I don’t like to admit how many episodes of Say Yes to the Dress I have watched. While I consider even the least expensive dresses featured on that show to be completely ludicrous, I am still fascinated by the triage work of bridal consultants, awed by the elaborate dresses, and jealous of the girls who convince their families and friends to journey to New York to spend their Saturday in a bridal salon. In short, I couldn’t wait to have this experience myself.
But it didn’t happen. There was no fanfare. No scorecards. No dramatic walks to the mirror-surrounded pedestal. I didn’t knock down other brides during the legendary Running Of, and my mom didn’t cry when she saw her baby “all grown up.” In fact, I didn’t even bring anyone with me.
Why? Because I bought my dress off of Craigslist.
So how did I come to make the decision? Well, mostly because I am cheap. Or budget-savvy, as we like to say around here. Basically, I couldn’t justify spending what seemed to be a minimum of $1,000 for the type of dress I wanted (read: “princessy”).*
So I did what I do whenever I want to buy something discounted: I turned to Craigslist. First off, let me say that Craigslist has a surprisingly HUGE collection of wedding dresses, at least if you live in a relatively urban area. And here’s why you should buy your dress there:
- You get the side benefit of being entertained by the truly horrid dresses some people try to sell on there. My Maid of Honor and I joked about one hideous dress we found that was the spitting image (in white, of course) of Glinda the Good Witch’s dress from the Wizard of Oz (see picture near the bottom of this post). We had a whole awesome e-mail exchange about how the wedding could be Wizard of Oz themed, how she could bring her little black dog as the ring bearer, how she could be Dorothy and her husband (also in the wedding party) could be a flying monkey. This is the stuff of memories.
- I probably don’t have to point out the obvious fact that these dresses were only worn once, which means that most of them are in very good condition.
- But here’s the really surprising fact: Craigslist also tends to have a lot of new dresses as well! You would be amazed at how many times brides gain or lose weight, call of the wedding, or simply decide that they like another dress better. What does that mean for you? Brand-new dresses that depreciated in value just as fast as that new car you just drove off the lot.
- Also keep in mind that when purchasing a wedding dress off of Craigslist, you have some pretty hardcore bargaining power. After all, you have to consider that the person who is selling her dress is a) probably done storing this huge thing in her closet, b) has to find someone who is interested in the dress, c) has to find someone who is interested in the dress and willing to drive out to try it on d) has to find someone who is interested in the dress and willing to drive out to try it on and it fits AND e) has to find someone who is interested in the dress, willing to drive out to try it on, have it fit, and then that someone has to decide they actually like it enough for it to be the dress.
So you see, you’re in the driver’s seat on this one.**
Anyway, here’s how the whole thing went down:
I tried on a total of three dresses in my search process. The first dress, though lovely, simply didn’t fit (wedding dresses often run smaller than traditional clothing sizes, so keep that in mind when you’re out looking). The second dress (brand new) was nice, but it was a strapless dress that didn’t have a lot of… er… support.*** And the third dress was The One.
Since I have purchased things (read: half of our household furniture) from Craigslist before, I was aware of the potential awkwardness that can come from looking at something in someone else’s house—particularly something that is both sentimental and that you have to try on. What I was not expecting in this case was what happened after I was actually wearing the dress.
The woman who was selling it—we’ll call her Gina—was absolutely thrilled. The dress is brand-new; the bride—like many others—changed sizes and wasn’t able to wear it for her wedding. She ended up wearing a totally different dress and left this one to hang in her closet. She was happy with her new dress, but the dress I was trying on was the one she fell in love with. So when I came out wearing the dress, she gushed over how nice it looked on me. I suppose this could be a clever sales technique for someone, but I could tell that Gina’s reaction was absolutely genuine. She was sad, of course, that she hadn’t been able to wear it, but she was thrilled with the idea that someone would still get to wear her beautiful dress on their big day. She was so excited at the prospect that she had me try on the tiara she wore with her dress, the veil, the gloves… she suggested all kinds of different accessories and combinations that she had thought about.
But the day I tried the dress on, I walked away from it.
I couldn’t commit to buying right away; it was a still a bit more than I wanted to spend, and I had tried on so few dresses that I wanted to think about it more. I told her as much, and she was very understanding. I ended up later sending pictures of it to my Mom, who reverently said, “Oh. I can see why you like this dress.” That pretty much sold it.
I further explained to Gina that I loved the dress and was interested in it, but that I could only offer $400 for it (she was asking $600). I told her that I understood it was worth what she was asking and more, but that I just didn’t have $600 to spend at that point, especially with it being so early in my search process.
To my surprise, she accepted—and included a veil, gloves, and slip!
When I went to pick up the dress, I brought her flowers as a “thank you” for accepting my offer. I never would have been able to purchase such an elegant dress without that (the dress itself had a $1,200 price tag—not to mention the accessories), so I thought that flowers were appropriate. She was touched by the gesture, and even afterward, she sent me e-mails with planning tips, florist suggestions, and more. It is very sweet how excited she is about our wedding; she said I have to make sure to send her pictures of me from the day!
Of course there is part of me that wishes I could have had the spotlight moment like you see on Say Yes to the Dress, complete with a fancy salon, expert consultants, and the opportunity to try on the most beautiful and expensive articles of clothing I would ever share a store with. It would have been nice if my mom and closest friends had been there with their cheesy scorecards or at lest their honest opinions.
Yet in a way, I’ve gotten something better. Someone who had been disappointed that she couldn’t wear my dress is now happy to see it go to someone who loves it and who wouldn’t have been able to afford it on her own. I have someone who is more than willing to share her experience with me and who can’t wait to see pictures of me in “her” dress. I’ve got a new friend who wants to hear about all of my little updates about wedding planning and who can support my decision to focus on festivity rather than expense.
You don’t get that from a consultant.
*Side note: Did you know that you can RENT wedding dresses? I considered this option and even found a shop that does it, but I still have a million questions about the logistics of the whole thing. Considering the fact that most women have custom alterations done to their dresses in order to make them fit perfectly, I don’t know how you can have something that you are renting come in shortly before the wedding, remain unaltered, and then get returned afterward.
I would also imagine that finding places that actually rent is difficult, but they do exist. The lady at my local place told me that I could pick out any dress from any company, and she could order it for me. Again, I question this fact, but I would love to hear more from someone who did this!
**Also keep these facts in mind when you are looking at salon dresses that may be out of your price range. Trying to justify the purchase by thinking that you are going to resell it is probably not the best idea. Also, do not buy a dress you don’t absolutely love because the huge repository of Craigslist ads I found in a simple search suggests to me that, when this happens, it always seems to end in the bride purchasing a second dress and being stuck with the impulse buy.
***The woman who owned that dress ended up e-mailing me for MONTHS about it, even though I had told her when I tried in on that I was very early in the process, wasn’t even sure what I wanted, and that I probably wasn’t going to buy soon. Every time she e-mailed me, she sounded increasingly desperate to unload it and kept dropping the price, which proves my point about how you’re in control on this deal.