Just when you thought weddings couldn't get any more expensive, bridal stores are charging women for the privilege of trying on dresses.
Designers and bridal shopowners say charging for a fitting has become the norm and claim brides are more than happy to pay a "try-on" fee.
Some charge $20 for each dress a bride slips on and others set a flat fee of $60 an hour to stop schoolgirls and "brides without grooms" wasting shop-owners' time.
Some stores include try-ons as part of a $300 consultation fee but most refund the costs if the bride buys the dress.
Bridalwear staff surveyed by the Herald on Sunday said the fee paid for dry cleaning, fixing damage and covering the time staff spent helping women into dresses.
The fee deterred women who weren't serious and ensured sample garments remained pristine.
The samples could then be sold off-the-rack to brides hurrying down the aisle with no time to wait for an order from overseas.
Shika Braddock, of La'Shika Bridal in Wellington said she waived her $40 "try-on" fee during weekdays when the shop wasn't busy, as long as prospective brides kept it to one or two dresses.
"But a lot of the time, you have to charge - it's for the service."
Staff spent up to half an hour fitting each dress, which carried a price tag of $900 to $4000. "It's very tiring, the dresses are very heavy."
Women would be tempted to waste assistants' time if there was no fee, she said.
Braddock said customers were increasingly trying on a particular dress in store before ordering the same one online or from another shop.
The fee ensured the time involved fitting brides would not go completely to waste.
At Astra Bridal in Wellington, a flat $40 consultation fee included an hour with an experienced fitter.
"It's not like going into Glassons," said manager Marion Farrell. "You've got to have the correct underwear, then there's the laced petticoats, the boned undergarments."
She said women were more than happy to pay, in return for "so much information" and a high level of service.
At Modes in Newmarket, Auckland, where bridalwear made up only part of the stock, a $50 fee allowed brides to try on as many dresses as they liked and included a one-on-one consultation.
General manager Diane Stephenson said bridal garments were notoriously delicate and had to be removed from special storage bags and tried on under supervision. She said damage was a problem and women put their heels through expensive skirts while trying on bridalwear priced up to $5500.
One mother-of-the-bride wanted to try on her daughter's prospective dresses - to see what they looked like on her.
She said she hadn't heard of a shop that didn't charge. "All the shops have introduced it [a fee]. It's a necessity to keep stock in pristine condition."
"It's a deterrent for schoolgirls and people who don't even have a groom yet," said Stephenson. "It sorts out who is actually serious about a wedding."
Some bridal couture stores are charging up to $300 for a consultation.
"I guess they feel they can charge that," said Stephenson. "Though, in the real sense of the word, I don't know if there is any couture produced in New Zealand."
At Jane Yeh, a two-hour consultation was $100, a spokeswoman said.
As well as trying on sample stock, women were advised about shapes, fit, and colours, provided with a description of the dress and a quote.
The consultation fee was refundable once a bride committed to the designer's work - average dress price $3850.
A spokeswoman for Alma J Bridal Boutique in Auckland said many brides told her it was a good thing they had to pay to try on dresses.
"It stops them trying on too many and getting confused."
Felicitys Bridal Salon in central Auckland is the exception to the rule. Owner Graeme Brown, who has been in the business for 30 years, said his philosophy was not to charge for service. "And trying on is part of the service."
He said while designers such as Jane Yeh had the right to expect payment as part of a design consultation, he had problems with bridal stores which sold off the rack dresses charging a fee.
Bride-to-be Louise Black, 32, said she understood the need to deter "time-wasters" but charging serious shoppers was "disgraceful".
"These places should be able to tell between genuine buyers and schoolgirls messing about. You don't have to pay to test drive a car - why should you have to pay to try on a wedding dress?"