I once purchased a work dress from a discounted website from China. It wasn’t name-brand; however, it had the look and feel of the latest trends. The picture on the website made it look as though it was good quality material. Unfortunately, the reality was far from it,” she recalled. “Once I received the dress in the mail — which took almost a month to deliver — I was surprised by how sheer the dress was, even in parts of the fabric that were black. There was no way I could wear it to work and feel comfortable and professional. It was very unfortunate because the style was very pretty and, despite what some girls have experienced, the fit was perfect. The material was just very poor-quality.”

Desire Rewarts said she buys from Chinese retailers often for herself and her children, and she’s actually liked a number of the dresses she’s purchased. Still, it’s often a game of “hit or miss.”

“Usually [the garments] come mostly like I saw them,” she said. “The quality isn’t the greatest, but the fit is decent. I did get one last year that I was going to use as my Christmas dress and it was ridiculous. The hem for the waistline was crooked, and when I put it on it bunched in weird places! But it was $11…”

Bottom Line

The moral of the story here is that no matter how cheap the garment is, and no matter how good it looks in the pictures, you never know what you’re going to get. It could fit well and be adequately constructed, or it could be completely unwearable and that’s still money wasted.

Our experts agree that if you’re shopping these retailers, only do so for garments that you can live without and don’t plan to wear repeatedly (such as Halloween costumes). You’re almost always better off spending more cash when shopping for clothing, be it an important garment like a wedding dress or that flowing maxi you plan to wear to that upcoming pool party.

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Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including Refinery29, InStyle, xoVain, Headspace, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can learn more about her at WendyGould.com.

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