Thursday, February 28, 2008

Err, Define Gemach For Me Please?

A friend with a wedding coming up decided that she was not going to go crazy on the clothes for herself, for the kallah and for the sisters. She reasoned that going to a wedding gemach was the correct way to do things. And then she went. And then she came home in just a bit of a shock. The problem? The cost.

Now granted, clothes that have been worn before have to be cleaned before another person, particularly a stranger, can wear them again. If you return the gown uncleaned the three gemachs my friend went to charge $100 for the cleaning. (Note: my local cleaner gave me a price of $60 for a wedding gown--can you spell ripoff?)

Then there are the alterations. People aren't really one size fits all. There will need to be a nip here, a tuck there. One kallah is 5'2"--another 5'7". The hem will need to go up and down. What can alterations run? From a "paltry" $100 and up, way up.

The gowns aren't free unless you can prove you are an indigent bride with zero money. Here is where the fun part starts. What kind of gown are you looking to rent? If you want to be the first one to wear the gown, you're going to pay a premium for the pleasure. Want a gown that is up to the minute in style, that is today's look? You're going to pay for that. Don't care about the designer or who wore the dress before? You are still going to pay plenty.

So my friend found gowns in each gemach she went to that would "do" and then she added up the prices. That's when she came home. For four dresses that would be worn only once and which she would not own when the wedding was over, the cheapest price she had been given was $2200. That wasn't for designer gowns. That wasn't for being the first wearer. And that wasn't cleaning the dresses after wearing them. And that also was not petticoats for under the gowns and it wasn't for the headpiece and veil either.

Instead of the gemachs, she ended up making a few trips into New Jersey. She also visited some shops that are resale stores. She got online. In the end her purchases were a mix of new and resale. Luckily for her, her daughter didn't care about having all the clothes coordinate in color and style. Everyone got something that looked good on them. Total cost for four complete outfits by not going to a gemach? $1400, including all the petticoats, the headpiece and even the bride's shoes.

Each of the dresses has been worn at least twice since that wedding. The kallah lent her dress to a friend. Yup, the friend needed to do a little alteration, which was basically her cost for the gown. It wasn't like the first kallah was going to wear it again, after all. The kallah's mother wore the same dress to each of her daughter's weddings. And when the dresses had no more active use in this friend's family, she donated them to a gemach. A gemach that is going to charge some kallah and her siblings and her mother more than what my friend paid to begin with.

If frum people think that going to a gemach is the answer to their budgeting dreams, let them keep in mind that it could also be the start of their overspending nightmares. Don't just assume that a gemach is cheaper than other alternatives. You know what they say about people who assume things.


Anonymous said...

Let me guess. Your friend went to the Flatbush gemachs. I was there in one of them with my sister and her daughter the kallah. They showed us a very nice dress and then told us that the price would be $1800 to RENT the dress, alterations not included. It was one of those never worn before ones. What, are the tzedakas looking to turn a profit now? What do they do with the money they earn? They buy more dresses.

Looking Forward said...

thats aweful!

Knitter of shiny things said...

Wow. That's pretty ridiculous that they charge that much money. Maybe some people should get together and start a new dress gemach that rents the dresses out at cost. People would stop going to the overpriced gemachs and then they would have to start charing a reasonable amount of money.

Either that, or the rabbis who have spoken out in the past against spending insane sums of money on weddings should speak out against gemachs charging insane amounts of money for dress rentals.

Bas~Melech said...

Does this friend care to share her methods? I'd like to have a chat with her before I get married...

Anonymous said...

We are talking here about a bride's dress that is going to be worn once? Took my life in my hands and asked my wife the question that if she paid 1800.00 for a dress how many times she would end up wearing that dress. She told me she would probably end up being buried in it that's how much she would be wearing it. Then I said how about a wedding dress and her answer was that's different. Just maybe the ladies need to look at things differently?

Anonymous said...

Wow, another blockbuster post.

What a fraud... I can understand asking for money to cover cleaning and alterations (expenses) and maybe for v-o-l-u-n-t-a-r-y contributions, but to charge money like that ?

Outfits like that should be removed from gemach lists. Or maybe those big gemach lists should include disclaimers. Or perhaps separated into categories, e.g. A) old-fashioned, totally free gemachs, B) those that charge for expenses, C) those that charge beyond expenses. Any listings of them should SPELL OUT CLEARLY any fees involved.

This is a very serious issue of geneivas daas.

I believe there is a similar situation with some flower gemachs, which have artificial flowers and charge for their use. Maybe there still are significant savings, so chesed is involved, but 'gemach' carries a connotation of free loan and if something doesn't work like that, they should put it out in the open for everyone to see.

With what other type of gemachs does this situation prevail ? I assume there still are some 'old-fashioned' ones where the stuff is still really free of charge, but I wonder how much this creeping commercialization has already infiltrated the gemach world, which has grown so much in recent years. Who knows, maybe some are paying those who run and work with them as well.

Some of these gemachs benefit from free advertising in newspapers and lists. If they don't meet a certain standard they could be delisted.

Who is watching the gemachs ? Time for a gemach watchdog ?

I don't mean to cast aspersions of those tzaddikim and tzidkoniyos that work lishem shomayim and have done great things, but it seems that some less high-minded people have now gotten into the act and are posing as the real thing when they are not so.

I hereby propose the TRUTH IN GEMACHS BILL OF 5768.

Anonymous said...

I bought my dress and had it altered for less than $300 (including everything), then gave it to a friend to use, then donated to a gemach. So, bas~melech, it is possible to do it, you just need to know how to do it, and have to ability to think outside the frum mentality.

Anonymous said...

Not just thinking out of the box that is needed but shopping outside of the frum areas and away from the high price stores. Last season's new bridal gown at Davids Bridal Outlet in South Jersey was on the sale rack for $199. With alterations I paid $317 for a new dress. Also got the headpiece on sale--total with the extra veil was $64. Best buy though were three dresses for my little nieces--$11 each. Know what? Everyone thought the dresses were beautiful.

G said...

Funny stuff(from Google): Gemach...

-A Hebrew abbreviation composed of the three Hebrew letters gimmel, mem and ches, it stands for gemillas chasodim which literally translates as "acts of kindness". A gemach is commonly an organisation that has a store of something which it lends out for free.

Whoops, guess THAT needs to be updated.

Anonymous said...

Might as well mention the unmentionable. People go and overpay at the gemachs because they make out their checks to a charity and take the expense as a charity deduction. Since they don't own the dresses they haven't gotten any goods for their money. Nice trick there.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone point to one single frum practice that doesn't have a kink that needs real straightening out? Please, someone show me one thing that we do that doesn't have a real problem buried somewhere. What have we done to ourselves?

halfshared said...

As someone who has been looking to rent a gown for myself and my sisters for my brothers wedding, I can say that it's true. Renting a gown has become a total ripoff. I ended finding something in Clifton, NJ (a Non-Jewish place). It's beautiful and will be sewn up for me with my specifications, for $300. In the Jewish places I went to, they asked for minimum $500 and they wouldn't make it to my size exactly..they'd make it a general size 2 and then any alterations that would be needed, I"d have to pay for it myself. That's highway robbery IMHO. If I'm paying to have something sewn up for me, shouldn't the gown be made with my figure in mind??

Scraps said...

I bought an outfit off the rack at Macy's for my sister's wedding. Fit me like it was made for me, no alterations needed--and I know it fit well, because people asked me if I got it made! And the best part is, it was fancy enough to wear to my sister's wedding but not too fancy to wear to other weddings. And all for under $300! :)

Anonymous said...

I am glad my wife fit into my mother's dress. It apparently saved much aggravation. (Although that was decades ago, so maybe things were different.) Unfortunately, I don't think either of my oldest daughters will fit it, so I will probably have to deal with this soon.

Anonymous said...

After we went to one of the Gemachs to look for gowns my mother came back furious at what they were charging. She now refers to them as the "Gimmees." We spent 1/3 of what they were asking and got twice as much.

Anonymous said...

d, only problem with your Truth in Gemachs bill is that the gemachs are part of the circle that has veto power over our legislation. Want to take a bet that they vote against the bill?

Anonymous said...

Before my wedding, I told my mother that I refused to make a gown, thinking that it was a huge waste of money. After going to a bunch of gemachs and rentals I changed my mind- made a gown, bought the veil, headpiece, and shoes, all for about a thousand dollars less (and well under $1000)than it would have been to "gemach" said items. CRAZY!!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine (IJW), when I told him about this, quipped along the lines of 'maybe (at times) gemach is notarikon for gei mach (gelt)'.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was just another bunch of blog kvetching. How is it possible that groups set up to help kallahs could be like this and the world wouldn't be screaming about it. This week we went to those gemachs looking for dresses for my wedding. You all are not only right but it's worse then what you all said.

We're going to NJ today and from what I see I'm going to save a lot of money that way. Where are all the articles that aren't written about how the gemachs rip you off?

Anonymous said...

Wow, strong words from kallah there !

Mazal tov, by the way, and if you can, update us again re your shopping.

I think we could put this into broader perspective.

It can be compared to other things, e.g. some food products or certain clothing items, where years ago some of us would purchase general American brands that could be used, as is or adapted for our special requirements, but then 'Yiddishe' or 'heimishe' brands became available and some then switched to them, for various reasons, whether they claimed improved reliability re basic kashrus, kashrus related hiddurim, giving a fellow Yid parnosso, kids came back from school saying that we must use them, or maybe just because the local small store started carrying them and dropped the others, so when one needed something quick and closeby, it was the only one available.

Over time, people became so used to the new way and hooked on it, that they almost forgot about the old way. When the new way became too expensive or the product too inferior and the customers not treated properly, they were stuck.

Some brave and hardy souls however, with good memories, who still retained an independent streak, remembered that there was an alternative, then reverted back to the general brands in protest against the intolerable heimishe monopoly.

An expression comes to mind - 'power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely'.

That is what is necessary here. These monopolies must be broken or alternative ways must be found.

Anonymous said...

The gemachs were sold to us as being the only place where you could find tzenua clothing. Yes, they don't have sleeveless or cut out dresses but they are not the only place where you can find this. My mother found a beautiful dress that was sleeveless in a regular store. Even with ordering extra material and making long sleeves she paid way less then she would have at the gemachs. If the gemachs are a monopoly it's only because people let them be not because it's actually true. It's laziness not tznius that sends people to the gemachs.

Anonymous said...

Devoiri, thanks for chiming in.

That brings a thought to mind here that I would be interested to hear others comment on.

Maybe part of the problem is that many of those who are involved with getting such garments these days are not adept at sewing and altering. The older generation of balabustas were perhaps better at that. Those who are not good at it, have to hire someone to do it, so that makes things more difficult, complicated and expensive. So they look to a 'gemach' instead.

Even if you do not think this point is relevant here, however, I would like to also raise the question, in general, if the newer generations of bnos Yisroel are as adequately trained in domestic arts such as sewing, cooking, and baking, as their forebears were.

I understand that those who will work outside the home in modern careers are busy learning other skills to earn a nice income, so they have less time for the domestic arts, as opposed to e.g. Satmar girls. They might also say that they will be lacking time to practice them and they could easily hire someone to do such things for them if they make a nice salary.

Nevertheless, I wonder if it still is something that those who deal with such things should give thought to.

In the past, I would sometimes hear of balabustas who made clothes for their children. Nowadays I get the impression that it is quite rare to nonexistent. Is it because people are too busy, it doesn't pay, they don't know how to, are not comfortable doing so, or what?

ProfK said...

I hope you won't mind but you've given me an idea here for a posting and it needs to ruminate just a bit. You'll get your answer, but patience please.

Anonymous said...

While you're ruminating I came up with this -

Send a girl to a gemach, clothe her for a day. Teach a girl to sew, clothe her for life.

What we need is a gemach for sewing lessons (many a truth is said in jest) !

Why is it that shidduch profiles don't routinely state if the girl can sew ? The devaluing of old ways has gone too far. The frum claim to have rejected feminism, but it has infiltrated their camp at times.

I am reminded of something I heard from my mother. In the old country when they were looking over a girl as potential daughter-in-law they would evaluate her by giving her a tangle of yarn (thread?) to unravel, to test her patience. Anyone ever hear that one ?

Although patience was stressed there, in the background was also the theme of knowing your way around thread and fabric.

Try that on for size !

Keep ruminating, that is a sign of kashrus ! And others should take up the pastime as well.

By the way, re kol korehs, I believe Zev Brenner said on the radio last night that a major frum media outlet would announce soon that they wouldn't be accepting ads for kol korehs unless they were verified. So the repercussions from Lipagate continue to be felt.

Commenter Abbi said...


your second to last theory is interesting, but most bridal stores are well equipped to do alterations. No need to be an "expert" at sewing to have this need taken care of. And as many people pointed out already, even with alterations, the dresses were much cheaper at the bridal stores.

It's a matter of using your brain and comparing prices, not whether you can sew.

As for domestic arts, I'd much rather buy decent, inexpensive clothing for myself and my children and spend the time with my children at the park or a museum or reading a book or playing a game than hunched over a sewing machine. ( I also much prefer my part time work at home job that helps me pay for cleaning help).

Everyone makes the choices that are best for themselves and their families. Since there are only 24 hrs/day, everyone has to set their own priorities.

Commenter Abbi said...

"The frum claim to have rejected feminism, but it has infiltrated their camp at times."

Also, when exactly is the average kollel wife, who is the usually the main breadwinner, supposed to have time to sew her own clothes, on top of all the other responsibilities she has?

If anything, the average kollel guy probably has more time for such things.

You sound like you're not really in touch with the way most young frum families live today.

Anonymous said...

NJ rocks! One kallah's gown, two mothers dresses and 5 dresses for my sisters and his sisters cost us $2700 in total. And because we bought so many outfits from them they threw in my headpiece for nothing extra. The cheapest gemach rental would have been $5300 plus the cleaning and some of the alterations extra. For used gowns we wouldn't own. We did shop for almost two days but the time was worth it because of the money we didn't end up spending.

I was so happy and called one of my friends to tell her the good news. Her comment was so strange. She asked if the dresses were really the kind of dresses that everyone was wearing because if not it would look kind of weird. I don't think I ever realized before this just how much we all follow some rules that make no sense.

Anyway I can really recommend not going to the gemachs but shopping around instead.

Orthonomics said...

Prof K and Other-Do a search for Mormon Temple Wedding dresses and you will find modest dresses that are attractive at a fractional cost which could most likely be dyed after the event for future smachot.

As for sewing, I buy my children clothing for between $1 and $5 (sometimes an outfit, sometimes a piece). Sewing just isn't cost efficient anymore, although it might pay for wedding dresses in some instances. But, buying clearance dresses and altering them is probably far more efficient, time wise and cost wise.