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Second-Hand Prom Wear

I love to shop and hunt for bargains. It takes time, but it also can pay off in a big way, especially with a big purchase. Prom dresses these days certainly fall into the category of big purchase. But they don’t have to.

With prom season just two months away, many girls already may have ordered their new dress and are working on shoes and fittings now. For those who are still deciding what to wear, they could find plenty of choices in the formerly worn—as in used—prom dress market.

The benefits:
• No waiting time for the dress to be made and shipped to you or the store;
• Saving at least $100!
• Few worries about keeping “the resale value” intact;
• Savings can be applied to shoes, hair or college;
• Possible one-of-a-kind status.

Several options offer prom or homecoming dresses at bargain prices. The first stop may be your local resale shop. People donate or even consign prom dresses they no longer plan to wear or hand down to a sibling or cousin.

Don’t overlook the discount racks at department stores and specialty dress shops. Just because a dress didn’t sell last season doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect for you this year. One girl’s reject is another girl’s dream dress.

Don’t limit yourself to the newest styles. Find the dress that works for you in looks, comfort and budget.

When I was shopping for my wedding gown, the husband of a friend who was helping me innocently asked one day: “Why doesn’t Eileen just wear your dress?” His wife and I looked aghast. I was looking for my dress.

Don’t forget to ask around. Are there any cousins, friends of the family or your own friends who have a dress that they don’t plan to wear again? Lots of girls swap or share dresses, especially if they are going to more than one prom in a year. With a homecoming dance each fall and a prom each spring, my nieces (and my sister, their mother) were not going to spend hundreds of dollars twice a year.

Megan, now 23, recalls, “My sister and I bought homecoming dresses at our church rummage sale one year. They were a great deal and for one night, who wants to spend all of their money?”

She also was OK with sharing dresses among her friends. “I have trouble bringing myself to re-wear any prom dresses because you take so many pictures that night,” Megan says, “and so it feels really obvious when re-wearing. I do love sharing dresses among friends, though, because they fit everyone a little differently.”

People with crazy aunts may even have extra dresses hanging in their closets. I bought two new dresses for my nieces at a local auction when they were in high school. The dresses were gorgeous and no one was bidding at $50 each. I couldn’t let them go, so I bid, won and mailed them to my nieces in Wisconsin. They didn’t wear them (which I still think was a mistake), but one was worn by at least one friend of theirs and the other was passed back to me when they graduated high school for my daughter to consider in the future.

Go online. My first stop would be eBay because I’ve bought and sold many items there, especially children’s clothing. Sellers are generally very truthful in what they are offering for sale and because buyers give feedback, there’s tremendous incentive to provide good service. A recent search for “prom dress” turned up 250,450 possibilities, many of which were new. I narrowed the search to “prom dress used” and that turned up 3,928 dresses. Using the official lingo of “prom dress EUC” (which means Excellent Used Condition) resulted in 84 dresses.

Then I searched for size 12, my high school size, and that revealed only four hits. I expanded the search to “prom dress EUC 14” and figured I could get the dress taken in, and this yielded 14 dresses. Most sellers noted that each dress had only been worn once, which makes a lot of sense. Most were for sale at way below $50 each.

One of my favorites was a short, black dress, described this way: “You are viewing a black Charlotte Russe prom/occasion dress in size 13/14. Dress is in EUC. Dress is without stain or tear or odor. Dress is cotton/poly/spandex blend and has a bit of tulle underneath for fullness.” “Buy it now” price is $12.99 plus $5.15 for shipping.
Not a bad deal at all, even after some dry cleaning.

Don’t forget about tuxedos. Resale shops frequently get tuxes donated for sale, as do church auctions or yard sales, and certainly eBay. (A search on eBay for “tuxedo” yielded more than 98,000 options. Ahhhh!) If a boy thinks he may go to more than one prom in his high school career and possibly a formal dance or two after that, or even a wedding, investing in a pre-owned tux may be a good idea. After all, it could always be made into a Halloween costume.

I look forward to shopping for the prom with my daughter. I didn’t go to my prom, yet I love dressing up, especially with formalwear. I’d feel much better if we could do one prom on a budget, sort of like a tryout. Then the next year, she or we can go for broke—figuratively, I hope, not literally.

Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.


Picture Above: Michael Davis Photo

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