Buying Resale Formal Gowns for Homecoming, Prom

Searching for a second hand, gently used homecoming dress or resale prom dress at a consignment shop is a budget-friendly way to find gorgeous gowns.

Fashion trends are top of mind when homecoming and prom seasons roll around. For high schoolers, finding a dream formal gown is the priority, while mom’s goal is to keep costs low.

Families can find both budget-friendly formal wear and gorgeous gently used homecoming dresses or prom dresses at metro Detroit consignment shops.

Why buy resale formal gowns

Money savings is the No. 1 advantage to shopping at the nearest resale shops for prom dresses and homecoming gowns, says Linda Bittner, owner of The Clothing Exchange in Fraser.

Her shop, which has been open for 23 years, gets homecoming and prom dresses from locals looking to sell once-worn dresses in good condition. The resale shop even gets new dresses from bridal shops on consignment, she says. All are sold at a fraction of the original price. Some of those brand new gowns from bridal boutiques, she says, come in with tags anywhere from $200 to $600.

“But when we price them, we price them depending on size and style, we price them from $68 to about $198 at the most,” Bittner says as an example. “The pricing is much cheaper.”

Carolyn Joseth, co-owner of Bellocchio Upscale Resale in Royal Oak, notes at Bellocchio, “we price things 60-70 percent off the original retail, so it’s great savings. If it’s here long enough it gets marked down.”

So if your daughter attends a dance or two (or more) per school year, the money savings is worth it, since prom gowns can run into the triple digits.

Also, know that consignment shops work differently than donation and thrift stores because the shop is essentially selling the dresses for the owner. Generally, these resale shops are pickier about what they try to resell.

As Joseth points out, although all consignment stores have different guidelines, shoppers can find high quality gowns at resale stores. At Bellocchio, items are “gently used because that’s all we take. We don’t take anything that beads are missing (or has) snags.”

Bittner at The Clothing Exchange echoes that standard. “It’s not something … that is going to be torn or stained or dirty because we’re so picky about what we take in,” she says.

Shoppers will find a variety of dress styles and sometimes even vintage gowns at these stores. And remember, the same dresses hanging on racks in these shops are still the same dresses that cost somebody $500.

Tips for shopping resale formal dresses

Bittner offers some tips for shopping resale stores for prom dresses and homecoming dresses: “Keep checking back and start early.” Stock of dresses varies, and girls start shopping months in advance (like January and February for prom in the spring).

“Because we take things in every single day and we never know what’s coming in, if a girl’s looking for something in particular, we put them on something we call a wish list,” she says.

Girls can put down exactly what they’re looking for, and if it comes through The Clothing Exchange, Bittner will give them a call.

On the downside, not all consignment and resale shops sell formal gowns or always have them, so going this route may require some shopping around. And, dresses are so unique, what you see is what you get.

“The only downfall is if they come in and they see something, we can’t order it. We can’t get it for them in a different size,” she says.

But for some dresses, small alterations will do. “We can also refer people to alteration people who aren’t going to charge them an arm and a leg,” Bittner says.

Be open minded

Unfortunately, Bittner says, teen girls will sometimes come into the store with a preconceived idea about resale and doubt they’ll find a second hand dress they’ll like. Meanwhile, she adds, “the mothers are just crossing their fingers that they find something.”

Joseth and co-owner of Bellocchio with business partner Carol Dowling have been in the consignment business for about 16 years. “Resale has taken a giant leap in the last 10 years from being just thrift to being true design resale.”

The key is to keep an open mind about resale formal gowns. Teen girls may be surprised at what they find when they do browse consignment racks. Joseth says sometimes moms will bring their kids into the shop and “the daughters are pleasantly surprised,” she says, noting the reaction is something like, “I never dreamed that resale could be so good!”

Bittner says a teen may come into the shop, see a dress and “she might not think it’s so great when it’s on the hanger. And then she puts it on, it’s a perfect fit.”

Definitely give it a shot – and don’t write off this cost-saving measure this formal season.


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