Secondhand wedding dress shopping? It’s a buyer’s market

(Field Notes)

Beverly Yip had always envisioned getting married in a gown from a bridal line like Monique Lhuillier, Berta or Casablanca. The former owner of a rental business that provided linens, glassware and other supplies for weddings, Yip, who sold that company in 2017, had identified favorite designers by taking note of what other brides were wearing.

By the time she became engaged in February 2021, “I never thought I’d be the bride,” Yip, 44, said. Another scenario she had never imagined? Purchasing a gown secondhand.

Her hunt for a wedding dress began at a Monique Lhuillier store near her home in San Francisco, where she found the experience somewhat intimidating. “It was like that ‘Pretty Woman’ scene — no one even offered to let me try on a dress,” she said. “I guess I didn’t look like I could afford it.”

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Appointments at other stores, including David’s Bridal, followed. But Yip, who now works in software sales, couldn’t find anything that justified spending thousands of dollars. She soon expanded her search to secondhand retailers, starting with the website Queenly, where she had previously resold a formal dress. After days of browsing, she ended up buying a pre-owned Jovani gown from the website for $500 to wear at her June 26 nuptials.

The strapless ivory dress, which has a pointed sweetheart neckline, a crystal embellished waistband and a high leg slit, “feels like me,” Yip said.

“You can find a dress that makes you feel beautiful on a budget — you can save thousands of dollars,” she added. “You just have to be willing to do a little digging.”

Lately, at many secondhand retailers, there have been more — a lot more — wedding dresses to dig through than in past years, offering brides like Yip an even better chance of finding gowns that fit their style and budget.

Nikki Pak, 36, an independent business and career coach in Hamilton, New Zealand, drove two hours to pick up a dress she had purchased on Still White, a website that specializes in selling pre-owned bridal gowns, in February 2021.

“I was five months pregnant at the time,” said Pak, whose nuptials took place the following month at a vineyard on Waiheke Island. “I organized the wedding in just three months,” she added.

Pak paid around $370 for the dress by designer Stella York, which had retailed for $2,500, according to its listing. “I didn’t want to spend thousands on a dress,” she said, “because I was pregnant. We wanted to get married quickly.”

“I actually got on really well with the woman I bought it from,” Pak added. “I even sent her a photo of me wearing it on my wedding day.”

At Vestiaire Collective, a luxury resale website, the number of listings for wedding dresses between March 2020 and March 2022 increased by 527% when compared with the two-year period between March 2018 and March 2020, said Amber Lopez, a brand partnership and influence manager at the company.

Purchases of wedding dresses from Vestiaire Collective, which has no listing fee and earns 12% of each total sale, have increased by 480% when comparing those same two-year periods, Lopez added.

Still White, which charges a $20 listing fee but takes no commission on sales, has more than 60,000 wedding dresses available for prices that range from $10 to $60,000, said its founder, Ingrid Szajer.

Jenna Wolf, 34, a stay-at-home parent in Bloomfield, Michigan, bought a “Vera” gown by Lee Petra Grebenau to wear at the destination wedding she was planning to hold in Miami in May 2020. When the pandemic arrived, she at first kept her fingers crossed for the dream event she thought could still happen. “I was optimistic, but then Miami shut down,” she said, “and the venue canceled our wedding.”

That spring, Wolf and her husband ended up marrying at a courthouse in Los Angeles, where they lived at the time, largely because he needed to be on her insurance plan. Then they had a child and now, she said, “I’m pregnant with No. 2.” The wedding gown she had purchased for $7,500, she added, is “not going to fit me.”

Unworn, it is currently listed for $6,000 on Still White.

“The dress was the second biggest expense after the venue,” Wolf said. “I was sort of sad” to list it for resale, she added, “and there were a few weeks where I just cried. But the excitement of the baby helped.”

Oke Oghene, 31, who lives in Astoria, Queens, said she originally purchased two dresses to wear at the wedding she was planning in Brooklyn in 2020: “One for the ceremony and one for the reception.”

When that event was canceled because of the pandemic, “I ended up having the wedding in a conference room in a Marriott, in Long Island,” said Oghene, who works as a paraprofessional in a public school. “So I just wore the reception dress for that.”

The gown she did not wear, which was supposed to be for her ceremony, came from Vera Wang and retailed for $1,000. Oghene, who said she bought it on sale for $600 at a time when stores were slashing prices because of the pandemic, is now selling it on Still White for $800.

“I don’t feel sad about selling it, because I never wore it. There’s no emotional attachment,” she said. “The dress I did wear, I’ll keep forever.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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