Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Dress

This weekend I am attending a wedding. Before the beautiful celebration, I am reminded of the perennial question of why brides purchase their wedding gowns while grooms typically rent their tuxedos. Men have the occasion to re-wear tuxedos at a variety of other events (other weddings, funerals, baptisms, retirement parties, etc) whereas most women will never re-wear their wedding dress. So why not rent a gown?

I think the wedding gown is an artifact of the dowry days, when the bride's father sold the lucky lady to the husband-to-be. Under those conditions, it was hard for the groom to ex ante observe the quality of the good he was purchasing. A low-quality woman could cost the man the ability to propagate his genetic material and effectively contribute to the household production. Thus, costly signaling mechanisms served to indicate the bride's quality. Dowry was part of this, no doubt. But last minute butterflies may still prevent exchange. Purchasing a garment that indicates the bride's status and quality (pure white, perhaps?) may have served to communicate the uniqueness, and quality of the woman.

Any other possible explanations for this seemingly inefficient social convention?

1 comment:

Justin M Ross said...

The signal is costly, but it can be faked since the quality features seem to have little to do with being able to recoup costs.

I think they must buy it because women require more customization in their dresses, so the question may really be to understand why women require (or need or want) more customization than men.