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Why do so many Japanese brides rent their wedding dresses?

31 Comments
By Casey Baseel

While some couples in Japan opt for traditional Japanese-style wedding ceremonies, most choose to get married in the Western fashion. The nuptials are usually held in a secular wedding hall, but much of the décor and pageantry from Christian ceremonies carries over, such as statues of angels, readings from the Bible, and singing choirs.

Fittingly, most Japanese brides wear a wedding dress for their special day. One key difference, though, is that in Japan hardly anybody buys their dress.

At first, this seems kind of counterintuitive. Japan isn’t exactly known for thriftiness when it comes to fashion, as evidenced by the many women you’ll see with Louis Vuitton purses, not to mention the elementary school kids with 50,000-yen backpacks.

Nevertheless, when it comes time to choose a wardrobe for the big day, the vast majority of Japanese women select something from a bank of rental dresses maintained by whichever wedding hall they’re having their ceremony at. Even more surprising is that these rental dresses don’t always come cheap. Prices vary depending on the exact design and material, but a dresses that tack an extra 150,000 yen onto the bill aren’t unheard of.

To people raised in cultures where buying a dress is the norm, this may seem to be the worst of both worlds. Hopefully, your wedding will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. All else equal, buying a dress seems more appropriate for such a special occasion, especially since the rental doesn’t seem particularly cheap.

Actually, though, there’re some pretty significant savings to be had by renting, precisely because that’s the route most people choose to take. Some budget wedding halls have a small selection of rental dresses included in the base cost of their most moderately-priced packages, and even when they don’t, the fact that so few Japanese brides choose to buy means there really isn’t much of a consumer wedding dress industry in Japan, and much of what is available is high-priced. In the past few years, wedding dress fairs where outfits can be purchased for 80,000 yen or less have seen a bump in their popularity, but they’re still the exception rather than the rule.

As a matter of fact, some Japanese women we spoke to said that the very reason they want to rent their wedding dress is because of how important the ceremony is. Obviously, if we’re talking about the exact same item, it’s cheaper to rent than it is to buy. Just as there are companies that rent high-end sports cars to drivers who could never afford to buy one, choosing to rent a wedding dress gives the bride access to designers and quality far beyond what she could purchase at that price point.

Sure, she’ll have to give it back at the end of the day, but if everything goes according to plan, she won’t be wearing it again anyway.

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Portraits of Love: 45 Wedding Photos from Around the World -- Japan Rail searching for couple to get married on Yamanote Line train -- An Intimate Look at a Rural Japanese Village’s First Wedding in 42 Years

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31 Comments
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The price of the rental as quoted in the article is exorbitant compared to options in North America where brides who prefer to economize can rent or buy a dress on consignment or even on the Internet. However, the main difference is cultural.

Unlike in Japan, in NA it's all about the DRESS. Not just any dress, but the dress--as if there is one miraculous dress (like one miraculous soul-mate man) that will transform the wearer into being the woman of her own fairytale dreams. (Alas, she often morphs into Bridezilla instead.)

There's a TV series (check it out on YouTube if you must) called Say Yes to the Dress. That will give those readers unfamiliar with the notion an idea of what a crazier than crazy industry the wedding industry is.

Plus, in the case of Japanese brides, where in a typical apartment will a woman store a dress (with only a one-time use) in a living space which is not much bigger than the skirt?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The real question is why would any woman buy a wedding dress? If Philly1 is right, that's a pretty silly reason. But that's consumerism in a nutshell.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I've had this discussion with my wife when we married. We finally rented the dress, because it was cheaper, and we didn't want to store a huge dress that she will (probably) never wear again. And for whatever reason, there is a larger variety of dresses you can chose from if you rent, as compared with the ones on sale. The price difference is not that large though, and I remember we paid more than the 150 mentioned in the article. The reason is that they rent one dress only 2-3 times.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We bought one from someone who imports them from the US - huge discount over what was available here in Tokyo then and cheaper than renting here in Japan. I rented my tux and those for the wedding party - worked out well.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's just the truth. Weddings are expensive and renting the wedding dress can help offset some of the cost of the wedding. Most of us wear our beautiful wedding dress one time and then stick it in the closet for the rest of our lives. I know it's a sad fate. However to be honest, after you have been married the nostalgia of the wedding dress fades in time. Eventually you'll probably become so busy that you won't even remember your dress. On the other hand I know that if you're a more traditional bride, owning your dress and always having to look back and reminisce about is a wonderful thing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't understand the question. Why would anyone pay out big money for something they're only ever going to wear once, and that will then take up a huge chunk of usually very limited storage space and require frequent airings and truckloads of mothballs to keep it in pristine condition? For what possible reason?

The idea of buying a wedding dress, or wedding kimono, or wedding penguin-suit for the groom, is totally impractical.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Cleo, As we often read on JT, quite a good chance that it might get used more than once. But agree buying a dress seems extravagant (although many in Western culture keep it for memories or family),.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I bought mine because it was waaaaaaay cheaper than renting. It did run into problems though because many hotels/wedding companies make a killing off the dress rental and a few places quoted me as much as 40,000 yen just to wear my own damn dress because they wouldn't make any more off me if I wore my own - that price did not include a thing such as getting hair and make-up done, renting anything... Wedding dresses here are very fru fru and over the top so they cost a lot. If you want something plain and simple, it is far cheaper to buy than to rent. If they didn't charge such insane amounts, I would have been happy to rent one but with the way they do business here, if I was going to fork out money, I was forking out money for something I could keep.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Lots of women in the UK rent or buy second hand dresses. What a waste of money, weddings, not just the dresses, are.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This makes me wonder whether a Western-style or Japanese-style wedding would be more expensive, based on the rentals of the bride and groom's outfits alone.

I've also heard of Japanese couples having their weddings overseas, as even with travel expenses and such considered they still save a bundle overall.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Cheaper to buy a dress back home than rent one here.

My wife not only got the dress, but a miniature model of it too.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@genjuro

As an insider (yes, I regularly don priestly gowns and perform the ceremony), I can tell you that Shinto ceremonies are way cheaper; no organist, violinist or vocalist to pay, for one thing.

We regularly get calls from chapels cancelling Christian weddings because the couple have decided to "go traditional".

In other words, the "Christian" version has turned out to be a bit pricey....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Due to slick marketing the focus in the past 40 years has shifted from the couple's marriage to the couple's (and their parents') wedding. Tens of thousands are spent on venues, wedding planners, limos, photographers, flowers, food, clothing for the bridal party (which now includes perfect make up, manicure, pedicure and hair styling) and all manner of favours and fripperies. Then there is the honeymoon. All honey for the vendors who have suckers lined up for a fairy tale, fantasy day and leave some heavily in debt.

The statistics are grim. Within a couple of years more than half of those marriages will flounder and dissolve. Frankly, the couple would be much better off to marry quietly in a civil ceremony, allocate the money to establishing their financial future and working toward their shared goals. If there were as many marriage coaching services established as there are career/fitness/personal coaching, couples might fare better. Alas, people assume (incorrectly) that love is all you need.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The statistics are grim. Within a couple of years more than half of those marriages will flounder and dissolve.

More than half within a couple of years?? Do you have a link to those grim statistics?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why do Japanese brides rent their wedding dresses? Because they're smarter than other brides who spend thousands of whatever denomination for a gown that's going to be a one-time-use deal.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sorry, Cleo. I incorrectly remembered the [Canadian] stats. I should have said about a quarter. Still, the statistics are grim even when reduced. By 50 years it climbs to close to half.

To kick off a 1979 Bridal Fair, the MC led off with a bad joke and said, "Ladies, look at the person to your right. Now look at the person on your left. In three years one of you will be divorced." (There was a bit of a divorce blip after 'no fault' divorces were legalized. And it was ladies. The laddies were not allowed to marry then.)

I'm sure each of us thought, "Well, it won't be me." I know I did, and mistakenly reversed the numbers in my earlier comment.

Here are some Canadian statistics at the beginning of the 21st century from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-008-x/2006001/9198-eng.htm

For 23%, their first marriage had ended in dissolution following about 11 years of matrimony. One in five of Canadians who remarried had left their second spouse within an average of 7.6 years

Other stats from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-209-x/2013001/article/11788-eng.htm

Divorce can follow only a legal marriage. For the past 20 years divorce rates have been fairly stable. These are some figures for 2008: Close to one-fifth (19.4%) of divorces that were finalized in 2008 were for marriages of up to five years duration, while a further 22.6% of divorces were for marriages that lasted between five and nine years.

37.6% of [Canadian] marriages entered in 2008 are expected to end in divorce before the 25th year of marriage. The 50-year total divorce rate in 2008 was 4,307, meaning that 43.1% of marriages entered in 2008 are expected to end in divorce before the 50th year of marriage.

There you go. (But I had an amazing dress. Top secret: two, actually. But who's counting?)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yes, I thought the 'more than half gone in a couple of years' couldn't be right.

But you hit on another good reason why Japanese ladies don't go in for buying their wedding dresses; the custom of ironaoshi, where the bride changes outfits two, three or even four times in the course of the proceedings. If one never-to-be-worn-again dress is too much, three or four is even more too much. (The mil wanted me to have three plus a kimono, but I managed to keep things at a more managable two-dress level)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Why do other ladies want to keep that which they will never wear again? Do they intend to pass it on to their daughter?

Ironaoshi, Japanese wedding dress "fru fru" (thank you tmarie and cleo) and the sports car syndrome (wanting to wear/drive what one can never afford to buy) are explaining renting for me.

The other thing is that appearance is important in general, which also explains why Japanese couples are happy to pay Lucabrasi to dress up as a priest, if they can afford him, even though they know he is not really a priest. The dress can be rented, the priest can be an actor , the "church" can be a sham, but if it looks right then it is right in Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"...but IF it looks right then it IS right in Japan."

And there you have it, in a nutshell!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

if it looks right then it is right in Japan

Because Japan is the only place where non-Christians get married in a church/chapel?

Whether it's a Christian(-style), Shinto(-style), Buddhist(-style) or whatever-style wedding, whether the participants are true believers or just enjoying the party, in Japan the only thing that makes it legal is the bit of paper you hand in at the yakuba, unlike some other countries where the actual ceremony is a legal requirement. So what's wrong with the couple, their families and friends enjoying themselves if they want and they can afford it?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Seems the article kinda answers the question. It's not that renting is cheaper than buying, but that for the same price point as buying:

As a matter of fact, some Japanese women we spoke to said that the very reason they want to rent their wedding dress is because of how important the ceremony is... Just as there are companies that rent high-end sports cars to drivers who could never afford to buy one, choosing to rent a wedding dress gives the bride access to designers and quality far beyond what she could purchase at that price point.

Speaking of ceremonies, since there are fake Christian chapel weddings, couldn't there be also fake Shinto or Buddhist weddings for non-believers around the world?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Weddings here don't have to be crazy expensive. It's up to the bride and groom to stop the insanity but the thing is, many of the women here demand an insane amount of crap for their wedding. The "options" we had - fireworks (during the day), champers waterfalls, table candle "service" with each candle costing 500 yen and the biggest one costing 30,000. Insane. We said not to all the pushy options and had a pretty cheap wedding - about what it would cost back home. The issue in the commercialism and the one upping I see with couples here. Disney weddings where you pay an extra 10 man to have Mickey show up for pictures? Unreal. And in my opinion, pathetic that you're even AT Disney having the wedding int he first place.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

in my opinion, pathetic that you're even AT Disney having the wedding int he first place.

Well yes, it's your opinion. No one is forcing you to have a Disney wedding, or even suggesting you should. You had the wedding you wanted, which is as it should be. The couples who choose Disney, or fru-fru dresses, or weekend-only priests, or fireworks, or candles, or whatever, are having the wedding they want, and that too is as it should be. I've been to a Disney wedding, it was lovely. I've been to a 'home-made' wedding in a rented room, that was lovely too. In fact I don't recall any wedding I've attended that wasn't lovely. Any wedding where the bride and groom and both sets of families are smiling and happy, is a lovely wedding. If people choose to splurge lots of money on it, that's their business. It's also big business, but no one is being forced. What gets me is not the mountains of money spent on weddings by happy people, but the mountains spent on funerals - big business squeezing money out of grieving folk when they're at their weakest. Weddings, I don't care. Let people do what they want.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I went to a customer of mine a short while ago, and I asked him "how was your daughters wedding getting on" he told me that he had to put his foot down and told her to stop spending, she was at about £25,000-30,000 this included the dress,shoes hats jackets, the wedding cake the hire of the marquee the vicar, posh cars, sit down meal for XX people then the evening event, disco, band, the list goes on, and all of this money for one day? no wounded he put his foot down, I don't know how much a wedding dress costs but it does make sense to hire if its only for one day.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Brian

He shouldn't have had to pay for the vicar... not at any normal church, at least.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

He shouldn't have had to pay for the vicar... not at any normal church, at least.

I used to think so, but apparently not.

There is a required legal fee for marrying in a church. It is £451 for weddings taking place in 2014. This is set by the Church of England nationally....This basic legal fee includes the cost of the Vicar, the church, calling your banns, the marriage certificate, lighting and all administration.

http://www.yourchurchwedding.org/your-wedding/the-cost-of-church-weddings.aspx

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Thanks for the info, Cleo.

My world just got a little colder....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What a ridiculous question.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

They don't buy it because they don't have idea that buying is cheaper than renting. If they google, they will find plenty of wedding dress from China as cheap as 300 dollars or 30000 yen and the quality is really good. But Japanese people have been brainwashed by wedding companies and the level of trust in Japanese world is so high they tend to believe whatever they hear without doing a little research about whether that is true or not

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why buy? It's only used for a single day, and after that it just takes up space for all time.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Why not buy one dress and share it among a cohort?

If someone gets wine spilled on it at their wedding, they can buy out the girls that haven't used it yet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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