The under-$20 bridal party. (Photo: Quy Tran Photography)
Would you consider buying a used, inexpensive wedding gown from a thrift store for your walk down the aisle? If you’re thinking absolutely not, Jen Meneely and Pippa Williams want you to reconsider.
The Houston-based duo, who run the thrift shopping blog Too Cheap Blondes, spend a lot of time digging up designer items at thrift stores and then sharing their impressively cheap finds with readers – from the $300 Kate Spade bag they took home for $2 to the $1300 Ralph Lauren camel hair blazer they snagged for $4. But they wanted to prove they could handle the ultimate thrift store challenge: a bridal party.
“We go to thrift stores all the time and we always run across these really nice evening gowns and wedding dresses and thought, ‘Gosh, we could put together an entire wedding, it’s crazy,” says Meneely. “And finally we said, 'Let’s just do it.’”
And they did do it (although the bride and wedding party were actually just models used for the experiment), finding a J. Crew wedding dress that once retailed for $550, six dresses for bridesmaids — including a brand-new-with tags Banana Republic dress (above, second from left) and an evening gown by designer Shelli Segal (above, second from right) — an ensemble for the mother of the bride, and even a tiny frock for the flower girl, all for a mindbending $18. Yep, just $2 per dress, But how’d they actually pull it off? And more importantly, how can you? The thrift store queens shared their strategy with Yahoo Makers.
They took their time.
Turns out formal dresses can be some of the easiest items to find in thrift stores, since most bridesmaids dresses, wedding gowns, and prom dresses are only worn once, which means they’re ripe for donating. Still, you’re not going to be able to head to the local Goodwill and find your perfect wedding gown and a gaggle of bridesmaids dresses in one fell swoop. “Make a girls’ shopping day once every couple of weeks. Give your bridesmaids a color scheme and have them find something they like,” says Meneely.
To put their own collection together, the women made one shopping trip a week for about six to eight weeks before they had the entire coordinated bridal party wardrobe in hand. “We went to probably three different stores over and over again, and some days we were empty handed,” admits Meneely.
Luckily, we’re in the middle of a mismatched bridesmaids trend (or maybe it’s the permanent wave of the wedding future), which means the options are better than ever for finding various styles and colors that suit your wedding party.
Meneely and Williams even found mother-of-the-bride and flower girl dresses for $2 each. (Photo: Quy Tran Photography)
They weren’t afraid of a little dirt … or salad dressing.
“Over 50 percent of the dresses had spots on them – either makeup, spray tans, food – and I think that’s why a lot of people don’t buy them,” says Williams. “The J. Crew dress was on the floor, it had been run over by a cart, it had black wheel marks on it.”
But, unbelievably, they didn’t have a single item professionally cleaned. Instead, they soaked any stained portions of the dresses for several hours in a combo of hot water and liquid Dawn (their silver bullet), then washed the gowns separately on the delicate cycle (sometimes multiple times) and hung them to dry. Only the wedding dress didn’t get a run in the washing machine since it was too delicate.
When it comes to dreaded deodorant stains, their no-fail trick is to use a wire brush. “Just rub the heck out of it and it’ll lift,” says Williams.
If you see a dress you’re sure is permanently stained, the ladies’ advice is to get it anyway. Oftentimes a stain that looks like it’ll never budge will come out with a little elbow grease. And if it doesn’t? Considering you only spent a couple of bucks, you can just toss the thing and start over.
The shopping experience may not be the most glamorous, but you’ll find bargains. (Photo: Too Cheap Blondes)
They didn’t always pay attention to the size on the tag
“If you like it, try it on anyway even if it’s not the right size because a lot of the time you’re buying a dress that’s already been altered,” advises Meneely. “That’s kind of the norm, most evening wear has at least been hemmed.”
They hunted down the absolute lowest-priced dresses they could find.
In their case, that meant visiting outlet locations of their local Texas thrift chain, Family Thrift Center, which end up with the items that the regular retail locations can’t sell, oftentimes because they may have been priced too high to begin with. At other thrift stores, it might mean waiting for items to get marked down, visiting a store on sale days, or paying attention to gimmicks a particular shop might use, like selling all of its clothing “by the pound.”
“This really is attainable in major cities,” Williams insists. “Thrift stores all have their own way of reducing prices … you just need to ask your local thrift store about how they operate their sales.”
And even if you spend more — say, you find a nice $50 gown — considering that the average bride spends more than $1,200 on a wedding dress, you’re still way ahead of the game. And that means more left to spend on what really matters – the honeymoon.
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