SOME BRIDES ARE FINDING THEIR WAY THE SECOND TIME AROUND.
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio, New York / Holly Haber, Dallas / Georgia Lee, Atlanta
NEW YORK — A year into her marriage, Diane Glassman wants to hang onto her husband, but not her wedding gown.
“I love the gown. It was perfect for me and my day, but I don’t have any room for it,” said Glassman, a 29-year-old speech pathologist from Spring Lake, N.J., who purchased the pricy dress by British designer Rena Koh at a trunk show.
Glassman, who showed up to sell the dress recently at Michael’s, a Manhattan consignment shop, is among a growing number of women helping to keep the second-hand bridal business thriving. Unlike their mothers, who traditionally stored their dresses in boxes in the attic, this new crop of recent brides appears to be taking a more practical approach, not wanting their wedding gowns to be hanging around in their closets.
“The stigma of resale has changed,” said Adele Meyer, association manager of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, based in St. Claire Shores, Mich., which counts 1,000 members.
“Brides don’t have to purchase a new gown,” she said. “People are trying to save for a down payment on a house. A good majority of people are no longer sentimental about their gowns.”
That’s why, according to Meyer, the number of the association’s member stores carrying bridal has doubled over the past five years. Meyer added that about 3 to 4 percent of members are strictly in the second-hand bridal business and about 10 percent carry ready-to-wear and bridal.
I Do Consignments, a 4,000-square-foot, full-service bridal and formal store in Marietta, Ga., northwest of Atlanta, offers new and consignment gowns. Owner Rhonda Hale, who also designs custom wedding veils, started a consignment bridal business two years ago and bought The Wedding Knot, a 35-year-old full-service bridal business in March.
Consignment gowns account for 40 percent of the store’s total annual sales of around $500,000. The store accepts gowns in good condition, regardless of age, with the one stipulation of no puffy sleeves. Consignment gowns, which retail from $95 to $3,500, are priced at 75 percent of retail cost for newer styles and 50 percent for older gowns.
Half the gowns carry designer labels, like Vera Wang, Christos, Amanda Wakely and Lazaro.
Her customers consist mostly of “quick turnarounds,” brides who want to get married in a hurry and don’t have time to order, or of brides looking for their second or third wedding dresses. The average customer is 27 to 34 years old, she said.
“Women are often paying for their own wedding, looking for the best value for their money,” she said.
Before starting her business, Hale, a consignment shopper herself, had to convince skeptics who felt “a woman would never part with her wedding gown, and never wear a used gown,” a perception that is changing, she said. Customer needs vary greatly, from sophisticated designer-gown shoppers to a 35-year-old bride recovering from liposuction in a post-surgery black bodysuit who wanted to look “just like Scarlett O’Hara,” in a lacy, full-skirted style.
Vintage by Judith, a consignment bridal and costume rental store also based in Marietta, accepts only recent or at least 20-year-old vintage bridal gowns. Gowns less than 20 years old tend to look more out of style than vintage, while gowns over 20 years old often have high-quality fabrics and details, said Judith Nudi, owner.
“A vintage gown has to be something that looks new to a young customer, not out of date,” she said.
With a wide range of looks, best-selling resources include Mon Cheri, Jasmine, Galina and Bianchi, priced from $400 to $900. Her most difficult sale are gowns originally purchased from discounters, she said, but noted, “It has become acceptable for customers to admit to being a bargain-hunter.”
The eight-year-old, 3,000-square-foot store originally sold period clothing before adding bridal to the mix. With a full-time in-house seamstress, gowns are often altered for custom looks. Victorian necklines are transformed into low-cut or Renaissance-inspired styles.
The bridal business has tripled this year at Second Hand Rose in Dallas, according to Harriett Anderson, its owner.
“The main reason girls shop for second-hand gowns is cost,” Anderson said. “They can get a dress so much cheaper. We sell them from $100 to $500, which is half to 80 percent off retail.”
Second Hand Rose merchandises bridal gowns in a back room with shoes and veils, accounting for about 25 percent of sales, Anderson said.
“I carry moderate-priced gowns like Mi Lady, Bonnie, Mon Cherie, Demetrios, Forever Yours, Jim Hjelm and Sweetheart,” Anderson said. “Most of ours right now are samples from a bridal shop.”
The shop also gets gowns consigned by divorcees, women who cancel weddings and brides who opt not to keep their wedding dresses.
“They realize no one in the family will ever use them,” she said. “The box is so large to preserve it, and where do you store this? They know they will probably move several times and most of them don’t keep the gowns.”
Michael’s, a 45-year-old consignment shop, branched into bridal five years ago and has seen a steady business. About 10 percent of the store’s overall sales is from bridal gowns, according to Laura Fluhr, owner.
The two-level store devotes half of its second level to bridalwear. At any given time, the area features about 30 to 50 bridal gowns from such labels as Priscilla of Boston, Scaasi, Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera. Fluhr said that she is selective about what she takes in and wants dresses that are no more than two years old. Those with designs in synthetic fabrics need not apply, either.
Michael’s sticks to dresses that had retailed from $750 to $3,500. The store will sell them for about half of the price, Fluhr said.
“We have a whole spectrum of shoppers,” she said. “We have first-time brides and fifth-time brides. There are pregnant girls who don’t have time to shop around. Some of them have weddings on top of mountains or on boats and want gowns they can be reckless in.”
Those consigning the gowns range from recently divorced women and jilted brides to those who simply just wanted to get rid of their dresses due to lack of closet space in their apartments.
Despite a solid business, however, Fluhr doesn’t want to expand it.
“We are seeing a modest increase, but it has leveled off,” said Fluhr. “Our primary business is in designer ready-to-wear from Prada and Gucci.”
“With a $1,500 Chanel suit, you can sell it in a couple of seconds. With a bridal gown, it takes more time,” she said. “The mother has to come, the grandmother and then the boyfriend.”