Where to Buy Wedding Dresses Online: Two Unexpected “Gems”

New Zealand bride Jayde Hunt had no intention of spending thousands of dollars on a wedding dress. She wanted a wedding dress she felt beautiful in, and when she ordered her dress online she felt certain she’d gotten one for under $300. (One New Zealand dollar is equal to about .066 US dollars). But when her wedding dress reached her home, it wasn’t what she expected when she ordered online.

The good news was that it did resemble the dress, and it wasn’t falling apart. But it was so ill-fitting that she ended up having to spend another $200 on alterations-two thirds the cost of the dress itself.

A lesson in caution

Some women get truly fortunate when they order wedding dresses online. But just as common is a story like Hunt’s. Perhaps contrary to popular belief, outright scams, or ‘catfish dresses’, are not as common as simply ordering and getting something like Hunt’s dress, which requires a good amount of alterations to make it wearable.

The problem, of course, is that an experience like this is not only stressful but undermines one of the main reasons most brides opt to buy a wedding dress online: to save money. But that doesn’t mean everyone should write off buying a wedding dress online.

One way to avoid a last-minute dilemma, or breaking your budget, is by knowing where to buy wedding dresses online–and where to avoid.

Two Unexpected Places to buy Wedding Dresses Online

For this review, we’ve picked two slightly less conventional options as places to buy a wedding dress online. There were many factors in our selection, including:

  • Variety of selection
  • Customer service
  • Return/ Exchange Policies
  • Price & Discounts
  • Payment Methods
  • Frequency of listings
  • Company Information
  • Quality of selection
  • Unique Selections or Customization

None of these retailers are perfect or without risks. Whenever you’re buying a wedding dress online. Just like when you shop online for anything, it’s crucial to read and fully understand privacy policies, payment methods, and security measures. Some of these retailers have big benefits in one category and are weaker in others. The purpose of this review is to highlight some features so you can decide what online retailer sounds best for you and your situation.

Our focus here is niche: both options offer specific types of bridal gowns (custom vs designer).

For Custom Gowns: Etsy

brideWhile this may seem an odd place to start, it’s quite possibly the most inspiring place to buy a wedding dress online from our list. Even if you haven’t ever shopped on Etsy, chances are you’ve heard of it.

Launched in 2003, Etsy is an online marketplace for handcrafted and vintage goods and has some truly unique items. That includes an entire wedding section, which features not only wedding dresses, but accessories, decor, and invitations.

Customer Service: Customer service appears to be a little limited. There’s a general contact email if you’re concerned about Etsy’s terms of use. A help center offers general information about policies. You do have an option to pose questions or concerns on their forums, but this is more of a community-based thing. For better or worse, Etsy is a little more hands-off.

Returns and Refunds require you follow a specific process. In order to return something, you must first establish an agreement with the seller.

 Payment and Security: Etsy offers customers a few ways to verify sellers, and feel more confident about their purchase:

  • Reviews
  • Seller profile pages
  • Seller Service Level Standards
  • Secure Communication
  •  Etsy’s Case System

brideReviews are just what they sound like: customers provide feedback on seller’s pages. While this can be a good indicator, it appears that feedback skews very positive. That either could be in part because it’s mostly satisfied customers; it could be a sampling error (sellers exceptionally pleased are more likely to leave a public review than customers only somewhat pleased), or there could be other possibilities.

Seller profile pages provide, or should, what else the seller sells; where the seller is based; and how long the seller has been open for business. If you can see if you can verify this information: some sellers are connected, for instance, to bridal boutiques. Of course, this is not always the case, and individual sellers are harder to verify.

Seller Service Levels refers to Etsy’s regulatory system: “Etsy’s teams monitor problematic behavior” and will ban sellers who “persistently contribute to a negative buyer experience”. Etsy employs what they term a “Trust and Safety” team, who work to review accounts, reported cases, and consistently low reviews. This is a safeguard you won’t find with other online retailers often, and it’s definitely a plus.

Another plus is Etsy’s Case System, where customers can file a report concerning fraudulent or misleading (or missing entirely) orders.

Finally, Etsy claims to monitor your profile and will report any fraudulent activity they notice. They will also temporarily suspend your account until the problem is resolved.

woman in dress

Prices and Shopping: You can shop within different budget ranges, but these ranges tend to be a little less useful for wedding dresses since they only go up to “$100 and above”.

You can also filter by national or international, and custom (as opposed to vintage, used, etc). To avoid wading through all wedding attire ( a search for “wedding dresses” will also bring up bridesmaid dresses, flower girl attire, and more), go to the main menu and select the subcategory of wedding dresses under wedding attire. Unfortunately, you’ll still get a few other items, and if you filter by price, you’ll see fabric swatches at the lowest end.

Current price range: $25 to $50,000. This is a huge range until you consider very expensive dresses are rarer, and there’s a healthy number of dresses in the $300-$5,000 range. It’s not hard to find dresses where you’ll still be saving a lot.

Finding a dress may take a while (Etsy is not as organized as some sites), but using keywords in the search engine does help.

What can you find? With a large and growing selection of wedding dresses, there’s plenty of styles you can find. Certainly, there are some more classic gowns, but Etsy’s wedding dresses are mostly things you’d have more trouble finding in a traditional bridal suite–which is a draw for some and maybe less enticing to others.

Here are the most popular styles you’ll find:

  • Bohemian: Flowing chiffon, relaxed A-lines, and sheaths, and casual elegance are all very popular styles on Etsy. Since they’re custom-made, you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
  • Colored: If you’re open to bucking the white tradition, Etsy is a great place to start your online shopping. You’ll find dresses in blush and shades of pink, but also grays, blues, golds, silvers, and even more bold colors. Pastels are most common, but you can certainly find bold primary colors, prints, and patterns.
  • Vintage: You may have heard of “vintage inspired” trends in bridal fashion, but Etsy has plenty of wedding dresses that are truly vintage. They might need some alterations or updates, but it’s hard to find real vintage dresses and this is a hot spot.

What are the worst parts about shopping on Etsy?

If you want something ultra-modern or sleek, there are far fewer options. You also won’t find much in the way of (contemporary) designer gowns, or the latest fashions.

Beyond selection:

  • More basic search filters
  • Taking a chance on third-party sellers (through Etsy’s security measures and company standards do act as a safeguard)
  • Constantly changing selection–which is a big plus, but you could also find something and have it not available the next time you shop

For Designer Gowns: Used Wedding Dress Sites

used wedding dress sites

There are too many used wedding dress sites to easily include in this entire review. But they do exist, and these ones are specifically catered towards selling wedding dresses alone.

Technically, Amazon and eBay also sell used wedding dresses, but the difference between sites like eBay and Amazon and these sites. Once Wed, Pre-Owned, and Still White are perhaps the best known. And while each company does things a bit differently, they operate on somewhat the same models (Be sure to check out our full review on these sites).

The model:

  • Sample and lightly-worn dresses are sold by past brides
  • Payments are handled between seller and buyer, with some company oversight
  • Anyone can become a seller; the seller usually pays a listing fee
  • Dresses are listed with information on their condition (normally, used/ sample/ new)

Customer Service: In most cases, these sites, like Etsy, provide some support services but also rely on general help/ FAQ centers, as well as community forums. Some sites, like Pre-Owned, offer a direct contact email, though it’s more or less a simple query form.

Returns and Refunds: Like Etsy, these sites, unfortunately, don’t offer much in the way of refunds. Basically, you must be aware of, and agree to, the seller’s own terms and conditions. Once Wed suggests you follow steps to avoid a purchasing mistake. Still White claims that “you can always sell” the dress if you change your mind.

Payment & Security: In a departure from other online retailers, these sites typically frown on using major credit cards and instead lean towards secure payment methods like Paypal and Escrow. Each site has a slightly different policy of “buyer protection”:

  • Still White refers you to Paypal’s Buyer Protection Program. All disputes must be submitted through a Paypal account; Still White does not handle disputes.
  • Once Wed also has a hands-off approach, but suggests you direct disputes or inquiries through Escrow.
  • Pre-Owned suggests either Paypal or Escrow, though does not seem to demand it. Like the others, however, it considers itself merely a listing service and therefore not liable in disputes.

Unlike Etsy, you’re also likely working with one-time sellers. Because of that, you are unable to see reviews. The one thing on these sites that is an improvement when it comes to buying a security is that sometimes a seller is willing to let you try on a dress if you live locally. Of course, this is infrequent, and you still need to exercise precaution when meeting anyone you do not know.

Another option: assuming the dress is indeed what’s listed, specific designer names and dress style numbers allow you ostensibly to find that same dress to try on in person at a bridal store. One of the hardest things about shopping for a dress online is not knowing what it looks like on you.

Prices and Shopping: As you can imagine, this can vary greatly and change at any time. The current range for Pre-Owned (as of the writing of this review) is $25 to $22,000. With new listings constantly, it shouldn’t be hard to find dresses at a variety of price points. Prices depend greatly on the original retail price. Most sites will advertise how much the original retail price was so you see how much you’re saving.

As far as shopping goes, the experience is a good deal more streamlined and user-friendly than Etsy, in part because these retailers are solely providing listings for bridal wear.

Advanced search engines and a variety of filters make finding a wedding dress far more simple. Typical filter options include:

  • Designer
  • Street Size (bridal sizing is different, so this is a smarter way to list–you can also find brides with proportions comparable to yours)
  • Price
  • Style
  • Material
  • Silhouette
  • Neckline
  • Sleeve Style
  • Color
  • Length
  • Location

What can you find?

These sites lean heavily on name brand and designer labels, though you can also find bridal chain brands (David’s Bridal; the now-defunct Alfred Angelo, etc). There is no specific emphasis on style because these are all individual sellers offering different brands. In general, you won’t find as many custom or vintage dresses. Dresses tend to be a bit more classic or modern, and while you can find colored wedding dresses, the options vary more than Etsy.

What are the worst parts about shopping on these sites? Pre-Owned, Still White, and  Once Wed don’t offer some of the security options that Etsy does through its review process. While Etsy is more hands-off than some online retailers, these sites essentially consider themselves a venue for sellers to list their dresses. Because of this, you have to have confidence in who you are buying from, and also be familiar with Paypal’s or Escrow’s policies.

So, what’s the Verdict?

There are plenty of great places where you can buy wedding dresses online. But among the enormous volume of options, both Etsy and used wedding dress sites like Once Wed, Still White, and Pre-owned standout.

While neither is risk-free, all these options do offer some level of security and are generally considered secure sites. There’s also plenty of variety, a constant influx of new offerings, and a wide range of price points.

The chart below summarizes the best place to shop for different dresses or services.

EtsyPre-Owned/ Once Wed/ Still White
Ability to get custom sizingAbility to try on in a bridal store
Vintage DressesBridal Boutique Dresses
Bohemian DressesDesigner Dresses
Colored DressesOn-trend/ current styles

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