Last fall, newly engaged to her boyfriend of nine years, Laura Day took a trip back home to Halifax to go dress shopping with her mother. Their first stop was David’s Bridal, where they rather quickly found a long, lacy gown that Day felt fit her vision of the wedding well enough. She told the sales associate she would take it. But what followed completely changed her mind.
“[The salesperson] brought over this little bell, and [recited], ‘You’ve met this man; this is the dress you’ll wear when you decide to spend the rest of your life with him… Do you want to ring the bell?,’” the 32-year-old recalls. The excessiveness of the ritual threw into sudden relief her ambivalence about the dress—as well as her reluctance to contribute to what she sees as problematic traditions that are so prevalent within the wedding industry.
“I felt uncomfortable with the focus on the ‘bride’s beauty’ as a central part of a wedding,” Day says. “It’s objectifying and reinforces [the idea] that a woman is a trophy to be won.”
A month later, she was glued to Bunz Wedding Zone (BWZ), a satellite of the private Facebook bartering group, Bunz Trading Zone. An avid Bunz user, Day was invited to join the Wedding Zone by a woman she was making a trade with, who told her it was extremely helpful for sourcing florists and photographers.
The 8,500+ members of BWZ use the platform to barter everything from décor to dresses, and to swap information about products and venues. Esther Vallins, BWZ’s administrator and founder, started the group a few years ago, while planning her own wedding. She says she figured that “couples who’d gotten married must have leftover wedding stuff sitting around their house that they’d be happy to pass on for a bottle of wine, or something.”
Shortly before New Year’s, Day stopped on a vendor review from a member named Anne Marie Heenan, who had included a photograph from her big day. In it, Heenan was wearing an ivory floor-length gown with delicate beadwork running the length of it. The aesthetic was whimsical, sort of modern Art Deco. Day says she immediately thought, “Oh, that’s what I want.”
She messaged Heenan, asking her where she’d bought it. Heenan wrote back that it was the product of a trade with another “Wedding Bun” and that she’d happily trade it again. Day went to Heenan’s apartment to try it on and it fit her perfectly.
When shopping for her own wedding last October, Heenan had specifically avoided long dresses, thinking them too formal. But then BWZ member Leah Cocolicchio posted her recently used wedding dress and Heenan say that despite its traditional length, it defied her notion of what a wedding gown looks like. She loved its simplicity, and that it wasn’t, as she puts it, “flouffy.”
She hadn’t planned on getting a used dress, but liked the idea of saving some money. Her wedding, which she describes as a “pretty standard, non-religious, white people wedding,” cost over $25,000. “Spending another $5,000 on the dress, to me, seemed excessive,” she says. So she went to try on Cocolicchio’s gown, and was delighted to find it fit her. “It was perfect,” she says. She promptly took it home in an Uber, giving Cocolicchio a $200 gift card as a trade.
As the average cost of weddings climbs, groups like Bunz are playing a role in helping couples to keep at least some elements more affordable. According to a 2017 Ipsos poll, Canadian millennials are spending an average of $11,034 on their weddings, compared to the average $3,964 budgeted 40 years ago. The dress alone can take up a good chunk of that pot—Weddingbells reported in 2015 that Canadians spend an average of $1,779 on their gown.
For Heenan, part of the benefit of getting her dress from BWZ was it relieved some of the pressure to overspend. “I really wanted to avoid situations where I would be exposed to a lot of temptation because everyone [in bridal shops would be] treating me like a princess and telling me I should have whatever I wanted for ‘my special day.’”
Cocolicchio, the dress’s original bride, bought the gown from BHLDN in early 2017. Months later, she was purging her closet, and decided to put it up for trade on BWZ. While it definitely “tugged at [her] heart a little to let it go,” she says she knew it would only sit in her closet indefinitely. Knowing now that it’s already been worn by two other women makes her feel really good about the decision. “I had an awesome wedding, and I loved the dress. To know someone else was able to enjoy it, and then another person as well, I think that’s incredible,” she says.
She’s also happy that her dress, in some small way, has been able to offset the carbon footprint of our culture’s single-use consumption habit. “I buy 80% of my household stuff second-hand, and if I had [been able to find] a used wedding dress, I would have got one used,” Cocolicchio says.
Day agrees. “I didn’t like the idea of wearing something only once—it doesn’t make sense, all the materials and emissions that go into making a dress for one day,” she says. That’s why, after her wedding, she decided to put the dress up for trade, yet again.
The next bride to wear the beaded gown will be Therese Baron, a 36-year-old communications exec who’s getting married this month, and says she loves the idea of wearing a dress with a such a unique story behind it.
When she saw Day’s photo on BWZ , Baron was at the airport, on her way home to Toronto after a work trip. She wrote to Day, “I’m about to get on a plane, can you hold it for me?” She’d assumed she would only be the second person to wear the dress; when Day told her she’d actually be the fourth, Baron was charmed by the idea. When she went to try it on, she asked Day if they could take a photo together. “We joked that it’s like the ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress!’”
With its distinctive history, the dress also jives with Baron and her fiance’s overall desire to be “really creative with our wedding.” Their reception will be held at an artist studio space, and their dogs, Marcie and Koji, will be in attendance.
After her upcoming wedding, Baron said she would like to put the dress up for trade on BWZ. It will depend, though, on whether it physically holds up. “I’m going to see what state it’s in,” she jokes. “As much as I’d be tempted to hold onto it, I’d love to pass it on, to keep the story going.”