How to find your wedding dress in a charity shop

I am not a wedding dress person. Let's start with that. When I first decided I wanted to get married, the thought of a wedding dress didn't cross my mind. I know that for many brides to be, the dress is one of the most significant parts of the whole wedding process - and I can get that. It's a big deal, you want to look amazing and there's a lot of tradition and emotion bound up in all that tulle and lace. I just didn't think about it at first. I was more excited about planning a giant party (and having a wedding cake made of pork pies.)

Trying on wedding dresses was, and still is, my idea of hell. I dislike shopping and buy everything online.  I hate spending money. I don't like being sold to by pushy salespeople.I worked in retail for the longest time and I know how it feels to be the assistant trying hard to make a sale only to have the person walk away and I don't like doing it to them. I'm too weak. I'll buy anything to avoid that awkwardness.

My friend suggested visiting a bridal room in the local charity shop she manages to see which shapes I liked. I actually had no idea what kind of dress I was looking for and even less of a clue about the shapes I'd suit. The closest outfit I've ever worn to a wedding dress was probably when I dressed as a Christmas tree at a festive family event, which was pretty showstopping, but not flattering.

My findings:

A Line - Makes me look like a lampshade

Ruffled - Makes me look like a member of an operatic metal band

Basque - Makes me look like I forgot to get dressed

After trying on a ton of dresses that just made me feel like the Beast when he gets his hair put in ribbons before the big dance number, a skirt came from nowhere. "It's in the spares bag, so there's no top with it," my friend said. A bridal skirt in a bin bag. Auspicious. Not being the type of person to look down at anything bargainous, I tried it on. It fit perfectly (give or take a few pounds - my bad, I was eating cheese straws while trying on wedding dresses) and it's gentle, pouffy softness was so pretty. It fastened high on my waist in an extremely flattering way. It had a court train. I wanted it.

A painless shopping experience, a new lease of life for a beautiful but unloved skirt and half of my wedding outfit for £20. How amazing is that?

My advice to all brides is this - go to your local charity shops and ask to see their bridal wear. Some, like the shop I visited, have their own formal and wedding collections or special bridal rooms. Give them a chance. You never know what you'll find.

Bridezilcho's top tips for finding a beautiful budget wedding dress in a charity shop:

  • Try on as many dresses as you can! It can be a pain but it's well worth it, you'll never know if a vintage style suits you unless you put it on your body and twirl around
  • See past imperfections. If you love the style or the shape of a dress but it's not perfect, think about how you could customise it to make it your own
  • Ask questions. If you're keen on a certain style but you can't see what you want in the shop, there may be something you like "in the back"
  • Be open-minded. Second-hand wedding dresses get a rough deal because most people want a brand new designer dress - which is understandable! If you're the type of person, like me, who doesn't have the means or inclination to pay £500+ for a dress, or if the dress comes lower on your priority list, give your local charity shops a try.
  • Call up beforehand to see if they have bridal wear. If they do, ask if they take appointments, so you can have somebody to show you everything they have in stock. They'll appreciate the heads-up!
  • Think about how much you'll save when you're weighing up your options. If you budgeted £400 and the dress costs £80 in the charity shop, you can work out a budget for alterations and customising and still end up saving money.
  • Put it on layby. Charity shops don't work on commission so they won't push you into buying. However, many also use eBay and buy and sell groups online as a second and third revenue option. If you like a dress, it's a good idea to get it saved so nobody snaps it up online while you make your decision.
  • Enjoy the rummaging! Charity shops are treasure troves. Even if you don't find your dress, you could find centrepieces, decorations, bridesmaid dresses, flowergirl shoes... 
Got any questions about sourcing wedding stuff from charity shops? Or have you got your own tips to add? Drop me a comment or find me on Twitter!


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