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How to Buy a Vintage Wedding Dress

There are many advantages to wearing vintage on your wedding day, from the obvious uniqueness of a vintage find to the beautiful craftsmanship and fabrics associated with garments of yesteryear,not to mention the fact that it is a more sustainable choice.

So, you’ve decided you want to wear vintage for your special day, but where do you start?
It helps to have an era or style in mind so you can narrow down your search. You don’t have to restrict yourself to bridal styles or brands – Victorian lace under garments or original 1920s & 30s silk slips can make beautiful options for contemporary weddings.

Here are some styles and eras to consider:

Edwardian and Victorian – Pieces from these periods are rare to find but the exquisite craftsmanship of hand embroidered and lace piece work on these garments is unrivalled. An era for the vintage connoisseur or historical fashion lover with a discerning eye who appreciates the dying art of handmade apparel.

1920s/30s – Bias cut silk dresses and slips from these eras are perfect for style-conscious brides inspired by the boudoir trend prevalent on the catwalks today. A wardrobe staple, the slip dress is a piece that can be styled in many ways and worn again for years to come. Alternatively, choose all over beads and tassels, synonymous with the 1930s for opulent ‘Great Gatsby’ themed revelry.

1950s – You can’t go wrong with a 1950s silhouette. Popularised by Dior, this classic and timeless shape exudes glamour and sophistication.

1970s – This is another classic era inspiring wedding dress trends today. A 70s crochet dress would be perfect for brides looking for something a bit different for a destination wedding, if and when Covid restrictions are eased. Alternatively, Bianca Jagger’s signature timeless style and her iconic wedding outfit, a white suit jacket and bias-cut skirt, are a great source of inspiration from this era.

1980s – Big sleeves are everywhere right now and the 80s were a definite catalyst for the puff sleeve. Go big and bold with an original 80s dress, or add sleeves to a family heirloom like Princess Beatrice when she wore one of the Queen’s Norman Hartnell gowns for her wedding in July this year.

1990s – Kate Moss’ silk slip dresses epitomised the pared back look of the 90s, another very wearable look for a vintage bride, tapping into the boudoir trend, but with a more understated, laissez-faire vibe. As well as thinking about different eras when choosing the style for you, it’s a good idea to think about what would suit your venue. A 70s boho dress might suit a festival themed or beach wedding, whereas a 1950s tea length dress might be perfect for your local registry office or place of worship. However, don’t let the venue restrict you.

The most important thing is to find something that suits your personality, whilst making you feel comfortable and amazing. A good fit is key and elevates a beautiful dress into something with the wow factor, so finding a good tailor or dressmaker will be to your advantage. One of the difficulties with vintage wedding dress shopping is finding something in your size. Often stunning pieces, especially pre-1960s, will come up small. A size 12 in a 1950s dress will likely be  closer to a size 8 in today’s measurements. Therefore, it is best not to go by the size on the label, but rather take a tape measure to the bust, waist and hips or ask your seller for measurements. If you have fallen in love with something that is too big then don’t be put off – this can easily be fixed by a good tailor. A dress that is too small is more difficult to adjust, but look at the seams to see if there is room for it to be let out. Alternatively, you could work with a dressmaker to reconstruct your vintage find, taking elements such as lace sleeves or embroidered panels and incorporating them into a bespoke style for you. Turning a one-piece dress into a top and skirt allows for the waist size to be increased (the length will inevitably become shorter in this instance) and creating an open back can add inches across the bust. It is also good to note that a bias-cut dress will stretch so will have a more versatile fit than a garment with a seam at the waistline.

Once you have your style in mind, consider your budget and then you are ready to start your search! There are many online vintage wedding retailers, from independent boutiques to Etsy and ASOS marketplace. If money is no object 1st Dibs has some exquisite, original vintage items of high quality, but to grab yourself a bargain, eBay and charity shops are a great bet. Some sellers may charge a premium for cleaning, fixing and restoring vintage dresses. If you have the time and sewing skills this could be an area where you could save money, but don’t underestimate the amount of time, skill and patience it takes to restore vintage pieces to their full glory. You may, on the other hand, decide to celebrate minor imperfections and perceive them as adding value and character to your garment, demonstrating its history and the fact that it is a truly unique original.

Don’t be afraid to contact your seller to see if they offer a ‘try before you buy’ service or whether they can send you more detailed close-up photos of the dress. As we ease out of lockdown physical vintage or charity shopping becomes an option again and many retailers are offering appointments to view and try on dresses. This is great as it offers up the opportunity to feel the fabrics and see the condition of the dresses up close before making that final commitment.

Much like finding the person you want to marry, finding your perfect vintage wedding dress may take a lot of searching, but rest assured, when you have found ‘the one’ it will definitely have been worth the wait!

Butterwick Hospice Care has a small  range of preloved wedding dresses in our store, for more details come see which of our stores is closest and pop in! Or check out our eBay Shop.

Want to show off a favourite purchase or lucky find? Why not take a look at our Runway Rivals Competition for more details!

With thanks to Amy McAvoy –Dress Designer Maker for writing this article.