Finding the perfect wedding dress is one of the biggest journeys a bride goes through in the planning process. Whether you’re having a mountain top elopement, a formal cathedral ceremony, or something completely outside of the box, your bridal ensemble will serve as the focal point for the entire event. And while the gown is supremely special, it can also be pretty costly. That’s why some brides choose to buy their wedding dresses through consignment instead of opting for a completely new gown.
“When you consign an item like your wedding dress, you’re asking a third party to sell your item for you either in-person or online,” explains the operations manager at PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, Melissa Martel. “When your item sells, you typically pay a portion of the final sale price to the third party for their part in making the sale happen.”
Meet the Expert
Melissa Martel is the operations manager at PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, one of the largest online consignment wedding shops selling bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, formal gowns, and accessories.
What makes consignment shops so popular is that, unlike selling your own pieces by yourself, you get to take advantage of a company’s marketing plan (which usually involves a large target audience) and use their secure payment process, notes Martel. Not only does this allow a former bride to make some extra cash, but it gives new brides the chance to shop for gently used bridal gowns at a fraction of the cost.
Whether you’re wondering where you can find consignment bridal pieces, or you’re looking to sell your gown after the big day, here’s everything you need to know about shopping and selling consignment wedding dresses.
Why Do Brides Buy Consignment Wedding Dresses?
First of all, the savings can be amazing, explains Martel. Typically when you shop bridal consignment, you’ll get a mix of sample gowns (pieces that brides try on in-store), preowned gowns, and brand new looks that are unaltered and with tags (which sometimes happens if a bride purchased a dress then changed her mind, or if a custom gown didn’t fit, etc).
Checking out consignment shops is especially great for any bride who dreams of a pricey designer wedding dress. According to Martel, you can save up to 90 percent when purchasing a consignment designer gown, which can make an otherwise expensive dress fit within your budget. Not only that, but Martel reveals many sellers also include extra items like veils, sashes, and belts, which can cut back on costs even more and ensure all your day-of items seamlessly match.
This is one choice brides can make to help keep dresses out of closets and landfills.
Aesthetics and price aside, buying consignment is significantly better for the environment. “Items that would normally only be worn for one day have a chance at a second (or third) life,” Martel explains. “There are roughly 2.5 million weddings in the US every year—this is one choice brides can make to help keep dresses out of closets and landfills.”
With the rise of a more eco-conscious generation, Martel notes there’s been an uptick in brides shopping for consignment wedding dresses. And with inflation and supply chain issues causing new bridal gown costs to rise, she estimates the option to buy used bridalwear will only get more popular.
What to Know Before Buying a Consignment Wedding Dress
Before you say “yes” to your consignment dress, Martel says there are a few important factors brides should always keep in mind:
One reason to shop with established consignment shops is that many offer purchase protection. Martel notes that you’ll want to be aware of the policies if, for some reason, you don't receive your gown—for those shopping online versus in person—or if you receive a look that is different than originally described. You’ll also want to know about the return policy if, for any reason, you need to send it back.
Knowing your exact measurements is essential when buying a pre-owned dress online, Martel explains. You’ll want your bust, waist, hip (around the widest part), and your height without shoes. It’s also important to get a very clear idea of what alterations have been made to the gown since that can drastically change how it will fit. “It is much easier to take a dress in a size or two than to try and let it out, especially if the dress has already been altered,” reveals Martel. “Manufacturers typically only leave .5-1" of materials to allow for letting a dress out and that isn’t guaranteed [with a consignment dress].” That’s why it’s a good idea to size up with all bridal gowns, but especially with consignment ones.
While you don't want to think about someone swindling you, it’s always a good idea to be vigilant when shopping online. Martel suggests asking for additional pictures of your desired dress to confirm authenticity and condition. “An honest seller will be happy to send you more pictures,” she says. “A scammer will try to avoid this because they don’t have the dress in hand.” And if anything seems off, get in touch with the consignment shop’s customer service team ASAP.
How to Find Consignment Wedding Dresses
Chances are you’ll find a few consignment shops in your area, but stores specifically dedicated to formalwear or wedding attire aren’t as common. That’s why many brides turn to virtual consignment shops. This provides an even greater selection of options, and you don’t have to spend your time scouring shelves or driving around in hopes of stumbling across a specific look. When shopping virtually, you can simply search for a designer or even a specific dress name to find who is selling it.
Here are a few of the top online consignment shops that focus on bridalwear and wedding dresses, great for both buyers and sellers:
- PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com: As one of the most popular online bridal consignment shops for both buyers and sellers, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com is the first place to check out if you’re looking for a specific designer or gown. You can search by size, style, and designer, or narrow down the many options by selecting style elements you love, like strapless or sheath.
- Nearly Newlywed: If returns are your concern, Nearly Newlywed is a fantastic consignment option since they offer a five-day return policy for any reason. Martel also notes that they act as an intermediary between buyers and sellers for added protection.
- Once Wed: Another great choice is Once Wed, which has a large selection of bridal dresses, plus tons of information and inspiration about searching for your ideal gown and wedding planning in general.
- Stillwhite: With over 60 thousand sales and 21 thousand 5-star reviews, Stillwhite is a bridal consignment favorite. Not only does the site contribute to carbon removal, but they have an easy-to-use calculator that’ll help you figure out what a used dress should sell for—easing the stress for both future and former brides when browsing and selling.
What to Know When Shopping for a Consignment Wedding Dress
As you’re perusing the aisles—whether virtual or IRL—Martel advises keeping an open mind (and a sharp eye) as you search. Not only do sellers often mislabel gowns, but just like if you were buying a new dress, you might be surprised at what catches your eye. Oftentimes things like sleeves or additional details can be easily added, so don’t overlook a dress that has the potential to be "the one", just because it’s missing a few must-haves.
If you’re shopping online, updating your search criteria could be the difference between finding that one specific gown. “[Sellers] may not know the style name/number of their dress, and they may select the wrong silhouette or neckline,” she explains. “If you only go after really specific things like those, you may miss your dream dress entirely.” Thus, Marel suggests adding and removing certain search parameters to see what pops up. If you’re still not finding a look you love, she recommends searching for keywords that describe the pieces you like, such as “sparkly,” “modern,” “boho,” or “Gatsby.”
Finally, it’s important to remember that a consignment dress might not be flawless. “You’re buying an item that someone else may have worn for their wedding or has at least tried on a few times,” Martel explains. “Minor signs of wear such as makeup on the neckline, gray marks on the hem, loose beads, etc.” are extremely common. This shouldn’t stop you from buying a sample, though, because oftentimes these are easy and inexpensive fixes. If you’re concerned, send some pictures to your seamstress prior to purchasing in order to get an estimate of what repairs would be involved, and the general cost of restoring your gown.
Helpful Consignment Tips
For those already married, deciding to sell your wedding dress after the big day is an extremely personal choice, and the option isn’t for everyone. But if you don’t see yourself keeping your gown, Martel says you should consider giving it a second life by selling it to a bride who will love it as much as you did. Plus, you’ll make a little extra cash to spend on your honeymoon or as a newlywed!
If you decide to sell your gown via consignment, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:
Get It Cleaned
First thing’s first, you need to have your dress professionally cleaned as soon as you can after your wedding, Martel stresses. “You risk permanent stains or fabric discoloration if you leave it soiled for too long,” she explains, so put that on your post-wedding to-do list whether you plan to keep your gown or not. And don’t worry about having your dress preserved if you plan to sell, since Martel reveals that it’s a sunk cost that doesn’t add value to your sale.
List It ASAP
Ideally, you want to try to sell your dress within a year of your wedding. According to Martel, this is because the style will likely be trending in that timeframe. And if you have a gown that's hot on the market, you not only have a greater chance of making a sale, but you'll likely get more bang for your buck.
As you’re setting up your listing, be completely honest about the details, Martel urges. “Brides are more likely to keep a dress and not ask for a discount due to it arriving with unexpected damage or alterations.” Inspect your dress from head to toe and make a list of any blemishes you find. It’s also a good idea to take pictures of everything since this will aid in your listing and protect your sale if someone wrongfully claims there’s additional damage to the dress, in an unethical attempt to get a cheaper price.
Even though you’ll be tempted to list your gown for the price you purchased it, you have to be realistic and remember that this is a previously worn wedding dress. And martel notes that the best way to do that is by researching what similar used dresses are selling for. It’s also important to factor customizations and alterations in your price as they may detract from the value of the dress, Marte explains.
Pictures are worth a thousand words, and sometimes they’re worth cold hard cash! Listings that showcase real brides are more likely to sell since they are more authentic, and allow potential buyers to see how the gown fits. “Use pictures with you or a friend wearing the dress,” Martel suggests. “We all would much rather see someone wearing the actual item we’re purchasing instead of a model.” If a potential buyer asks to see more photos—take them! It might seem like a hassle, but keep in mind that a future bride is considering your gown and like you, just wants to be flawless on her special day.
“Your dress may sell within hours, or it could take more than a year,” Martel says. “Be patient, make sure you have amazing pictures, a great description, all of your measurements, and realistic pricing.”