Wedding Tip: Renting vs. Collecting Vintage Dishes

So you are that creative bride or groom.  You love vintage.  You love finding treasures and repurposing relics.  And why should you rent vintage dishes when you are perfectly able to hit the thrift stores and garage sales on your own?  Why pay for something that you can do yourself? Here are a few things to consider…


Your Time

Hunting treasure is fun!  You’ll get no argument from me.  And my favorite afternoons are spent losing myself for hours in thrift stores.  And just because you are renting your plates and flatware, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be on the hunt for a piece that you can use and then treasure.  (I had a bride that found her own cake plate and cake serving set before hiring me.)  So, I am in no way suggesting that you leave it all up to vintage companies if it’s something you enjoy.  But consider that when that engagement ring slid onto your finger, your time became much more in demand.  Even if you are working with an amazing wedding planner, he or she will still want meetings with you.  If you are a DIY couple or even a creative spirit working with professionals, there are so many details to obsess about.  And it’s a handful to shuffle relatives and friends and dress fittings, while still maintaining the most important part of all of this- your relationship with the person to which you are joining your life.  And let’s not forget that you need to rest! So even though your Saturday mornings seem to be free for yard sales, you might want to keep sleeping in as an option.


The thrill is in the find and that is because you cannot predict what will be sitting at a yard sale or on a thrift store shelf next week.  But that means that the ideal collection often takes many years to amass.  And there is a learning curve to picking up the right pieces.  I confess that the first items I picked up have either been dismissed or I look at them and still wonder, “What was I thinking?!”.  I confess that it took me a few bad purchases to distinguish cheap mass produce restaurant china with florals from true vintage treasures.  And if you are on a time schedule, it will be easy to settle for the former not-so-great pieces.  Not to mention that you cannot predict which items will even show up for you during your shopping season.  The last thing you want is to be stressed about trying to find the last 20 salad plates one week before the wedding.


So Aunt Ida says you can use her 30 place-setting Lenox.  I love this.  How great to put her treasures to use!  The one thing to consider is how you will feel if a piece gets broken.  BP-0009 broken_edited-1Will you feel her watchful eye when your tipsy friend decides to mingle around the room with her cake plate balanced on her palm? It’s true, some couples that rent from me do unnecessarily fret a bit about breakage.  But for me it is a part of business.  My family heirlooms stay safe at home and the pieces I rent are getting a second life. So if something is broken, it is invoiced and forgotten.  No one has feelings to hurt.

Storage Space 

My husband calls it “dish creep”, the phenomena of dishes taking over every horizontal space in our home.  When I began my business, I had dishes in every room in the house.  “Move your chair out a little, Mom.  I think I can put a shelving unit on the floor behind it.”  Thankfully I invested in some construction and used my mad organizational skills to corral my inventory in designated places.  But this was (and is) no small undertaking.  Know that if you intend to stack boxes or fill tables as you collect fifty place settings, even though they want to support your idea, your housemates will at some point either scream or sit in resentment because dishes are overtaking the landscape.


If the dishes you collect are truly vintage, chances are they are not dishwasher safe.  Metal embellishments such as gold rims have to be hand washed.  And the first cleaning is often laborious.  For example, the unglazed rims at the bottoms of plates often need a scrubbing with a toothbrush and Bon Ami.  The first cleaning is also the time that a chip or crack might be discovered that you did not see in the thrift store. So now that they are clean, they need to be packed and stored to remain sanitary.  And they need to be transported safely.  Dirty newspaper is no longer an option at this point.  Do you have someone that is willing to take responsibility to transport and unpack these for the caterer.  And is your caterer willing to take on the responsibility of setting the table with tableware other than what they are used to?  Will they then repack the dirty dishes?  Setting the TableAnd who will transport and wash the dishes while you are on your honeymoon?  You may have a great group of friends and family, but again, this will take time and energy to coordinate. Knowing the amount of work that goes into a single event, these considerations alone make it worth renting.  And I didn’t even mention washing and ironing vintage linens!

The Aftermath

What are you going to do with 150 dinner plates after the wedding is over? Dirty Dishes was born when I was on a national wedding blog looking at a posting by a bride trying to sell the vintage glass plates she collected for her wedding in South Carolina.    And many other vintage rental company’s were born when bride’s took a look around after the wedding and didn’t want to get rid of all the items they spent months (and maybe years) collecting for their big day.  Not everyone is in a position to start a vintage rental company.  And if you plan to sell them in one lot, you may be limited to someone in your area as bulk china is very expensive to pack and ship.  If you package and ship individual place settings, your time will be invested in photographing, describing, washing, packing and shipping each set – a process I have learned can be very time consuming from selling in my Etsy shop. The choice is up to you.  But I hope that you can now make that choice with a clear view of what is involved.  And if renting seems to be the best answer, I am happy to do what I do! Alta Sue Radke - Dirty Dishes