Millennials may be delaying marriage and tying the knot in fewer numbers, but when they do opt for matrimony, they’re finding ways to do so on the cheap, starting with the wedding dress.
According to The Knot, the average wedding dress costs more than $1,300, an exorbitant price tag for cash-strapped millennials hoping to offset the cost of a gown they’ll likely only wear once. To help shoppers navigate the nascent world of secondhand bridal, companies like Our Story Bridal – a resale bridal boutique in New York City – and e-commerce websites like Stillwhite and Wedding Recycle are appearing with growing frequency to offer up alternative options.
The emerging bridal resale market marks a sweet spot among two concurrently booming industries – the bridal industry, which is now worth an estimated $72 billion, and the the resale market, which is expected to reach $51 billion in the next five years thanks to the rising popularity of brands like ThredUp and Poshmark. In June, luxury consignment retailer The RealReal became the first resale company to go public, which it did at a valuation of $1.5 billion.
“The modern-day bride is a lot more savvy with money, and savvy about the environment and sustainability,” said Jess Walker, head of marketing at Stillwhite. “Brides have started to think, ‘Okay, I’m only wearing this dress for five hours. Why would I spend $4,000 on a dress and then keep it for the rest of my life when I can recoup that cost?'”
According to the US Census Bureau, three in 10 young adults age 18 to 34 have ever been married, compared to six in 10 in 1980. Analysts say the dip can be attributed to a confluence of factors such as lingering economic insecurity from the recession and the impact of the estimated $1.5 trillion student loan crisis.
Touting lower costs and sustainability to woo millennials
Still, for young couples who are choosing to say “I do,” they are increasingly doing so in ways that buck tradition, by finding methods that both cut costs and support a circular economy, like purchasing synthetic diamond rings and selecting sustainable vendors for their weddings. According to a 2018 Nielsen study, millennials are more than twice as likely as baby boomers to purchase sustainable products, at a rate of 75% versus 34%.
Stillwhite – founded in 2010 by Australian couple Bruno & Ingrid Szajer – was designed to cater to these young, eco-conscious couples, Walker said. The brand functions as a platform for users to sell their dresses online, after first paying a $20 entrance fee and creating a Stillwhite profile. Similar to sites like Poshmark, interested buyers can browse by designer and style to find an option they like before messaging sellers to ask questions and request additional photos. Buyers and sellers can also set up a time to meet to try on the dress if geography permits, or they can purchase securely from the site.
Today, Stillwhite is one of the largest wedding dress resale sites in the world, with nearly 50,000 active listings and $30 million in sales. A quick scroll through the home page shows a wide variety in price point, style, and size, including a $179 Galina dress, a $430 Reformation gown, and a $5,000 Pnina Tornai frock.
“Back when Stillwhite started, it wasn’t really a thing to sell your dress online,” Walker said. “But that’s where [the founders] saw an opportunity, because there were so many brides they knew that just left their dress in their wardrobe or under the bed.”
Much like online consignment brands like The RealReal starting to wade into brick-and-mortar retail, Our Story Bridal wanted to provide a tangible, hands-on experience for bridal resale. As stores like Kleinfeld of “Say Yes To The Dress” fame continue to draw brides en masse to browse garments with price tags as high as $80,000, Our Story Bridal is attempting to replicate the experience with previously worn gowns.
“We differentiate ourselves with brick-and-mortar and curating our inventory, unlike a website where everybody is pulled in and you have some dresses where you have no idea what they look like or what condition they’re in,” said Ana Maes, cofounder of Our Story. “We offer a very high-end experience. We like to compare ourselves to the top bridal designer boutiques where you have the full service.”
Like Kleinfeld, Our Story is also located in New York City and takes visitors by appointment to try on gowns that are discounted by up to 65%. According to Maes, most of the gowns are sourced locally, and an estimated 30-40% are previously worn dresses. The remaining dresses in the collection are samples that come directly from designers.
Moving forward, both Our Story and Stillwhite said they anticipate that more and more consumers will opt into bridal resale.
“It’s just such a big market and we’re focusing more on sustainability and how we can help brides understand that they’re genuinely helping the planet through resale,” Walker said.