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Right now, I know half a dozen couples planning nuptials behind the Redwood Curtain in 2018, with varying degrees of determination and exactitude. Peeking in from the friendship sidelines, I’m reminded of the Sasquatch-sized behemoth that is planning a wedding. No less than a jillion moving parts must synchronize on the big day and, unfortunately, most have a serious price tag.


What to do? Trim the guest list and risk a lifetime of awkward family gatherings? Follow a YouTube tutorial to style your hair? No way. Never. But one quite palatable and stylish suggestion caught our attention: buying a second-hand wedding dress. In a 2016 survey, The Knot found that American brides spend an average of $1,564 on a wedding dress. Given the potential savings and our community’s longstanding appreciation for eco-fashion, we think a second-hand wedding dress is a natural fit for many a Humboldt bride. Here’s a detailed survival guide to shopping for “the one” — and remember, we’re talking about the dress here.



After getting engaged in 2015, Caterina Kein received a surprise early wedding gift while visiting her family on the East Coast. Eight years earlier, Kein’s mother had been flicking through the hangers in a Boston area Salvation Army when she came across a gorgeous vintage Gunne Sax, a brand adored by chic women of the 1960s. Knowing her daughter would get married someday, she bought the dress and kept it a secret until Kein came home with the happy news. Despite the rarity of finding a beautiful and well-preserved Gunne Sax, there was one pesky problem with Kein’s dress — it was size miniature.

Luckily, Kein had a secret weapon back in Arcata: talented seamstress Jennifer Harris, who owns the women’s clothing boutique Angelica Atelier. Over several months and many fitting appointments, Harris tailored the dress to fit Kein perfectly, in addition to lifting the yellow cast from the dress using her special baking soda wash method and repurposing the delicate lace sleeves into back straps. Harris calls her special art form “vintage restoration.” For Kein, the price tag for her custom Gunne Sax was $350, an incredible value for a dress she considers priceless.

“Local farm, local food, local clothing — that’s what my husband and I stand for. It was a very Humboldt wedding,” says Kein.

Emilee Quackenbush described the theme of her 2015 wedding as “Victorian garden party meets Fried Green Tomatoes.” Over her yearlong engagement, she lazily looked around town for a dress but “nothing resonated.” After hearing that Little Shop of Hers had recently received several old dresses, Quackenbush hustled in and immediately found “the one” for the romantic price of $75. Though trying on the perfect dress felt like magic, Quackenbush still needed Harris to sprinkle her pixie dust. Custom alterations on the antique lace gown ran a cool $200 and Harris also altered the vest and slacks worn by Emilee’s wife, Lauren. The Quackenbushes, who run an organic flower farm on the Mad River, look forward to someday passing on the heirloom dress to their daughter, Marigold.

click to enlarge Jennifer Harris of Angelica Atelier. - LEÓN VILLAGÓMEZ
  • León Villagómez
  • Jennifer Harris of Angelica Atelier.

Of the dozen-plus thrift and consignment stores scattered across Arcata, Eureka and surrounds, most report stocking at least a few wedding gowns. Consignment shop Couture Design, which recently relocated to Old Town Eureka from Ferndale, leads with an impressive selection of nearly two dozen wedding gowns, priced from $20 to $1,000, some of which have never been worn. And if you’re not planning to keep your gown, you might be able to sell it on consignment after the wedding. Little Shop of Hers specializes in dresses with a Mid-Century flair and A Plus For You typically has at least a few on the rack, as does Shipwreck. The Clothing Dock has a smattering of official wedding gowns, priced from $50 to $250, but reports that many local brides find other dresses that work beautifully for creatively themed weddings. Game of Thrones, anyone?

While unpredictable vintage sizes can make second-hand shopping a challenge, some are lucky enough to “find” a wedding dress in their grandmother’s closet. It can be daunting to transform a family heirloom into functional fashion, but Harris says there’s always an odd piece of lace or tulle that can be incorporated into your “vintage restoration.” Other brides might consider shopping on Ebay and having Humboldt’s talented pool of seamstresses perfect the gown (regardless of size, most brides need a little something hemmed or let out). Humboldt brides also recommended Lilette’s Alterations and Tailor Made in Eureka, Stitches-N-Britches in McKinleyville and Sew What in Arcata.

While hunting for “the one,” don’t overlook Humboldt’s many eclectic thrift and consignment shops — you might find “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” in one fabulous dress.
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Nora Mounce

Nora Mounce

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