Wedding Dress Redux

Brides Say “I Do” to Pre-Owned Wedding Dresses
Bride-to-be Flavia Oliveira of Boston had fallen in love with an ivory silk and satin Priscilla of Boston wedding dress with a jeweled neckline—a dress “that looked a little vintage and had character.” Since the company had gone out of business in 2011, she went online to sites featuring pre-owned, or “recycled” wedding dresses. First, she found RecycledBride.com, where, she says “Not only were people selling their used gowns but there were also shop owners selling their sample ones.”

Another favorite spot for wedding dress finds is PreownedWeddingDresses.com, launched by Josie Daga after she tried and failed to sell her own wedding dress. Using her experience as an advertising manager at Nike and other companies, Daga launched the first site where brides could buy or sell pre-owned dresses and bridal accessories. Transactions have grow 40% or more each year.

“The recession in 2008 and 2009 put the spotlight on frugality,” Daga says.

Simplifying Weddings

There were just over two million marriages in the U.S. in 2011. The average cost of a new wedding dress the same year was about $1,300 according to several bridal industry surveys. Pre-owned dresses generally sell for about half of the retail price

Daga has also noticed a broader cultural shift. In the past, brides often held on to their wedding dresses for a daughter to wear. Today’s brides want their daughters to have their own bridal shopping experience. “Finding the dress is a rite of passage,” she says.

And then there’s all the waste. After her own wedding, Tracy DiNunzio of Santa Monica, California, was troubled by all the one-time-use products she had purchased for her wedding—including her dress. “I realized that there were all these products I was using just one time. I’d spent a lot of money and wasn’t taking advantage of the full product life cycle.”

Bargain-Hunting Brides

DiNunzio launched RecycledBride.com in 2009. “When we started, about 6% of brides were shopping for or selling a gently used wedding dress. Now that number is closer to 20%,” DiNunzio says. In just three years, traffic at her website climbed from a few thousand to 400,000 visitors per month.

San Francisco bride-to-be Gina Cutter is planning a July 2013 wedding in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. When faced with buying a wedding dress she says, “It just seemed so ridiculous to spend so much money for a dress I was only going to wear once.”

She found her dress of choice—by designer Vatana Watters—at PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com for just $425—about half the retail price. Cutter exchanged emails and photos with the seller. “After a couple emails I felt like she was almost a friend,” she says.

Daga says her customers want to share their excitement over a special dress. “They love it so much they want someone else to enjoy it,” she says, adding that, from an environmental perspective, “This is an idea that makes sense.”

Brides who are pressed for time also benefit from buying a pre-owned dress. A new dress can take six months or longer to produce after an order is placed; a pre-owned dress can be quickly delivered. Even Bravo TV’s Real Housewife of Atlanta Kim Zolciak used PreownedWeddingDresses.com to purchase a crystal-encrusted $58,000 Baracci dress when she had just one month to plan her 2011 wedding.

Do major bridal retailers see pre-owned sales as competition? Christy Rabil, public relations manager at David’s Bridal, which operates more than 300 stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, says pre-owned wedding dress sales are “not something we monitor for at this time.”

Boston bride Oliveira will wear the pre-owned dress at her Rio de Janeiro wedding this year and feels good about her purchase. “I like the concept of recycling these dresses because they are so expensive and so much material goes into them,” she says. E


MARY CHAFFEE is a science, nature and environmental writer living on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.