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What to do with bridesmaid dresses of weddings past

Bridesmaid dresses
Wedding-Recycle.com, a site where you can buy reasonably-priced dresses and accessories. Screengrab Wedding-Recycle.com

TORONTO – The bridesmaid dress is often painted as the ugly stepsister of gowns: Strange sleeves, awkward lengths or colours that only seem like a good idea when you’re lined up next to an equally weird-hued wedding party.

But there are some ways you can feel good about those dresses – or even recoup some of the financial loss.

Marnie Harper has been volunteering with Toronto theatre group Curtain Call Players since 1989, and she happily donated two of her bridesmaids dresses to be used as costumes.

“My brother’s back in the ‘80s was the first one…we called it the blood clot dress because it’s a lovely colour,” she laughed. “The other one I donated was from my sister’s wedding which was a little higher into the ‘80s; it was actually a cocktail dress with a handkerchief hem, and I actually wore that in one of the dance numbers—‘Blow Gabriel Blow,’ when we did Anything Goes.”

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WATCH: How to repurpose your old bridesmaid dresses

Harper said she knew she’d never wear the dresses again—which she said cost “probably a couple of hundred bucks total”—and remembers five or six other cast members donated their wedding dresses to be used on stage. Her brother’s dress was put to use by fellow performers.

“It was so funny: As I’m sitting in the audience I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, there’s the dress I wore to my brother’s wedding.’”

While community theatre groups or local organizations that donate dresses to those who can’t afford them are great options for those who can afford it, one accounting firm is encouraging Canadians to sell old dresses and make back some of the money spent.

“Quite often the general population of people getting married are in their 20s, early 30s—they may not have high incomes,” said Leah Drewcock, trustee in bankruptcy from BDO Canada‘s financial recovery services practice. “Two hundred dollars out of your monthly budget could be a car payment, that could be your fuel for the month.”

Bridesmaid and wedding dresses can be sold on sites like eBay or Kijiji, but there are also sites dedicated specifically to the various outfits in a wedding party.

Not everyone can afford British designer Nicki Macfarlane, who designed the bridesmaid’s gowns for Will and Kate’s royal wedding seen above.
Not everyone can afford British designer Nicki Macfarlane, who designed the bridesmaid’s gowns for Will and Kate’s royal wedding seen above. ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images

SmartBride Boutique allows users to post new and used designer wedding and bridesmaid dresses, along with shoes, jewelry, veils and accessories. The site estimates about a 50 per cent savings from retail cost and advertises name brands such as Vera Wang, Melissa Sweet, Paloma Blanca and Maggie Sottero.

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PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com also has bridesmaid, flower girl and mother of the bride (“MOB”) sections. It offers the option to narrow search by factors such as price range (in USD), designer name, height with shoes, or year purchased.

There’s also a wedding section on Tradesy.com, which allows users to list new and gently used clothes—though the company keeps 9 per cent of your earnings—and then you cash out to PayPal. When your item is sold, the company sends a shipping kit in the mail for you to send your item in.

When it comes to other items like party favours or table decorations, there’s also Wedding-recycle.com, which resembles a giant wedding-themed Pinterest board.

“A lot of people are embarrassed to say no when they’re asked to be a bridesmaid; it’s a great honour,” Drewcock said. “There’s so many other options. … What was once old is new again, and it’s a great way to save money.”