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Secondhand Doesn’t Mean Second Best

Think you can’t afford a high-end designer gown for your big day? Think again!

If you’re watching Bridezillas, you’ll probably notice one thing all of these ladies have in common: They’re looking for ways to have a fabulous wedding without breaking the bank. And when you’re on a tight budget—and who isn’t right now?—a designer dream dress might seem out of reach. Not true, says Josie Daga, founder of

“Preowned wedding gowns are a fabulous way for a bride to save big and still have a high-quality, gorgeous dress,” says Daga. “It’s also good for the environment since you’re reusing something that has only been worn for a few hours or not at all. In fact, about one-third of the gowns on the site weren’t even worn because the bride changed her mind about the dress, but couldn’t return it.”

Daga estimates you can save anywhere from 40-60 percent off a designer dress when buying secondhand. Aside from her site, also check out ebay, Craig’s List,,, and for deals. But before you start looking, read these expert tips to make sure your purchase goes off without a hitch.

Visit bridal salons. While you’re most likely to find a big selection of preowned dresses online, it’s wise to at least try on some dresses in person, says Brian Worley, a celebrity wedding and event planner ( “You want to see how different designers’ dresses fit on you, how various silhouettes and lengths look, and what you’re most comfortable wearing.”

Let a pro measure you. Wedding dress sizes aren’t the same as your regular clothing sizes (gowns actually tend to run small), so get yourself measured by an experienced seamstress. Daga recommends getting numbers for your bust, waist, hips and height.

Look at photos. If buying online, be sure to ask the seller to send you pictures of the dress from numerous angles so you can access it for any damage, as well as get a closer look at any beading and embellishments.

Ask lots of questions. You also want to communicate with the seller about the condition of the dress before buying—and try to do much of it via email so you have a written record of the conversation. Some questions to ask: How much/long the dress was worn, what alterations were done and how much damage was inflicted on it the first time it walked down the aisle.

Look for high-quality fabrics, like silk and cotton, says Lori Del Genis, director and dressmaker at Conscious Elegance Handmade Eco Wedding Dresses. “Not only do these look better (contrast the glow of a silk satin to the garish shine of acetate!), but natural fabrics are just a joy to wear. They breathe, for one thing, which is pretty important for high stress events like weddings. And they feel better—not scratchy or rough. Look for an original label in the dress; it should list the fabric content and how to care for it.”

Go bigger. It’s much easier to take a dress in than let one out, says Worley. “Unless you try the dress on before buying and know it fits you perfectly, it’s best to buy it in a slightly bigger size. Having a dress let out or adding fabric for length is difficult and costly.”

Assess any alterations. If you suspect the dress you want might need work, consult a seamstress before you buy, says Nadia Digilov, a wedding consultant and author of Getting Married in New York. “Brides need to know that the cost of alternations for a dress may cost same as the actual dress. Unless a bride is getting a great deal on a famous designer dress and the cost of the alterations in proportion to the cost of dress makes sense, watch out for this hidden cost.”

Be wary of stains. While most stains can be removed or minimized by a dependable dry cleaner, anything that’s yellowed will be tough—and there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to get it out at all. Digilov also warns that cleaning a wedding gown post purchase involves a major potential risk. “Depending on the fabric of your dress, some cleaners may not have experience cleaning it and may damage the dress. Make sure to go to a reputable source that has a proven record of success with cleaning wedding gowns and working with complex materials. Also, make sure the cleaner understands the style of your dress. For example, if it’s meant to have a pleated bottom, make sure they know not to iron it out, which would destroy the stylistic look of the dress!”

Choose the right payment option. All transactions on Daga’s site go through, which doesn’t release payment to the seller until you are 100 percent satisfied with your dress. “It ensures that none of our buyers are taken advantage of,” says Daga. “This is a big purchase and it should be as stress-free as possible.” Bottom line: Do not finalize payment until you know you’ve received the dress you wanted and it’s in good condition.