Rosemary Olivero tied the knot in Boston last summer.
The 32-year-old pediatrician, who recently moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., walked down the aisle in a Vera Wang dress that set her back $6,700.
But Olivero managed to recoup more than half of the gown's cost pretty quickly. She sold it for $3,500 on PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com -- two months before the wedding.
"I decided to pre-sell because I followed my heart -- but not my budget -- in choosing my dress," she tells DailyFinance.
"I liked the idea of a presale over selling after the wedding so that I could find the right buyer ahead of time, and I wouldn't have to stress about finding a buyer after the wedding."
She's not alone. A growing number of brides are selling their wedding gowns before ever saying, "I do."
The recession gave a lift to sites that sell used bridal gowns. Companies like PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, Encorebridal.com and SmartBrideBoutique.com all found their business thriving as tough economic times moved couples to work harder to trim the cost of their big day.
But the latest expression of frugality finds the current crop of brides-to-be thinking like savvy merchants: They're looking to secure buyers for gowns not yet worn, even carefully choosing the hottest-selling bridal frocks to enhance their resale value, says Josie Daga, founder of PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com. The site, with about 10,000 dress listings, bills itself as the biggest player in the secondary wedding-dress online market.
Selling your wedding dress online was still a novel concept in 2004, when PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com debuted, Daga says.
But when the economy tanked in 2008, the business "just exploded," as the downturn "put a focus on frugality for everyone," she says.
And as the dress-resale concept gained wider acceptance, the date period between the wedding and the resale kept shrinking.
More brides "were getting the dress up for sale the moment [after] they wore it. Then I started to see a pre-sale."
The desire to recover some of the value of the dress is the biggest factor motivating brides to pre-sell, experts say. Some are saying, "To afford it, I'm going to sell it," Daga says.
On PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, which markets gowns that range from $100 to $58,000, brides typically get back 50% of the retail price of the dress.
And while the site draws all income groups, brides who pre-sell, like Olivero, tend to be slightly more affluent women with gowns hovering in the $5,000 range, Daga says.
Many brides looks to the presale to free up cash for the wedding budget or to fund the purchase of a status dress.
These pre-sale brides are "generally in love with the more well-known dresses, like Vera Wang's Gemma, which Hillary Duff wore to her wedding, and the Vera Wang Diana dress that Chelsea Clinton wore, which was a very hot pre-sale dress," she says. "They figure: 'This is a popular dress and I have a good chance of selling it.' "
That was Olivero's thinking. She knew her Vera Wang Diana dress "was pretty popular last year, and I thought selling it at a little more than half the retail price was fair," she says.
As more brides resell their gowns, dress preservations, in turn, are on the decline, dipping about 10% in the last two years, says Sally Conant, executive director of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists. Her estimates are based on trends at 90 wedding dress cleaners across the country.
"The whole concept of being frugal about the wedding dress is very much in vogue now," Conant tells DailyFinance.
But changing attitudes are also nudging the resale trend. For a segment of today's modern women, the notion of the wedding dress as a cherished heirloom is waning.
"I don't think brides attach the same sentiment to the dress as our moms did," Daga says.
Likewise, the dress is no longer viewed as a keepsake that might one day get passed down to a daughter. Only about 6% of brides today consider wearing their mother's dress, Daga says. Nor do they expect their own daughter to don what will likely be an outdated frock decades later.
Olivero reasoned: "I felt that my dress was of a contemporary style, and it would be out of style for my future daughter's wedding."
Instead, more women want their once-worn dress to be enjoyed now. Daga often hears this refrain: "I love this dress. I want someone else to love it. I don't want to keep it in the closet" -- which is precisely how Olivero felt. "I wanted someone else to enjoy the dress," she says.
'Trashing the Dress'
One need look no further than the "trash the dress" trend for proof that the notion of wedding-dress-as-precious-keepsake is being ripped to shreds -- literally.
Some brides are opting for "trash the dress" wedding photos, a trend that turns the tradition of formal, posed shots on its head, and captures brides taking "outrageous pictures wearing their gown -- jumping into the pool, diving into the ocean, wandering through a barnyard -- not worrying about what happens to the dress," Conant says.
An informal Facebook poll by DailyFinance on bridal site The Knot turned up several women opting for a wedding album filled with trash the dress, or "rock the frock," shots.
"I'd like to sell it, because no one is going to wear it in 20 years!" said one woman. "But I am trashing my dress for some amazing pictures, so we will see once I get out of the snow and river with it."
Yet surprisingly, the poll also revealed that old-fashioned sentimentality surrounding the dress is alive and well.
DailyFinance asked The Knot's Facebook fans: "Would you consider pre-selling your dress before the wedding in order to have extra funds for the big day?"
Most of the 72 respondents opposed pre-sales, or indeed, selling the wedding dress at all -- some vehemently so -- which was reflected in the many "nos!" and "nevers!" posted in response -- as well as one "not in a million years!"
Said one woman: "My dress was made just for me, and I'll never part with it -- except maybe when my future daughter decides to get hitched."