Rhonda of Oakwood Cleaners: "I just heard about a bride that bought a pre-owned dress that was 4 inches too big. She went to a seamstress that agreed to take it in, but after it was finished, it did not fit to her satisfaction. First of all, it was really dirty, and had been altered. There's no telling how many times it had been worn (or altered). The needle marks from the last alteration were still showing when the seamstress got it. It appeared to have been washed in a washing machine (vs. dry cleaned), and the lining was a wrinkled mess.
Brides need to understand that not only is it quite difficult to take a dress down 4 inches and have it fit correctly, but if it has been washed or worn several times and altered more than once, the fabric will not react the same as if it were new. It is up to the seamstress to tell the bride of the problems that can occur up front and have the bride sign an agreement stating they understand this."
Most of you who are considering a pre-owned dress are probably going the online route - from Craigslist and eBay, to sites like preowneddresses.com. These can be great ways to save, or they can turn into a huge nightmare, as Rhonda described above.
So, what's a girl to do? Here's what our pros at Oakwood Cleaners suggest, whether you are buying or selling your gown online.
Tips for Buying a Pre-Owned Wedding Dress Online
- Start with an online retailer that offers a grace period. This will give you time to receive the dress, see the actual size, assess the condition of the dress, and decide if you want to keep it. You must see it, try it on, and touch the fabric.
- Shop for dresses as close to your size as possible. It's not a good idea to jump sizes. Determine your "wedding gown size," which is not the same as your street clothes size. Once you know your bridal size, stay close to it as you shop for pre-owned gowns. The bigger the difference between your size and the pre-owned size, the more costly the alterations and sometimes the changes could impact the actual dress's shape.
- Ask the seller whether the dress has been cleaned. Opt for a dress that has been cleaned already. It will need to be cleaned to determine what stains will remain. You don't want to buy a gown online that's dirty, then have to pay for the dress only to find out which stains will or won't come out. If not clean, ask how dirty. See if pictures of the stains can be provided.
- Ask about alterations. Has it been altered? If fabric has been cut away, there may not be enough remaining to let back out.
- Ask if it is damaged and what the extent of the damage is.
Keep or return the dress?
Once the gown is in your hands (during the grace period)...
- Take the dress and the seller's documentations to a true pro that specializes in bridal gowns, such as Oakwood Cleaners.
- Have them inspect the dress and tell you what it might cost to clean, fix, and alter the dress. They won't be able to fully predict the actual cost of alterations, but they will give you direction. If it needs cleaning, they will let you know. They can't guarantee spots will come out, but they will tell you their expert opinion and give ballpark quote. They can tell what custom changes will be needed.
- Be realistic. Some of the really popular styles have a corset and can't be taken in or let out, due to the boning (See Vera Wang gown below). The two-piece Monique Lhuillier corset style tops aren't easy to alter. Repeat wearing of the top can stretch it. So, by the time the seller is ready to sell, it may not fit the purchaser with similar size/body as well as a brand new dress would. Stretching will cause the dress to fit differently, even if it hasn't been altered.
Based on your Oakwood gown inspection, determine if you will love it or leave it. It may seem like a good deal, but repairs, alterations, and cleaning might be expensive. You need to be smart. In the long run, a used dress could cost you more on the back-end than a new gown.
Oakwood says, "This type of dress would be exceptionally difficult to have altered due to the boning in the bodice. Buyers should exercise caution with this type of gown."
Tips for Selling Your Wedding Dress Online
- Be honest. You will have better success and fewer returns from buyers. This will save you money (from shipping costs), time, and stress.
- Clean the dress before you list it. This will give the purchaser a realistic idea of how wonderful the dress could be.
- Highlight the positives and negatives. Document what's been done to the dress. Share photos of damage and stains to give an overall state of the dress. Point out tears, pulled bustles, and areas of heavy stains.