In addition of being the “time of plans and projects”, to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, spring – or more accurately, late spring and its mostly friendly weather – also kick-starts wedding season in many countries. While traditions may vary from one part of the world to the other, one constant remains: whether it’s bought or rented for the night, the wedding dress is generally the highlight of the ceremony, as well as the party that follows and/or precedes it – depending on tradition. The same logic applies in the MENA region, whether it is in the Levant, the GCC or North Africa, and whether or not the bride has adopted a modern or more traditional style.

Small weddings gaining popularity

The spring wedding trend remains, even if some habits have indeed changed following the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020. “We’ve noticed that people began spending less on their wedding dress given the fact that with Covid restrictions, big weddings were no longer a thing” explains Kristie Romanos, Creative Director  at  Esposa Group, a bridal shop franchise founded in 1987 by the Romanos family and established in both Lebanon (Beirut and Dbayeh) and the UAE (Dubai). “And with small weddings gaining popularity, simple and minimalist wedding dresses have become trendy and in demand,” she adds.

A quick look on social media and bridal shop websites confirms that the price ranges for wedding dresses can vary considerably depending on the country, and sometimes between different regions in the same country. “Generally speaking, the value of a wedding dress is determined first of all by its brand. Every dress’s value can be different depending on the type of fabrics used, the embellishments incorporated and the types of beads and sequins sewn in,” says Romanos of the GCC and the wider Middle East markets.

According to the Esposa Group, prices for a couture wedding dress in the UAE can vary between 10,000 AED (USD 2,750) and 300,000 AED (close to USD 82,000). As for Lebanon, the price ranges between USD 1,500 and USD 80,000. It will cost 7000 AED (almost USD 2,000) to rent in the UAE, and USD 1,500 in Lebanon. The Lebanese prices are given in USD as the economy is highly dollarized and the local currency rate is currently unstable due to the deep financial crisis the country is facing. Average prices in the GCC are comparable with those of the UAE. Of course, haute couture wedding dresses are a lot more expensive, with starting prices around USD 100,000. Lebanese luxury fashion designer Elie Saab’s wedding gowns are thought to cost around USD 300,000, for instance.

The Tunisian example

Tunisia stands as a good example of pricing for the rest of North Africa. In Tunisia, the average sale price is generally three to five times higher than the rental cost.  “It’s difficult to give a more precise estimate as almost all dresses are custom made. The price can vary greatly depending on the type and quality of embroidery, the use of silver or golden stich, or sewn-in jewelry, among other factors”, says Khouloud Mouaddeb, head of design at Kmar Bridal Concept (Kmar means “moon” in Arabic), a new company that started business four years ago.

Kmar describes itself as “affordable in the high end segment”.  One of the fairly expensive dresses in their catalogue is priced between DT 2400 (just under USD 800) and 2800 (just over USD 920). “99% of couples chose the rental option, as most weddings last at least two days and require the use of two different dresses, [it could be] more for traditional weddings that include several phases: sdek (the signing of the marriage contract), 1st henne, 2nd henne, the outeya (the bride’s party), the hammam (a ritual bath), then the final wedding ceremony”. In the low-end market, the cheapest dresses can reach USD 150 to USD 200 for rental, and sometimes include makeup packages.

In Egypt, where the house of El Behairy once created a 5 million USD gown, a piece that became the country’s most expensive wedding dress in 2017, rental prices can be as low as EGP 2000 (over USD 100). In one famous bridal shop, Chantelle (whose rates are relatively mid-range), rental prices start at EGP 8,000 (USD 430), and sales start at EGP 35,000 (almost USD 1,900).