Before: Buying the Second-hand Dress

24 Jul

15 first-hand tips on buying a second-hand wedding gown

In last week’s thrilling episode, you found out why I went for a pre-loved wedding dress. I have found very few guides online about how to go about buying a second-hand bridal gown, so I thought it would be great to share what I learned from the process, with other brides looking at the same option for their dream dress. (Also, check out this earlier post for general tips on shopping for your wedding gown.)

So here are my tips for second-hand dress buying. I hope you find these helpful, and please add your own suggestions in the comments field below!

1. If you know that you want to buy a second-hand wedding gown, check first if your city has any wedding dress consignment stores, where you can go in person to try on any frocks immediately. This is the fastest option, as you’ll see straight away if the dress is right for you, plus skip any postage costs and waiting time.

2. I visited several regular bridal stores (that is, carrying new dresses) before deciding to go pre-loved, so went into the second-hand process with a specific dress already in mind. This was a little bit of an obstacle and added a lot of extra work to track down that exact dress. If you want a second-hand gown but have no luck at consignment stores, skip the stores of new dresses and look for what styles are actually available, in your size, on online classifieds. That’s a much faster (and far less frustrating!) approach.

3. If you are seeking a specific dress, find out the designer and name of the design. That way, you can type the name into classified ads website searches, or even just into a search engine for your country (for example,, so that you only get local UK results), instead of trawling through every ad for every dress available out there. Keep in mind that this is not 100% reliable, as some brides don’t know the name of their dress design and won’t mention it in their ad. Start with ads for your city, again so you can try it on straight away, plus skip any postage and packing costs by picking it up in person.

4. Don’t be afraid to contact sellers whose ads were posted a long time ago. There are countless styles of gowns, and the wedding dress decision is very much a matter of personal taste – so it can take months (or even years!) to match a seller to a buyer.

Remember: there’s so such thing as a cursed dress (though this one is pretty scary!)

5. Worried about buying a cursed dress from a bride who’s already divorced, or even who was abandoned at the altar? (This is the first thing my sister asked me. Thanks, sis.) Firstly, there’s no such thing as a cursed dress (gowns don’t fail at marriage, people do); and, secondly, if you don’t want to know, just don’t ask! Most brides won’t volunteer the details on why they’re selling their gown, so save yourself the angst and just assume the seller is another bride who realized the day after their wedding that they’ll never use their dress again, or adores their dress so much that they want it to go to a loving home and light up the life of another bride. (Much nicer!)

6. If buying from a different country, check if the sizing is different there, and take that into account when contacting sellers. If in doubt, ask the seller their regular clothing size and whether the dress was tight, loose or a perfect fit, to give you a better idea. (Remember that if you’re buying a corset-back dress, this bodice style allows some wiggle room with size.)

7. Find out from the seller what alterations have been done on the dress – for example, adding a bustle or taking the dress in to accommodate a small chest. This will not only tell you if you need to rule out a dress (if you, by contrast, are a busty lass), but what further alterations you might need – and how much it will cost you to do so.

8. Ask what height the seller is, what height heel they wore, and how far the dress hem sat above the floor when they walked. If the dress hem has been adjusted for the height of a “vertically challenged” bride and you are taller, you will have to rule the dress out – hems on wedding dresses can generally only be raised, not dropped. (I myself had to rule out two of the three “Ellen”s I found for this very reason. One very obliging seller took a picture of herself wearing the wedding dress and standing on books stacked up to be equal to my height, so that I could see where it finished in relation to the floor. Bless her little heart!)

9. Request pictures of their dress (not just the catalogue images) and details about any damage, like marks or rips. Most wedding gowns are only worn a few hours and get little wear and tear, but if you have concerns ask for close-up pictures of damage. (My gown has some marks on it. Some will disappear when the hem is sliced and diced; others I will get dry-cleaned away.)

10. Ask if the seller has an accompanying petticoat/hoop or veil. The seller won’t need those anymore either, you already know they match the dress, and the seller might throw them in for free.

11. For price, check out how much the gown normally costs new in the store so you have something to compare it to. Don’t be afraid to haggle on the pricetag; wedding dress tastes are so individual that it’s unlikely the seller is beating off bidders with a stick. The worst they can say is no!

12. Also, for purchasing from abroad, find out postage costs and any customs fees for importing your gown, and factor this into the total cost of the dress.

13. Once you have settled on a price, arrange payment. This is easy if you can see the dress in person before paying, but if you don’t have that luxury it can be a nerve-racking to hand over your hard-earned cash. The approach we took to payment was that I would transfer in two installments: one half before the seller sent the dress, and the second half when I’d received and reviewed it.

14. If postage is needed, consider how to pack the gown. Find a sturdy box of the correct size, and lay down colorless, acid-free packing peanuts over the bottom of the box. Put the dress inside a dress bag, and that inside a garbage bag, and then put all that in the box. Cover over it with more packing peanuts until the box is crammed full, then close the box and seal all edges with sticky tape. Overkill perhaps, but all this is to stop any moisture getting into the dress (you never know what other packages your dress will travel with, or how well sealed they are) and to prevent the dress from moving around too much in transit; too much movement might damage any delicate fabrics or beading.

15. Now sending it! A delicate wedding dress might get bounced around a lot with a regular postage service (and regular postage usually doesn’t allow you to track a package’s progress), so consider a courier or FedEx-type service. These services often offer overnight delivery, and less time bouncing around in transit means less opportunity for damage to your delicate gown.

My biggest tip for second-hand wedding dress purchasing is this: don’t be afraid to ask the seller lots of questions before agreeing to buy their/your wedding dress. This is an important decision (some brides see it as the most important decision), and because wedding gowns are so much up to personal taste it is unlikely you’ll be beating back other brides to buy that one particular style. Best of luck with your wedding dress shopping!


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