{Secondhand Wedding Gown Shopping: Score the designer dress you love for less} Client: WedSpace.com

A new niche has popped up in the bridal gown market … secondhand gowns from sites including OnceWed.com, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, ProjectWedding.com’s classifieds, and BravoBride.com. The idea is simple and logical for many brides: I loved my dress, but I wore it for only a few hours, and now it’s going to hang in my closet – why not make some of my money back on the gown and let another bride enjoy it, too?

It’s a wonderful trend that I embrace wholeheartedly! Wedding gowns are beautiful, stunning even, but styles change rapidly, and the chances of a future daughter or granddaughter wearing your gown are quite slim. Storing and preserving gowns is costly and takes up a lot of precious closet space. And truly, most wedding gowns emerge from their Big Day in virtually perfect condition, so why not pass the joy along to another bride on a budget?

 Want to try to find your dream gown secondhand? Here’s what to know:

* Ask for real photos! Many sellers will post photos of the gown on the model in the designer’s ads. You want to see what the dress looks like on a real person, not someone who’s a size 0 (unless you’re a size 0!). Ask the bride to model the dress in a few photos from different angles and send them to you.

* Ask about shipping, cleaning, tears, dirty hems, etc. Dresses do get dirty during weddings. Hems get dirty and frayed, zippers and sashes get torn, wine gets spilled. Be sure you know whether the dress needs any cleaning or repairs before you buy it. Those extras can cost hundreds of dollars on top of the price of the gown. Some sellers will have done these things for you, before you buy, as well.

* Anything can be altered. Just like a gown from a bridal salon, any dress can be altered. A size 10 can become a size 4. Hate the bow? Have it removed. Want a sweetheart neckline? Have it taken lower. A tear near the hem? An easy fix. The only thing that a seamstress can’t really change is lengthening the dress. Dresses can become shorter, but not really longer, unless you want to add a different hem.

* Visit a bridal salon to try on your favorites before you shop secondhand. Make a few appointments with bridal salons and go armed with the gowns you’re looking for, including designer and gown name or style number. Try on your beloved gowns and see which ones end up in your top 3. Then check back daily or sign up for email alerts on your top designers and you’ll know right when your perfect gown becomes available secondhand. The beauty is, you know what the actual dress will look like, and you can eliminate any styles that you don’t love in person or won’t work for the type of wedding you’re planning.

* Try it on in person if you can. Sellers don’t accept returns if something doesn’t fit or isn’t as you imagined it. To be safe, try to find a seller in your area or a short drive away so you can try the gown on in person.

* Consider your height. I’m almost 5’8”, which means almost 6 feet tall in heels. Finding a gown that hasn’t been altered in the length is tough! For instance, I found a beautiful gown I loved, less than an hour away, but the bride is 5’3” and 5’7” in heels. Meaning I’m taller than the dress itself, in bare feet. Sigh. So, if you’re tall, your best bet may be to shop for a sample gown, meaning it was purchased off the rack and hasn’t been worn or altered. Sample gowns usually come in sizes 8 or 10 and are quite long – perfect for us taller girls.

* Find a Two-Dress Bride! Yes, it does happen, and more often than you think. A bride will buy a dress, often from a sample sale, have second thoughts, and buy a second dress. We call these ladies Two-Dress Brides, and they will have beautiful, brand-new wedding gowns that they need to offload, and quickly, to recoup some of their money. Their indecision is your gain!

* Trust your gut. If a sale sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sites like OnceWed.com and PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com police their sellers quite well, but you can avoid scams by trusting your instincts. A Vera Wang organza gown that retails for $6,000, selling for $1,000? Probably not. It could be a lookalike, but not the real deal. Sellers typically price their gowns from 50 to 75% of what they paid originally. Some will drop their prices if a gown isn’t selling, but you won’t find a couture dress for a tiny percentage of its value. That’s just common sense.

* Always pay with a credit card. This should be a no-brainer, but never send someone a check or cash for a gown. That way, if by some chance the sale is a fake, you can call your credit card company and reverse the payment. But a check or cash is lost forever.

Happy secondhand shopping!

{photo via fabulous photogs ErinHeartsCourt, of my high school friend Moira’s gorgeous wedding!}

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