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Consumer Interest in Pre-owned Wedding Dresses Skyrockets

Fashion search platform Lyst released its wedding report last week, and data shows that interest in pre-owned wedding gowns has skyrocketed.

Using a combination of search data and social media analysis, Lyst’s report compiled trends in wedding fashion, spending habits and areas of increased interest for those planning or attending nuptial events. The platform analyzed the searching, browsing and purchasing behavior of more than five million shoppers per month across 12,000 designers and online stores. Social media monitoring tools allowed Lyst to track the global use of wedding-related hashtags, brand mentions, sentiment and follower count.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the data revealed an increased interest in sustainability from brides-to-be.

Lyst asserted that the modern shopper’s “change in attitudes is impacting the bridal market,” and with a 93 percent increase in views of pre-owned wedding dresses year over year, the results are hard to deny. The report also detailed a 42 percent combined increase for searches including the words “vintage” and “second hand.”

Those stats also ring true for wedding e-commerce site Nearly Newlywed, which launched in 2012. CEO and founder Jackie Courtney started the business out of her apartment with a collection of 50 used dresses, and since the early days, the site has blossomed. Courtney estimated that there are now 6,000 dresses available on Nearly Newlywed—some new, but mostly used. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. The brand, according to Courtney, is on track to have one million brides on the platform this year.

“My goal was to de-stigmatize and elevate the re-sale experience in the wedding space,” Courtney explained. When planning her own wedding, Courtney had wondered how she could afford a Vera Wang gown, and struggled to justify the cost of a dress she’d only wear for a day. She bought the gown used, she said, adding, “today, that dress has been bought and sold four times.”

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Consumers’ increased sustainability concerns have played a sizable part in the growth of the business, according to Courtney. As the retail industry on the whole is evolving to accommodate consumer values, bridal is slowly following suit. “There are some people who feel very strongly about the sustainability piece—who know that they want to buy a pre-owned gown,” she added.

An equal driver of interest is access to product, she admitted. Nearly Newlywed’s virtual showroom opens up a myriad of previously unreachable possibilities to brides who can’t afford to buy high-priced gowns off the rack. Speed is also a definite consideration, with dresses shipping within two to three weeks.

The past seven years have offered up new learnings for Nearly Newlywed. In the beginning, employees photographed each dress in studio, in a style not unlike other e-commerce sites. But as time went on, they learned that photos from real brides helped consumers make more informed decisions about how a dress might actually look on them. Seeing the dress worn by a real life bride also helped communicate details about the alterations that had been performed. Early on, brides were reticent to share their photos online, but now, all that’s changed. “It’s just part of breaking down the stigma around re-selling a dress that you’re only going to wear once,” Courtney said.

While not the first bridal re-sale site, Nearly Newlywed seeks to differentiate itself through its authentication process. It’s not a peer-to-peer selling platform, Courtney stressed, adding that every dress that is sold comes through the brand’s New York offices to be evaluated for defects. She realized early that one barrier to entry in the bridal re-sale space would be consumer confidence. When making one of the most expensive purchases of her life, a bride needs to feel safe in her decision to buy online. A dress can be returned if it doesn’t fit, and many brides order a few gowns at a time to try on. Brides pay for shipping on the gowns that they buy, as well as the ones they wish to sell on the site.

One of the brand’s most prominent value propositions is the promise of  a pricey dress for less, but Courtney said a well-treated gown won’t depreciate much in value as it continues to change hands. Sellers of once-worn gowns will usually take the biggest hit, as shoppers for used goods generally seek to pay 30 to 40 percent below retail.

But as her Vera Wang gown continues to make the rounds, Courtney said it’s still selling for thousands on the site. “I’m proud of wearing a used gown,” she said. “I’m not embarrassed about it at all.”