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It may well be the most important garment many of us will ever buy. A single item, around which dreams — and entire TV programmes — are made.

What’s more, this dress is usually only ever worn once. It’s that one-time-only aspect which makes a bridal gown so special — and is pretty much why Julie Strong came to Fair Go.

Like most brides, Strong wanted the perfect dress, and that’s what she thought she’d purchased online from bridal boutique Love & Lace based in Mackay, Queensland.

Strong happily paid the $965 for the designer Stella York gown and had it shipped to her hometown Matamata.

Julie Strong with her damaged wedding dress from Australian business Love & Lace.

She told Fair Go she wasn’t planning on buying a dress online but when she discovered the Australian designer had stopped making the ‘Princess Ballgown’ she realised she’d be lucky to find it in New Zealand — and even luckier to find it on sale for $2250 — less than half the usual price.

The slashed price didn’t worry Strong — several New Zealand stores offer similar discounts for their Stella York gowns.

And she’d done all the right things — she checked the dress sizing and colour with the boutique, pointing out she lived in New Zealand, so wouldn’t be able to view the dress in person. She also read up on the store’s terms and conditions, which stated there were no refunds for sale gowns.

“I thought if the dress didn’t fit or I didn’t like it, I could always try to sell it because it was a new gown at a really good price,” Strong explained.

But when the Stella York gown finally arrived at her home in Matamata, Strong discovered the dress was damaged — torn and stained. She said it didn’t look like a new wedding dress at all.

“I turned it around and I saw the back and I could just see the button loops were all stretched and broken, and I could see some tears in the illusion lace and marks on it. The lace looked a bit yellowing.”

The damage to a wedding dress Julie Strong bought from Australia's Love & Lace.

Strong said she was “so confused and just really disappointed”.

She messaged Love & Lace and it responded as if the reasons for the damage were obvious, saying: “All sale wedding gowns are sample gowns. Hence the massive reduction in pricing.”

Strong retraced her steps online but couldn’t find anything on the dress listing that mentioned the word sample or damage.

Love & Lace argued it does have a disclaimer on a page called ‘Wedding Sale Aisle’ but Strong said this was quite hard to find.

The company offered to send Strong new loops and a hook and eye and refund her the $100 she spent on extra lace motifs.

But Strong said that goes nowhere near covering the cost of repairs and a $350-$380 dry cleaning bill.

“I respect her store policy of no refunds on sale items,” Strong said.

“But I also think you have to be honest and upfront with the condition of the dress and they weren’t.”

Industry insider weighs in

Fair Go asked the opinion of industry insider Lori McPherson, who’s been running Astra Bridal for more than 20 years.

She’s seen photos of Strong’s dress and said as a bridal retailer: “I would not be proud to put my name behind that dress.”

“I thought it was pretty severe. It showed that the dress had been put on someone who was too big for it, probably repeatedly. So it had been stretched, the button loops had blown out.”

McPherson said that in her outlet store there’s a clear distinction between the brand new gowns or ones off the rack.

She said before any of the gowns are sold they are inspected, checked for faults and repaired.

“We have to treat all our dresses with respect because it’s actually someone’s wedding dress, no matter when or how they buy it.”

Strong, though, has not given up.

Under Australian consumer law, a business can’t create a false or misleading overall impression about a product, be it its price, value or quality.

It doesn’t matter if an item was purchased on sale, the consumer guarantees still apply.

With Love & Lace saying it hadn’t done anything wrong and sticking to its no-refunds, no returns policy on sale items, Strong first tried Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading but they could only mediate, rather than say who’s right or wrong.

Strong’s now looking to fight her case through Queensland’s small claims court.

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