Tips for buying a used or pre-owned wedding dress

Image Source: Getty / Jamie Grill

With consumers’ growing interest in sustainability, it’s time to consider a more conscious approach to wedding dress shopping, and buying secondhand is a no-brainer option. Celebrity stylist Micaela Erlanger, a recent bride, wore a predominantly vintage look for her April wedding in Miami, emphasizing the sentimental value of her decision. “Looks can be more special when you know you’re wearing something unique and has a back story of its own,” she tells PopSugar. She has years of experience styling clients such as Lupita Nyong’o and Meryl Streep, along with wedding dresses for brides including Amanda Hearst.

Likewise, full-service wedding stylist Gabrielle Hurwitz has spent four years advising brides on their dresses, and knows how many women are willing to resell their used wedding gowns and dresses, often in near-perfect condition. Whether it’s because they don’t have the space to store the dress, or they’ve had a change of heart and never went through with the wedding, there are many reasons why top quality bridal gowns are sold as “used”. In other words, you can get really lucky when you pre-own a wedding look – and you can buy it for a fraction of the price.

Of course, there are a lot of details to keep in mind when budgeting for a wedding dress, so Erlanger and Hurwitz share their best advice.

Whether you suspect potential scammers or just don’t know where to shop, this guide to buying a pre-owned wedding dress is bound to help.

Where to buy a used wedding dress

There are many vintage resale sites that stock bridal, including The RealReal, Shrimpton Couture, Happy Isles, Timeless Vixen, Gossamer, 1stdibs, and even Poshmark. There are also various bridal Facebook groups where dresses are resold. Sites like Still White and Once Wade are a few platforms that are specifically designed to help brides resell their dresses.

Erlanger also noted that after her wedding, she received inquiries via Instagram DM from brides wondering if she was interested in reselling or renting her pieces. “I don’t think it’s very unusual to reach out to someone whose style you admire,” she says. For individual boutiques, Hurwitz names Glamor Closet (with locations in NY, SF, LA and Chicago), The Find Bridal in Miami and Maison Sully in LA.

How much does a used wedding dress cost?

There is a wide range of prices for pre-owned wedding dresses depending on various details such as designer, retail price, intricacy and dress quality/condition. The changes will also reduce the retail price of clothing, Hurwitz notes. For example, a Vera Wang wedding gown sold for $995 on The RealReal, with slight discoloration, missing embellishments and a split seam noted in the description. Meanwhile, Vera Wang’s haute bridal collection starts at around $3k.

Image source: Getty / Westend61

Advantages of buying used wedding dresses

The durability factor is a major advantage of buying a pre-owned gown; By doing this, you are extending the life of a garment and adding to the circular fashion economy.

This is also an advantage for anyone working within a tight budget, as the garment can be more affordable than buying new. For the sentimental type, you might also enjoy the story behind your dress’s journey—especially if you bought the look from someone you know, such as a dear friend or family member.

Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Wedding Dress

There are risks that come with buying a pre-owned wedding dress, but the good news is that you can protect yourself from scams or disappointment by asking questions. When working with a reputable resale company, you should feel comfortable knowing the garment has been verified. You should start by asking your seller these straightforward questions:

  • What is the brand of clothing? If not immediately understood, you should research the dress designer to make sure you are getting a fair retail price for the dress.
  • Have the clothes been changed? Even if you’re wearing the same size dress as the previous bride, an already made dress has been tweaked to fit that person’s body, which isn’t your own. And gowns that have already been changed can be difficult to change back into. Make sure to send all the details to your personal tailor to ensure that the dress can still be adjusted to your liking.
  • What are the dress measurements? Don’t rely on size tags, especially if you’re buying altered clothing. Be sure to specify the measurements you want after the garment is altered.
  • When was the dress worn? You’ll want to learn the history of your dress, including previous wedding dates, so you can estimate what condition it’s in If you are superstitious, you can ask if the bride who wore it last time is still happily married.
  • Have the clothes been cleaned and stored? Depending on where the wedding took place, the dress may suffer from “invisible stains” that can only be removed by a professional cleaner. If the wedding is held outdoors or on the beach, there will likely be additional signs removed that you should be aware of. You also need to find out where the garment is stored for safekeeping (ie in a garment bag, in a smoke-free environment, at home with pets, etc.).
  • Are garments returnable? Most pre-owned wedding dresses are non-returnable, so if you buy it online and it doesn’t fit, you’re out of luck. If the dress is returnable, decide in advance who will pay for the shipping costs so you don’t get stuck with surprise mailing fees.
  • Are additional photos available? If you’re buying it online, don’t be afraid to ask for detailed shots and additional angles of the dress. Never settle for re-posted shots from the designer’s website of the original dress on-model, before wearing it. You can also ask for a video of the dress to understand the texture and movement, or set up a Zoom call with the current owner of the dress if you can’t see in person.
  • Can you share a receipt? As far as clothing designers or labels go, ask for a receipt from the original purchase to make sure you’re not getting scammed by a knockoff. It will also help you compare the original retail price with your own purchase price. For example, if a garment is discounted at the time of original purchase, your own price should be lower.
  • Do you have references? There is nothing wrong with wanting to verify the seller’s legitimacy. Unless you’re buying a pre-owned garment from a reputable store or online resource, you’ll want to make sure the seller has experience reselling the garment.
  • Are additional accessories available? Check to see if you’re getting an all-inclusive deal. There are often sashes, veils, brooches and other embellishments that come with a bridal look, which you may not have available.

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