Online dress shopping: Deals or disasters?

Dresses were purchased from three online websites, dresses arrived between 45- 48 days later from China.
Dresses were purchased from three online websites, dresses arrived between 45- 48 days later from China.
Material from one prom dress, was flimsy, and really thin, making for unreliable party dress.
Material from one prom dress, was flimsy, and really thin, making for unreliable party dress.

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - You've probably seen them on your Facebook feed - ads for really cute outfits for a dirt-cheap price. You may have been tempted to buy, especially since it's prom season. But before you do, WMBF News Anchor Christel Bell did some shopping and has a warning to prevent you from going from deal to disaster.

Great fashion is rarely cheap, so when you can find an outfit for under $30, why not? Dozens of fashion websites pop up on social media feeds, flooding your newsfeed on Facebook with advertisements for fairly frugal deals. But even at a low price, are these deals really worth the price you pay?

We decided to find out, and on board for our online shopping spree is WMBF New Reporter Erin Edwards.

The pictures and prices are a bargain. We ordered from three websites: Dress Lily, Rose we and Link She. Almost 45 days later, after a long journey from China, our dress arrives tightly wrapped in plastic packages.

Erin orders a party dress, one maxi dress, and two prom dresses, while Christel orders one work dress.

Using the fitting rooms at Fancy Frocks Prom and Bridal in Carrells Inlet, the ladies are ready to try on their new threads.

Erin first tries on her $25 off-the-shoulder party dress, and this outfit is no 'life of the party' as the material turns out to be really stiff and wrinkle, with with no shape.

Paula Farish, owner of Fancy Frocks, is first concerned the material will tear. "I think it might rip", says Farish. Erin says the dress is not flattering and flirty as the picture comes across. "It's like a tablecloth," said Erin. 

"It's like what they make the breathable bags out of," said Farish as she holding the wine colored dress. 

From there it only gets worse. Our $12.99 ombre maxi dress didn't deliver either, but there was one thing about this number that took Erin aback.

"It smells really bad when you open it, it has this scent. It kind of got a little aired out, but it's when you first opened it, it kind of hits you," explained Erin, who also say the material of the dress is not what it looks like in the picture. 

As far as the material, Farish wasn't sure what kind of material it was, but she did have an explanation for the odor.

"Sometimes it's a terrible pesticide smell, where they used pesticides on the boats that they ship the dresses over on to kill the rats, but that one to me smelled more like dye, almost like that fabric, that is very unusual, I don't even know what it is, perhaps it didn't absorb the dye properly," said Farish.

Our $26 dollar gown was the biggest disappointment. After taking it out of the package, it looked more like cheap lingerie rather than an elegant gown featured on the website. In fact, the material was so thin and transparent we didn't allow Erin to try it on. We discovered faded white lines in the material, and it in the picture, it was a layered gown designed to give a flowing look, but our dress was only one layer and it came just below the knee.

Farish showed a gown at Fancy Frock that looks similar to the dress on the website, but when we put the dress side by side, there simply was no comparison.

Unfortunately, it's a fashion faux pas for this pink sweet heart dress. We immediately notice the cheap sequins and ripped fabric for this $8.99 dud.

Farish says it's unfortunate that many young girls and woman experience these fashion fails. "It's very sad, especially if you are dealing with a prom girl or a bride, and they're expectation is they're getting this beautiful dress like the picture, and they get this,"  Farish said, while pointing to one of the dresses received.

Farish explained retailers like herself across the nation are fighting back. She says the American Bridal and Prom Industry of America is working with legislators to stop these deceiving sites.

"They have made some headway and they stopped some of them but it's easier to go after them through the shipping than through their website, because as soon as they go after the website, the website disappears," Farish explains.

On the website, you'll find rave reviews for the dresses we ordered, but search the internet, and you'll find there's no shortage of bad reviews and thousands of official complaints from disappointed women who wasted their money. The Better Business Bureau says they're not able to go after these companies because they are based outside the U.S..

"I think people need to understand that you get what you pay for, often times, I like to talk to people about thinking local first because that's so important to do business with people you know." Farish agrees.

Dr. D'Ambrosio says consumers should be alert, and aware when shopping online, because not every site can be trusted. He also says to look for incorrect grammar and misspelled words on the site. Parish says be mindful of images on the site that have the model's head cut off. She say's it's very possible the images were taken from another website.

In the end, one website offered me a partial refund without returning the merchandise. I got back close to $15 of my total $33 purchase. The other website gave me a full refund, and recommended donating the clothing to a charity. Not all was lost, however. The work dress we ordered from the last company was not bad. The material was of good quality, but the dress didn't look exactly like the picture, but it was close. For $20, it works.

We reached out to the companies for comment but neither responded to our request. In a statement on Link She's website, the company says, "We promise to source only the best consumer goods and ensure the highest quality possible."

Dress Lily said, "Our goal is always to provide our customers with stunning, high quality fashion products at down to earth prices."

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