Some Brides Are Thrifting Their Wedding Dresses

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Last fall, Emmali Osterhoudt was at a Goodwill store in Birmingham, Ala., when she stumbled upon a Galia Lahav wedding gown. Though she was not yet engaged, Ms. Osterhoudt, 21, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to purchase the find: The gown was priced at $25.

Her thrifting success went viral on TikTok, and brides chimed in with stories of how they thrifted their own wedding looks. Now set to wed her fiancé, Nicolas Gould, 23, who proposed in December, Ms. Osterhoudt, a nursing student, plans to wear the gown and thrift décor for her wedding.

Ms. Osterhoudt’s shopping decisions reflect the growing movement toward circular fashion, the idea of recycling and reusing clothes. Thrifting is on track to become a $700 billion market by 2030, making it 23 percent of the fashion industry, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a British nonprofit organization that promotes a circular economy.

At Awoke Vintage in Brooklyn, N.Y., “We noticed an uptick about five years ago of people coming in and asking for wedding dresses, especially in the spring and summer,” said Rachel Despeaux, an owner of the store. “People are more interested in having their big day be defined by wearing vintage,” she said.

Awoke Vintage, which is known for its denim, typically skews toward casual clothing at its three stores in Brooklyn, but Ms. Despeaux says she now also stocks white and ivory dresses and suits to keep up with customer demand. She looks for ’60s, ’70s and ’80s outfits, and keeps an eye out for bridesmaid and maid of honor dresses.

While white can be a tricky color for vintage — it yellows over time — Ms. Despeaux explained that the growing consumer interest in circular fashion has led her wholesalers, who specialize in vintage and thrift products sourced globally, to curate wedding collections for clients like her.

Also in Brooklyn, the Cha Cha Linda Vintage shop increasingly leans toward wedding looks, and the Los Angeles-based Happy Isles, which specializes in bridal wear, opened a salon last September in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.

Katherine Geisel, 32, of Brooklyn, transitioned to a mostly vintage and secondhand wardrobe a few years ago, citing a pileup of fast fashion in her closet. “I hardly ever reached for pieces for more than one season,” she said.

Ms. Geisel, a creative producer at the skin care company La Mer, says she regularly has “about 50 tabs open on my favorite vintage stores.” She started sourcing pieces for her Sept. 23, 2023, wedding even before her engagement to Andrew Geisel, 31, a founder of the cafe group Citizens. She found items including a cream dress from the 1930s at Desert Vintage, in Manhattan, for her welcome party, and a sterling silver French comb from the late 1800s, purchased on 1stDibs, to wear for her ceremony. She bought a sequined gown with polka dots from Etéreo Vintage for dancing.

Prices can certainly be cheaper at thrift and vintage shops: Wedding dresses retail for $65 to $185 at Awoke Vintage, for instance, versus the average of $2,000 for new ones. But brides like Ms. Geisel said that the motivation was more about the hunt for an unique piece than about costs. She spent $4,000 on all her secondhand pieces.

Betsy Banchik, 37, an independent lawyer who splits her time between New York City and Charleston, S.C., counts a pair of Prada heels she purchased at Michael’s, a consignment shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, among her most prized accessories. “It surprised no one that I bought slightly used gowns,” she said of her June 2022 wedding to Mitch Banchik, a 62-year-old restaurateur. “I love the thrill of unexpectedly finding an amazing item.”

For her rehearsal dinner, Ms. Banchik wore a Sue Wong cocktail dress she bought on eBay, and for the ceremony, a Romona Keveza gown that was a showroom sample at Magnolia Bride, in Charleston, S.C.

Samantha Ruiz, 33, explained that thrifting helped her focus on her personal style, rather than follow trends. Ms. Ruiz, a bridal stylist from Santa Monica, Calif., typically spends her weekends at flea markets and estate sales, but she took a bigger leap for her wedding wardrobe. She traveled to Paris to visit thrift stores, finding pearl earrings for $5, a wedding dress for $70 and $5 cuff links for her fiancé, Daniel Williams, 36, who works in private equity. The two plan to marry in July in Puglia, Italy.

“With secondhand shopping, you’re driven by what catches your eye and makes you happy to wear,” Ms. Ruiz said. “A big part of the excitement to put on my wedding dress is showing off a really unique outfit I worked hard to put together.”

And these outfits may have yet another life after the wedding. While most bridal gowns end up preserved in a box in storage, many thrifters view their wedding attire as a continuous piece in their closet.

Francesca Wallace, 29, the digital director of Vogue Australia, wore a secondhand Prada mini dress for her wedding reception in November 2022, which also included thrifted vases for the floral centerpieces and a wedding ring made from recycled gold. Her husband wore a pocket square they found while thrifting in Tokyo.

“I felt wholly myself wearing the dress, and I loved that it wasn’t something anyone had ever seen before,” Ms. Wallace said of the secondhand Prada dress, for which she paid $460. “Since, I’ve worn it to cocktail events, and you’d never know it once doubled as a wedding dress!”


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