Oxfam Bridal…an Oxymoron?

When I wrote the two posts about ideas as to where you could get your wedding dress from a few weeks back, it was hugely inspiring to hear from brides who had actually got their dresses from some of the places  I suggested (and proof that I hadn’t just made it all up). 

In fact, I think there was a positive story about each and every suggestion that I’d made. This, combined with an email from the ever lovely, and ever sensible Rachel at Peacock Feathers and Diamond Rings, has inspired us to continue the ‘Where did you get that dress?’ series, with more information from real women who have successfully bought their dresses from these places. Some will include tips and how-to’s, and others will just be heart warming stories that provide hope for those women who have had bad bridal shop experiences. We already have a few lined up, but if you bought your dress off the internet, or from a vintage dress shop, or a sample dress shop, or had your dress made for you, or even resurrected your mum’s beautiful old dress out of the attic, we would love to hear from you. No, really. Get in touch.

And as Rachel was the inspiration for this series, it’s only right that she kick it off, with a real beauty of a dress, from the most unlikely of places….

Whenever I get dressed, I always start by picking my shoes. It came as no surprise to me, at any rate, that the first thing I did when I got engaged, sartorially speaking, was to head to Selfridges and choose my wedding shoes. Perhaps it was an excuse to go shopping, perhaps it was fate. Who knows. But I fell in love with a pair of electric blue Rupert Sanderson peep toe shoes (at the bargain price of £99, 75% off) and the wedding theme was born.

Which presented the next issue. What on earth to wear with them. I knew immediately that I didn’t want to spend a huge amount on a wedding dress, a dress that I would only wear once. My sister in law, a talented fashion designer, offered to make my dress. After some deliberation, I turned her down. I would love to wear a dress that she designed just for me, but I want to wear it lots. And whatever people say about wearing their wedding dresses again, very few do. The same went for a big name dress. When I spend several thousand pounds on an amazing dress, I want to be able to wear it over and over.

At the time, I was working in a vintage shop. Readers of my blog will know that I love vintage clothes and for any occasion where I require a ‘new’ outfit, vintage shops are my first port of call. But somehow, a vintage dress didn’t seem quite right. I looked at one or two but in my head I had in mind a plain strapless dress with a bit of a train with a raised front to showcase the amazing shoes. The style of the shoe meant that all the vintage dresses I tried just looked wrong. I even tried an Ossie Clark or two. The dress needed to be a plain backdrop for the shoes and the day and any of the vintage dresses would have been All About The Dress.

A few weeks later, I went to Oxford Street. My first stop was once again Selfridges. I went to see the Vera Wangs. All very beautiful but far too heavy, far too formal. I wanted something I could dance in. The assistants were also too formal, too snooty. My next stop was Debenhams, to see what the other end of the market had to offer. Again, off putting. Too much diamante, again, an assistant who wasn’t interested.

I can’t remember how I came across Oxfam Bridal. But one weekend my parents were heading down to Southampton (our nearest shop at the time) and I called on the Thursday to see whether they had any appointments. They did. It felt like it was meant to be. My mother and I spent that next afternoon, one boiling hot Saturday in July, sifting through the rails in the upstairs of the Oxfam shop in Southampton, which was stuffed full of wedding dresses and related accessories. All appointments are private ones; we were looked after by a lovely lady who didn’t mind that I was so hot I paraded round between dresses in nothing but a pair of pants. The racks were ordered in dress size but aside from that, the collection was entirely random. Some dresses were donated by brides, some by designers, some were samples, many new, some with labels, others clearly altered to fit (one dress I tried on was lovely. just about 2 foot too short). All styles, all lengths, all decades and for all tastes. Dictated only by what they had been donated.

And then, I tried on a plain Amanda Wakeley dress. Strapless, with a small train. Lifted at the front (perhaps because I was a little tall for it) sitting in a puddle on the floor at the back. It didn’t fit entirely perfectly round the hips but appeared to be something that a dress maker could sort out very easily. I tried it with a veil and the shoes and was sold (I didn’t quite have *the* moment I had kept reading about, but both my mother and I found ourselves a little moved by the sight of me in a wedding dress and veil). It was perfectly plain but also a beautiful dress, a blank canvas which would neither be the star of the day but wouldn’t detract from the aesthetics of what was going to be a traditional, slightly vintage looking, afternoon wedding.

The lady who was in charge of Oxfam Bridal soon had the dress hanging on a lovely padded hanger and was packing the dress into an extra long heavy duty white dress bag. I had visions of coming away (if we found anything at all) with my dress in an Oxfam carrier bag, but no, it was exactly as if I’d bought the dress at any other boutique. My mother was thrilled, both that I had found a dress and that, given that she was paying for it, it was only £225 and that the money was essentially a donation to Oxfam.

I added a small lace cape which my mother bought for me from Monsoon Bridal and a veil made of silk tulle which my sister in law gave to me attached to my hair with a beaded comb which I bought at a wedding show for £5. The ribbon was silk ribbon which came from Cam Creations, a fantastic US company which dyes ribbon any colour to match any sample they are sent. I found a piece of ribbon the same colour as my shoes which then provided the ribbon colour for my belt, the ribbon on the bouquets and the table ribbon. All in all I probably spent another £30 on the extras, not including the jacket and veil tulle. The alterations were done by a seamstress that my sister-in-law knew through work. She was talented but I have to admit, I did find the process a little stressful. I paid her about £100 for the alterations. I again went back to Selfridges for a nude strapless bra and pants (I saved by pretty pants for the going away dress which I adapted with my sister-in-law’s help from a vintage Whistles dress).

On the day itself, I felt comfortable in my dress. I could move, dance, eat. I didn’t really think about it to be honest, other than I liked the way it moved when I walked. After the church I hitched it up to walk to the car, to keep it clean, but once at the reception I don’t think I bothered. At the end of the evening when I went to change into my going away dress, I simply stepped out of it, leaving it a puddle on the floor, discarded. It’s job was done. I felt a bride but it hadn’t cost the earth. I felt the money I spent was worth it but once the day was done, I didn’t feel any further need to ‘do something’ with the dress. My mother has since returned the dress to me, still dirty hemmed, and it’s back in the bag, hanging on the wall in our bedroom. One day I might get it out again, try it on, maybe have it cleaned. But I am not bothered. I will keep it for posterity, to show our hypothetical children. But our wedding was about our marriage, not about my dress, and for me, buying it from Oxfam was just right.

Photos: KT Photos
Dress: Amanda Wakeley via Oxfam Bridal
Alterations: Tanya Dimitrova
Lace Jacket: Monsoon Bridal
Shoes: Rupert Sanderson via Selfridges
Hair and Make up: Francesca Martin (contact Rachel for details)
Ribbon: Cam Creations

Categories: Wedding Planning, Wedding Pretty
6 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted April 19, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I love this post. Is there a less twee word for heartwarming? That would fit. Yay for Oxfam Bridal. And you look gorgeous in that dress!

  2. Posted April 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Claire-I think 'heartwarming' is totally acceptable in this instance!

    You really do look stunning, Rachel. I've never really felt the urge to hit up a bridal boutique but your story totally mkes me want to temporarily remove the wedding ring and go and rifle through the rails of Oxfam Bridal! Imagine the treasures that must be hiding in there…


  3. Posted April 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I really 'read' this post – it is such a wonderful story. I enjoy the pragmatic approach to a dress that looked absoltely stunning. Proof you don't need to spend thousands of pounds – unless you want to.

  4. Posted November 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Inspired by this post I've just been and donated my wedding dress to Oxfam. Thanks for a lovely post.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Where to buy your wedding dress-Ebay? on February 29, 2012 at 12:28 am

    [...] of a dress fortnight ’round these parts, no?! We’ve had Rachel’s heartwarming Oxfam Bridal story and you’ll find out the conclusion to my Jenny Packham dilemma this week. (SPOILER [...]

  • By Oxfam Bridal – An Oxymoron? « Rachel Buchanan on November 25, 2012 at 1:29 am

    [...] November 21, 2012 · by rachelbuchanan · in love and marriage Guest post at Any Other Woman  -  buying your wedding dress from Oxfam — When I wrote the two posts about ideas as to [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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