Finding the right wedding dress in your size can be a challenge. Carolyn Moore looks at the option of saying yes to a preloved dress
WOULD you say yes to a pre-loved dress? It’s a peculiar irony that, for most women, the most significant fashion purchase of their life is destined to be worn only once, yet when it comes to wedding dresses, the pressure to find the perfect one can weigh just as heavily on brides-to-be as all those intricately beaded layers of fabric eventually will.
The bridal shopping experience is a uniquely prescribed affair, the narrative for which we see played out so often in movies and on TV. The breathless bride who knows she’s found ‘the one’; the gasping tears of her assembled support group confirming her instinct is correct.
For some women, all that heightened expectation simply adds to the pressure, and the reality of bridal shopping can be gruelling.
But the business of buying a dress is changing, and as pressure to procure the perfect, Instagram-worthy gown intensifies, today’s brides are willing to go to extraordinary measures. For the savviest, selling or choosing a pre-worn dress is a popular option.
While some brides might be too sentimental to ever sell their dress, and others would balk at the idea of wearing something ‘second hand’, the market for pre-worn dresses is enabling Irish brides to splash significantly less cash on the dress of their dreams, or blow their budget on a new dress and recoup some of the money by selling it on.
“I think it’s about knowing what you want and how you’re going to get it,” says Kathleen Cummins, founder of sellmyweddingdress.ie.
When she decided to sell her dress back in 2008, she recalls, “There was nowhere to sell it. Ebay was the only option.”
Having successfully sold her own dress, Kathleen noticed other brides on wedding forums trying to do likewise. She brought brides and buyers together at a one-off resale pop up shop, and seeing the demand, she decided to launch an online service.
Now, she says, the site is “bigger than I ever thought it would be”, and in addition to selling dresses online, she has a small boutique of pre-worn gowns at her home in Galway. “Some girls wouldn’t dream of selling their dress,” she says, “but others have it advertised before they’ve even walked down the aisle.
“Today’s brides are savvy, they factor it into their budget,” she explains, adding that time is of the essence in the resale game.
“I get girls contacting me after 10 years. Their dress is just sitting there, and they’re sorry they didn’t sell it, but unfortunately there’s a shelf life of about three years on a dress. You need to be quick off the mark.”
For buyers, the savings are significant. While a €12,000 Marchesa gown currently listed on the site for €5,000 is at “the extreme end of the scale”, Kathleen says, for the right bride, the average reduction of 50% represents the kind of saving that allows her to make her dream dress a reality. But budget is not the only consideration.
For Anne O’Gorman from Cork, who got married in September, finding the right dress was a struggle.
Her search took to her to “every shop in Cork” where she tried on “at least 70 dresses”.
“It sounds silly,” she admits, “but we were having a big wedding and it felt like so much pressure.
“I have two kids; I was heading into my 40s, so I was very conscious of being an older bride. I didn’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb,” she recalls.
For Anne, the traditional shopping experience was frustrating. “The sample dresses you try on are so small,” she says.
“They squeeze you into them and say, ‘Imagine how it will look in your size.’”
But the problem was — she couldn’t. After losing a deposit on one, she ordered another, but when that arrived, it was too heavy.
“I knew I’d be uncomfortable in it; I wouldn’t be able to dance or pick up my two year old,” she says.
Panicked, she found herself ordering a third dress, but still second-guessing herself, she continued to search online. She had a “dream dress” pinned on Pinterest, then, one lucky day, it turned up on sellmyweddingdress.ie.
“I got to try it on in my size, and I knew instantly it was my dress,” she says. Far from feeling there was a stigma to buying second-hand, she was happy to tell people it was pre-worn. “I was so proud of myself that it only cost me €1,000,” she says.
Determined to make back some of the money she lost, her two unworn dresses are now with Kathleen, who confirms that — while she does hear the occasional sad story — a simple change of heart is the reason behind most of the site’s unworn dresses.
“Often it’s girls who’ve gone to a sample sale, bought something spur of the moment, and realised two weeks later it’s not right. Now they don’t have to feel trapped by that decision — if they’re set on what they want, they can go after it.”
Michelle from Galway is selling her unworn Stephanie Allin dress, which eagle-eyed brides will recognise as the Symphony gown made famous by Amy Huberman. Before going travelling with her fiancé, Michelle had tried on the Symphony dress in Myrtle Ivory.
“I loved it,” she says, “but it was way out of my budget, so I let it pass.
While she was away, it popped up on Sell My Wedding Dress, unworn.
“I had to make a call — see if it would still be available when I got home, or take a gamble and buy it from abroad,” she says. She took the gamble, but unfortunately, when she got home, the dress didn’t fit.
Like the previous owner — who had bought the dress and then discovered she was pregnant — Michelle had to go with a different option.
“It’s a funny story,” she says, “but hopefully it’s going to be third time lucky for this dress!”She hopes it may yet find its way to someone “who always had it in mind as her dream dress”.
For Julie Kennelly from Kildare, her dream dress was a bespoke creation by award-winning designer Sarah Foy, but she has no qualms about selling it on.
“Having a bespoke dress made really is a special experience,” she says, “so part of me will be sad to say goodbye to it, but I’m not going to wear it again, and I think I’d be more sad at the thought of it never having another outing, after all the time and effort that went into creating it.”
The designer agrees.
“I love the idea of a dress getting a second outing,” Sarah says. “My heart goes into every dress; they deserve more then one day.” Sarah knows budget is a consideration, and would “much rather see a bride shop second hand than put herself under undue pressure”.
Sometimes, there’s more than budget at play. Gillian McDermott from Dublin found her dream dress on Pinterest, but discovered the ‘Bowie’, by designer Rime Arodaky, is no longer in production.
Despite having visited a dozen bridal boutiques, she has yet to find a dress for her summer ‘18 wedding, and admits she still has her heart set on Bowie. She keeps tabs on Sell My Wedding Dress in the hope it will show up, but as Anne points out, finding your dream dress, in your size, is like winning a lottery.
For her, that’s part of the reason why she’s holding on to her treasured gown.
“I think of what I had to go through to find it, and I know I could never part with it,” she says. “It’s like finding your man — you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the prince.”
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