It's a wedding trend that would have been unthinkable in the boom era that brought us Bridezilla-themed reality TV, but is gaining traction in these leaner times: more brides-to-be are opting for wedding dresses that have already taken a trip down the aisle.

According to The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), trade in pre-worn gowns is growing brisker as recession-minded couples look for ways to stretch their wedding budgets, and online used-dress sites bring buyers and sellers together. The average amount spent on weddings has climbed steadily over the past several years; this year, the average cost for nuptials was $30,860, according to the Bridal Association of America.

In many currently distressed real estate markets, that's a down payment.

For frugal fiancees, this is where sites like preownedweddingdresses.com come in handy. The site, which was launched by a bride looking for a way to resell her own wedding gown, now offers an array of more than 2,300 dresses at any given time. Another site, oncewed.com, includes a wedding vendor guide and DIY decor projects. A quick Google search turns up several more examples of this sign-of-the-times marketplace.
While it's common for men to rent tuxes for the Big Day, there's often greater sentimental attachment to the dress, which is one of the reasons why buying a gently-used wedding dress might not be for everyone. This secondary market also adds another element of legwork to what can already be a stressful search process. The Journal article tells of women flying cross-country to try on a coveted gown, obviously not a step every bride wants to fit into her schedule. If the style's widely available, though, some savvy shoppers try the dress on in a bridal store before they commit to a purchase.

But there are certainly upsides, starting with the price. Used gowns can go for less than half of their retail value, putting designer names within reach of those with smaller budgets. One note: these dresses still aren't always what some penny-pinchers would classify as "cheap." Yes, Vera Wang for $2,000 is a relative steal, but it's still two grand.

Another perk is that sellers will sometimes throw in veils, tiaras or other matching accessories. Many of the listings on the sites are exhaustively detailed, including what alterations, if any, were done and how they changed the final measurements.

Of course, some brides-to-be find the sites a justification for dropping big bucks on a gown, rationalizing the splurge by assuming they can sell it later. This isn't really a great strategy; there's no guarantee another woman with the same measurements will fall in love with the same dress, or an over-jubilant toast during the reception couldn't permanently stain it.

Bottom line for brides-to-be: It's a dress, not an investment.

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