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Delivery to your home can take up to 30 days or longer and might not reach you in time for your event… and that’s if you even receive your order at all.
If you do get a dress from a knock-off site, it may or may not look like the picture on their website. Many times the Chinese factories behind the slick websites use the designers' copyrighted photos without permission. But the counterfeit sites lack the original patterns needed to sew the dresses. Instead, they try to duplicate them based on the photo taken by the original designer. As a result, a lot of guess work goes into the dress when it comes to construction, fabric and embellishments like beading.
Some North Texas teenage girls ended up in tears this prom season because the dress they ordered online either never arrived or arrived looking like a cheap impostor of the designer dress they thought they ordered.
W.T. White High School senior Dashya McCuin has been dreaming about prom since she was a freshman, but the 17-year-old's dreams were dashed when the dress she ordered online never arrived.
She had her sights set on a baby blue, strapless high-low gown embellished with ruffles and sequins from a website called fabpartydress.com.
"She wanted that particular dress and, if you know my daughter, she has to have what she wants or she's not going to leave you alone," said Leslie McCuin, her mother.
Like many moms sending their princesses to prom, McCuin caved, allowing her daughter to buy her dress online. Dashya McCuin ordered it in March, weeks before her big day so that she'd get it in time. She even told the website her prom was two weeks before the actual date to make sure there was plenty of cushion.
But as prom inched closer, the dress was a no-show.
"It never came," McCuin said.
McCuin was heartbroken and empty-handed and the clock was ticking. To add insult to injury, McCuin got an email from fabpartydress.com in April that read, in broken English, "I am sorry the dress still not shipped yet, I am afraid the dress can't arrive you Saturday, maybe you can keep it for your next function?"
"I didn't think people would do that," said McCuin. "Like, proms and weddings are, like, so serious, so why would you play with people's emotions like that?"
The American Bridal and Prom Industry Association said plenty of companies are playing with young ladies' emotions. Two of the large local prom retailers, Terry Costa and Whatchamacallit, hear the same sad sob story time and time again.
"I'm tired of little girls coming through here at the last minute and they're almost in tears when they walk through the front door," said Tina Loyd, the CEO of Terry Costa, which has both a brick-and-mortar and an online store. "That's not what it's about."
Loyd said the problem has been prevalent for the past three years, and 2013 is no different. In fact, she orders more dresses at the end of the season for what she called those "last-minute horror stories."
ABPIA said more than 2,500 websites rip images of dresses off of legitimate designers' websites and use them on their own websites without permission. They lure girls in so they think they're buying designer dresses with a cheaper price tag. Instead, they sell knockoffs.
ABPIA's head and CEO of Mon Cheri, Steve Lang, told the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit about 300,000 knockoffs came into the United States from abroad, costing the industry $120 million.
And families end up paying the price, when the online order goes south by never arriving or looking like a cheap imitation. The girls then have to go buy another dress and spend even more money.
The industry is so concerned about the issue that 12 major manufacturers filed a lawsuit aimed at shutting these websites down.
In Whatchamacallit's Dallas location, owner Gary Graham keeps a knockoff of a Sherri Hill dress next to the real deal as a cautionary tale of an online order gone wrong.
Sherri Hill is an A-list designer among teen girls heading to their big dance. The Sherri Hill hanging in Whatchamacallit's window is a turquoise short gown with elegant gold beading and fancy feathers. It retails for around $730. The imitation, bought online, cost about half, and is ice blue, looking more like an ice-skating costume gone wrong.
"Fake feathers versus real feathers; the stones aren't even correct. The color is way off. The design, the style, is completely off," Graham said.
White Settlement mother Teresa Davis can relate. Her daughter looked online for a dress to save money, and she found a beautiful sea-foam green dress with gorgeous beading on the bodice on a website called dreamprom.com. It's the exact same image of the same dress as on the website of the legitimate designer, Night Moves by Allure, so she ordered it, spending more than $200.
But what arrived was a dramatic departure from the dreamy dress. It was a baby-blue gown with plastic beading in a connect-the-dot pattern and a skirt made of a mesh material. It came in a 10-by-12 envelope postmarked from China.
"The dress didn't look anything like the one on the site; just a cheap knockoff," Davis said.
Davis sent numerous emails to the company complaining about the quality and asking for a refund. Via email, the company told her the dress was "beautiful" and that there could be a "5 percent difference" between the product pictured and the product she received. She did not get a refund and bought her daughter another dress, which cost $500.
"I still cannot believe we spent that much money," Davis said, adding that her daughter's grandmother chipped in as part of her graduation present.
The NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit reached out to dreamprom.com, based in Hong Kong, and fabpartydress.com, based in China. We never got a response from either company.
Neither the Davis family nor the McCuin family ever got a refund.
Experts advise when buying a prom dress online, call the company to ask if it's an authorized dealer. Look for the "Top Prom" logo on the website. It was created by the industry to help identify websites, which are authorized to sell designers.
And if the discount is too deep, it's a red flag.
"I wasn't going to miss prom, so I had to find a new dress," said McCuin, who finally settled on a bright pink high-low dress with golden beading that cost about $200 at Terry Costa. She paired it with matching jewelry and sparkling platform heels.
"It was fun. It was bright, so I was just like, 'This is it,'" she said. "When I saw myself in it, I really liked it."
"She kept saying, 'Say yes to the dress, mom. Say yes to the dress,'" her mother said. "It was yes to the dress because she's beautiful in it."
INSIDE EDITION Investigates Counterfeit Wedding Gowns
It's the most important dress a woman will ever wear: her bridal gown!
Candace Burch of Salt Lake City, Utah, thought she had found her dream wedding dress when she fell in love with a designer gown by Justin Alexander. But, at $4,000, it was way out of her price range.
“It was my budget for my entire wedding,” Burch told INSIDE EDITION.
That was, until she found the exact dress at an online wedding boutique, called Peridress.com.
“The dress was normally thousands of dollars, and here it was for me to order right then for $300,” Burch said.
But, when the dress arrived in the mail, Burch was shocked!
“I pulled it out, and I was horrified,” she said. “It wasn’t the dress they showed in the picture [on Peridress.com]. It was the most hideous dress I have ever seen.”
Instead of an actual designer dress, Burch received a poorly-made knock-off gown.
“It looks like I am wearing a white trash bag,” she said as she tried on the gown for INSIDE EDITION’s cameras.
The material of the counterfeit dress was thin and cheap. The beautiful, crystal embellishments on the designer’s gown had been replaced with cheap sequins--like the kind used on Halloween costumes.
Even worse, it was only weeks away from Burch’s wedding date!
“I was on the brink of canceling my entire wedding,” she said.
INSIDE EDITION found Burch isn’t alone. Hundreds of brides say they have been mislead by counterfeit wedding gown websites that not only copy the designs, but use the designer's own photographs to advertise their knockoffs.
We wanted to see for ourselves, so INSIDE EDITION’s I-Squad ordered a beautiful, taffeta gown by wedding dress designer, Maggie Sottero. The gown is one of the most popular in the country and retails for around $1,200. But, at Eweddingdressshops.com, we paid only $477.00 - less than half the cost.
A month later, our wedding gown arrived. But, INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero discovered it did not come from the designer, it was shipped from China.
Guerrero inspected the gown, and found that the material felt cheap. “It feels like tissue paper,” Guerrero said. The dress was also missing the designer’s label.
In addition to the dress, we also received a shabby-looking veil. It looked like mosquito netting.
“That's just sad,” Guerrero said, examining the veil.
How do our internet gowns compare? We put the real Maggie Sottero gown next to the dress we bought online, and asked Randy Fenoli, star of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” to take a look.
Fenoli said one of the biggest differences between our internet gown and the authentic dress was the length of the train, or the back of the dress.
“When you order [the real dress] from Maggie Sottero you’re going to get a really dramatic, beautiful train,” Fenoli said.
When compared to the real gown, the counterfeit Maggie Sottero’s train looked significantly shorter, and less dramatic.
Also, the beading on the counterfeit gown looked nothing like the designer dress:
“[On the real Maggie Sottero gown] you're going to see glass crystals, little tiny miniature pearls, glass cut beads, and this is beautifully done,” Fenoli said as he showed Guerrero the beading on the real designer gown.
“But, if you look [at the counterfeit gown], what you're going to see is a lot of big, plastic silver sequins,” said Fenoli.
They were just like the sequins on the counterfeit dress Burch received.
“I would be horrified to see someone walking down the aisle, let alone myself, in this [counterfeit dress],” Burch said.
Fortunately for her, a local bridal store in Salt Lake City, The Perfect Dress heard about Burch’s story and offered to give her credit in their shop towards a new gown. As if that wasn’t enough, Burch’s friends also pitched in money towards her new dress.
“All my friends rallied together and said we will buy your dress, any dress in the store,” she said.
On her wedding day, Burch said she felt like every bride should: beautiful.
HOW TO AVOID BUYING A COUNTERFEIT WEDDING GOWN
Tips from the owners of The Perfect Dress, Salt Lake City, UT
• Bridal gown manufacturers do not sell their gowns online. They only sell their dresses through authorized retailers.
• Just because a website uses a designer’s own photos, doesn’t mean you’ll be getting the real thing.
• A counterfeit bridal website often asks for a lot of measurements, many more than any manufacturer or legitimate bridal store will ever need. That is an indication that the website is creating the dress from scratch, and is not working with the real designer.
• If the an online bridal store’s hours are strange, such as they want you to only contact them at 1am or 2am in the morning, that is something to be concerned about.
• If you are looking online to purchase a gown because you think it will save you money, try talking with a bridal consultant at a shop instead. They work with manufacturers and can help you find a gown within your budget.