Photo © Jennifer Blackerby Designs. Courtesy of Jennifer Blackerby.

This is the first post in a new series called Ask the Dressmaker. Jennifer Blackerby, of Jennifer Blackerby Designs, will be answering our questions regarding dresses. If you have a question for our Ask the Dressmaker series, or our Ask the TCRG series, please email them to goinfeisin@yahoo.com.

Irish Dance Dresses – Used vs. New

Used or New?

You have a family, you have a budget, and you have a need to buy an Irish dance dress. The question you now face is whether you should you buy a used dress or a new one.

There’s no doubt about it, buying a new dress is expensive! With the average price of a new dress somewhere between $2,000 and $3,500, a new dress can definitely put a gaping hole in your wallet! A new dress, however, is made to specifically fit your dancer, both size and style.

Alternatively, buying a used dress can save you a bunch of money. There are always many people who are looking to sell, and if you play your cards right, you can get a deal, especially just after major competitions. There is also usually the advantage of being able to try the dress on first. There’s a lot to be said for a dress you know will fit straight out of the gate.

Common Problems with Used Dresses

However, there are also some common problems with used dresses.

A number of years ago now, my daughter was preparing to do her first solos at Oireachtas. We were a couple of weeks out from the big competition when I was looking at the used dress boards. A beautiful red dress from the most popular dressmaker at that time became available, and I jumped at it. I confirmed the measurements, got it approved by her TCRG, paid for the dress and rush shipping from Ireland. Two days before we were due to leave for Oireachtas, the dress arrived. It was beautiful, it fit perfectly, and it stank to high heaven! Cigarette smoke and sweat, yuck!

My daughter, who is incredibly allergic to both pets and smoke, could barely stand to wear it!

I learned a big lesson that day, and as I discussed buying a dress used vs new with dressmaker, Jennifer Blackerby, of Jennifer Blackerby Designs, she confirmed my lessons learned. “When buying a used dress, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the dress, especially if the listing is not very detailed.”

Questions You Should Ask the Seller

Questions you should ask when buying a used dress include:

  • Whether the dress has any stains or odors
  • Whether the dress is from a smoke free/pet free home
  • Whether the dress has ever been altered
  • Whether the dress is missing any crystals or has any loose embroidery

Of course, you can expect that the dress might have some slight problems, such as loose threads. However, the price should reflect the condition. Other common things with used dresses include alteration marks and added extra fabric when the dress has been let out.

If loose threads are an issue, many people recommend Fray Check Liquid Seam Sealant. Jennifer Blackerby cautions that you should consider the fabric before using Fray Check. If the dress is made with acetate fabric (common in velvet), it can melt the fabric. Some people also recommend a product called Snag-It. [Full disclosure: These links are affiliate links. While it will not cost you any extra to purchase from them, I do make a little bit of money on the purchase. I have no experience with either of these products, but I have seen them recommended many times by other Irish dance parents].

You should also make sure you check how the dress was measured. It doesn’t do much good to have a picture of a dress lying flat with a measuring tape on top. If that is the best measurement you can get, you may want to insist that the dress be returnable.

© Jennifer Blackerby Designs. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Blackerby.

Tip: Always run any used dress you are considering purchasing by your TCRG. Your TCRG will know whether the dress will suit your dancer and whether the dress is currently in style. They will most likely also be better able to pick out any problems with the dress and let you know whether the price is reasonable.

Goin' Feisin'

Try the Dress on First If Possible

As mentioned, one of the advantages of buying a used dress is to be able to try it on first. However, if that is not possible, Miss Blackerby strongly recommends finding a seamstress who is experienced in altering Irish dance dresses if you have to have the dress altered.

You should also confirm the terms of sale on the dress. Is the dress returnable, and if it is not, are you willing to take on reselling it?

Shipping from Overseas

Shipping from overseas can add a new set of issues to contend with. When buying used or new, you should also check where the dress is shipping from, and if it will arrive in time for when you need it. There’s nothing like expecting your dress to arrive only to find out it’s been held up at customs (yes, it has happened to me).

If the dress is shipping from overseas, what are the shipping costs, and alternatively, if the dress doesn’t work and is returnable, is it cost prohibitive for you to send it back?

Finally, you should check the currency exchange rate. This changes often, so be prepared for swings in the price. Also, there are many credit cards that charge you a foreign transaction fee (usually around 3%) when buying things in a different currency.

Protect Yourself

Always protect yourself in online financial transactions! Used Solo Dresses has an article that gives tips for protecting yourself when buying used dresses. The most important thing is to use common sense. Do not accept checks for dresses, use a trusted source (such as PayPal) for payment, make sure payment has completely cleared before you send the dress, and don’t be afraid to ask to contact the TCRG of the person who owns the dress.

In many cases, buying a used dress can be a great alternative, especially to the wallet. Be careful to ask the important questions and protect yourself financially, and you can usually get a great dress for a great price. Next up, we will be talking about strategies and tips for buying new dresses. If you have any questions for Ask the Dressmaker, please send them to goinfeisin@yahoo.com.

P.S. The trick I used for the smell in the used red dress was to put the dress in an enclosed dress box, lay pillow cases on top of the dress to protect the fabric, and cover the pillow cases in a whole box of Arm & Hammer dryer sheets. Yes, the whole box! It helped a lot!

Jennifer Blackerby is a dressmaker from the United States. She is the owner of Jennifer Blackerby Designs.