Whether it’s your high school formal and you need a prom dress, a wedding and you need a bridesmaid dress, or you want to find something suitable for your friend’s upcoming birthday party, searching for gowns can be truly daunting.
And it doesn’t help that everyone and their mother has advice on buying secondhand dresses online – from ‘never do that! It always goes wrong!’ to ‘it’s amazing how good some really old pieces of clothing are!’
I’m here to talk about how to successfully thrift shop for gowns online. While I have only had the honor of purchasing a limited number of secondhand gowns off eBay and other websites, my experience is almost exclusively with eBay so far – but I hope in sharing my story, I can help others shop for secondhand gowns.
Before we move into the meat of this article, allow me to outline several important things when buying something used vs. new. This is not to debate whether it’s better than the other (I believe there are instances where shopping secondhand is better/cheaper), but just some points to consider:
Used items will often come with imperfections and damage that you won’t be able to see from a photo alone, so always check measurements and descriptions carefully! It’s always good practice to contact the seller if you have any questions or concerns about an item before purchasing.
Buying used means it’s in less demand, so it will probably be cheaper than similar used or new items.
Many people thrift shop based on the idea that they are either saving money for themselves or saving something that would otherwise go to waste, but this is not always the case with gowns.
If you wear a size six dress and buy an 8/10 secondhand, it’s still smaller than your usual clothing size. There are ways around this (like sizing up or altering), but my point is don’t thrift shop thinking you’re going to get free designer gowns at a fraction of the price.
KNOW YOUR MEASUREMENTS
While I’m sure buying formal dresses off websites is intimidating enough without having to worry about measurements, it’s essential to know your body size and the size of the dress you’re looking for.
This is not only so you can determine whether an item is even worth considering (based on the measurements given) but also because a seller may not accept returns if the dress doesn’t fit properly.
There are a few general tips that I’ve found work well when figuring out your measurements:
- Compare your measurements to the ones given on the listing. If they differ by more than an inch or two in any direction, it might be best to skip that particular listing – unless you’re happy to gamble on the fit.
- Use a soft measuring tape (or a piece of string and then measure that) and measure yourself in inches or centimeters. Remember to wear the underwear and bra you plan on wearing with the dress when measuring!
- If you’re still not sure, it’s always a good idea to measure the item itself. Many sellers will list the measurements of the dress/item flat, which is usually more helpful than just your body size.
HAVE A FEW SHOPS YOU LOVE
Now that you know your measurements, it’s time for the fun part – finding dresses! I’ve found that having a few go-to shops makes the process a lot less daunting (and less expensive). My personal favorite includes eBay. There are other great shops online, so keep your eyes peeled!
SET A BUDGET (ESPECIALLY FOR AUCTION SITES)
Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to set a budget. This can be difficult in some cases because you don’t necessarily want to pay more for something than it’s worth (in case of faults), but still enough to make it worthwhile.
For example, it might be tempting if an eBay listing is $100 new and $50 secondhand. But there could be a multitude of reasons it’s cheaper (inferior materials etc.).
It’s important to remember that if you’re using an auction site like eBay, there may be hidden charges you weren’t expecting, such as shipping and insurance. This extra cost is usually non-refundable, so set a budget limiting yourself to the item’s initial price!
You can also search Google for “eBay coupon” – don’t pay more than you need to. If paying via Paypal, they sometimes offer discounts for new members too!
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Shopping online has its pros and cons, but one crucial factor to remember is keeping an open mind. Just because you didn’t find the perfect dress in your size and style at the first shop you looked at doesn’t mean it’s not out there!
Another thing to consider is that a lot of online shops sell new as well as secondhand items. So if you’re not finding what you’re looking for, it might be worth widening your search to include all types of shops.
DOUBLE-CHECK THAT IT’S ACTUALLY SECONDHAND
This may seem like an obvious one, but I’ve been surprised before by how many people list their items as “used” without actually having checked them. This can result in awkward conversations (and returns) if the dress arrives and it has never been worn before.
To avoid this, make sure to read the listing description thoroughly and check the seller’s profile. If they have many items listed and low feedback, it might be worth avoiding. There are some great sellers out there, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
KNOW THE RETURN POLICY BEFORE YOU BUY
Knowing the shop’s return policy is essential before spending any money on anything you buy online. This is especially true for secondhand items – you don’t want to order a dress and then find out that you can return it because it doesn’t fit correctly or because its condition was not accurately described.
Make sure to read the return policy carefully, and contact the seller before making any purchases if you have any doubts/questions. Also, make sure to ask for photos of anything unclear in their description!
INVEST TIME IN THE SEARCH
This one seems obvious too, but it’s true – searching takes time! If you’re looking for something specific (e.g., floor-length ball gowns with cap sleeves), put the words “ball gown,” “long,” “cap,” or similar into your search terms. You’ll probably get many results that are not what you want, so that it can take some trial and error. But it’s worth it!
So what’s the bottom line? Thrifting online can be a bit time-consuming at times, but it has its benefits too. If you’re looking for something specific and are happy to spend a little extra time searching for it, then, by all means, go ahead!
However, if you want to have more options readily available or are on a tight timeline, there are other great secondhand shops out there that might be better equipped for those needs.