How To Buy a Vintage Wedding Dress | Tips For Brides

Vintage themed weddings have been popular for several years now with the resurgence of period movies and TV series such as Mad Men, Downton Abbey,  and Boardwalk Empire. And with this increased fascination in nostalgia — let’s face it, these shows do make the past decades look so glamourous — brides have come to look for vintage-inspired wedding dresses as well. Wedding gown designers have accommodated these requests, and even retailers such as Anthropologie and Ruche have created specialty wedding departments dedicated to anything vintage related.

The vintage trend is not going away anytime soon. And if it’s the vintage look that you’re aiming for for your wedding, why not consider buying a real vintage wedding dress instead? After all, buying a real vintage wedding dress is significantly less expensive than buying online from Ruche or Anthropologie’s BHLDN.  And unless you live in Chicago, Houston, or LA, or are willing to fly there to try on BHLDN’s wedding gowns, you have no option of trying the wedding dress on before buying.

Vintage clothing is also generally well-made so the quality of the material is there. And most importantly, I think, is that no one else will wear the same vintage wedding dress. You’ll have a unique dress that has history, substance, and charm all rolled into one.

With that said, I reached out to Terri Allan, an expert in vintage clothing and owner of Elora’s beautiful Sweet Trash Vintage Clothier to offer advice on this topic. Sweet Trash carries several beautiful vintage wedding dresses in their store and have helped brides, including one of my own, Kayley, from a couple of years ago, find that perfect dress. Terri has a background in dress making and costume design and she is able to offer advice on alterations as well.

Terri Allan of Sweet Trash Vintage Clothier

Here are 5 helpful tips for the vintage-loving bride:

1. Have an open mind.

It’s good to come in to a vintage store with an idea in mind, like a certain fashion era you are looking for. However, try to not get locked into a particular style. Like shopping for new dresses, what you have in mind might not necessarily be flattering on you once you put it on.  Just be open to suggestions.

2. Fit is everything.

Buy something that fits you now and not fifteen pounds from now. If you lose the weight, great, the dress can be taken in. The popular silhouette back then was the hourglass and so the smallest part of a dress was the waist. As long as the waist fits you, everything else can be taken it. The rule of thumb is that it’s easier to take in than to let out as long as you’re not trying to make a dress five times smaller. Going in two sizes smaller is the max.

But letting a dress out when it doesn’t fit is trickier with vintage clothing. First, because the dress is unique, you really just can’t add more fabric. It won’t match easily. And second, even if there was enough fabric stitched in to be let out, that fabric may look lighter in colour than the rest because it had not been exposed to the elements as long.

3. Don’t go by the number.

Sizing back then is different than it is today so don’t let the number put you off from buying the dress. A modern size 4 is close to a vintage size 12. You really should try the dresses on.  At Sweet Trash, Terri have her dresses classified by waist measurement so you don’t have to do a lot of guesswork at her store.

4. Seek an expert’s advice when it comes to alterations.

Terri , as I mentioned earlier, has a strong background in dress making. When you shop at her store she is able to  offer advice on what kind of alterations can be done on the dress to fit you and your vision.  If however your vintage store doesn’t have the expertise available,  you may want to bring someone along who knows how to make alterations.

5. Don’t forget the undergarments.

One thing with all dresses, not just vintage, is to choose undergarments that are a shade darker than your own skin. Wearing a bra that is lighter than your skin colour is going to be noticeable when you wear white or ivory.

Terri was kind enough to let me look around her store and showed me pieces from her collection. And trust me, the dresses are beautiful. You can see two of my favourites from her store below. The first one is a 1950’s dress with full circle skirt. When I was growing up in the Philippines, I used to watch Filipino movies from 50’s and 60’s and this dress certainly reminds me of that era. I can just imagine a bride wear this with layers of crinoline to get that full effect.

1950's vintage wedding gown from Sweet Trash Vintage Clothier.

The second one is a 1940’s gown that made me think of Jessica Biel in the movie Easy Virtue. I just wish I had this dress five years ago when I was looking for my own wedding gown. The silhouette is almost modern as fashion designers like Carolina Herrera and Marc Jacobs refer to the 40’s for their current collections. If this is going to be your wedding gown, I want to shoot your wedding. Just saying.

1940's vintage wedding dress with unique embroidery from Sweet Trash Vintage Clothier.Images of a 1940's vintage wedding gown sold at Sweet Trash.

So if you’re looking for a vintage wedding dress, visit Sweet Trash Vintage Clothier in Elora. They also have a Facebook Page so you can get updates on what’s new in their store!

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