The wedding dresses we love and wear today are, in many ways, inspired by Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, worn way back in 1840. Victoria married Albert in a white lace number and we’ve been obsessed with the look ever since.
Over the years the shapes and silhouettes have changed and fabric trends have come and gone, but something of the romance of Victoria’s look has remained. From the Edwardian period through to the swinging sixties and seventies, brides have put their own stamp on the classic gown.
These days designers continue to craft stunning gowns, giving brides the opportunity to choose details and personalise their wedding dresses. For some brides though, there is something magical about breathing new life into a vintage gown.
Vintage fairs and boutiques across the country are brimming with stunning gowns, waiting to be worn again by brides with the patience to look for them. Whether you’re crazy about a specific era and would like an authentic look from the time or are simply passionate about reusing and recycling and fancy putting a new spin on an old dress, there are plenty of options.
There are countless styles available, usually dating back to the early 1900s through to the 1970s, so there’s a style to suit every bride; from the dropped waists of the 1920s to the cinched styles of the ‘50s and laidback vibes of the ‘70s. Team your gown with your favourite modern day shoes and accessories or explore vintage and antique markets for old gems.
Before you hit the boutiques and markets, read our guide to where to shop and what to look for when investing in a vintage wedding dress.
Where can I buy a vintage wedding dress?
Vintage wedding dresses can be found in local vintage shops and even charity shops. The internet is also a treasure trove of vintage items with everywhere from Oxfam to eBay and Etsy selling second-hand gowns for bargain prices.
Phone stores ahead to check the stock before you go if you’re travelling a long way, sometimes what they display online isn’t up to date as items can sell quickly. Make sure you try before you buy and, especially if buying online, check the returns policy so that you know you can send it back if it doesn’t fit or doesn’t look as you expected.
Where are the best vintage wedding fairs?
Look in local press for any vintage fairs in your area and check with the organisers if there will be wedding dresses. If you’re in London or are willing to travel, the Revival Retro Boutique attend wedding fairs across the city.
What do I need to look out for with vintage wedding dresses?
Check dresses thoroughly for holes and stains. Like most wedding dresses, vintage dresses will likely only have been worn once and so should be in good condition, but there are always exceptions. Man-made fabrics were developed after the mid 1930s and so dresses made before this time will be crafted from natural fibres that are more delicate and may not be so well preserved. Ensure that all buttons are intact and that any zips work before buying.
If you fall in love with a dress in need of a good clean, ask the seller for vintage clothing restoration specialist recommendations. Never take your vintage dress to the dry cleaner.
Are vintage sizes the same as modern day sizes?
Body shapes and sizes have changed a lot over the years thanks to healthy diets and a lack of rationing! Bear in mind that vintage dresses are likely to be smaller and so you may need to go up a size or even two to get the correct fit. Larger gowns are harder to come by, but there are some gems out there and it’s definitely worth a look.
We recommend taking your exact measurements and asking for the measurements of the garments when ordering online rather than relying on sizes.
Can I alter my vintage wedding dress?
Yes! If you can find a good seamstress (the dress seller should be able to recommend someone) who specialises in vintage clothing, the possibilities are pretty much endless. From taking in a larger gown to completely remodelling and restructuring a dress, there are plenty of ways to take a forgotten about frock from drab to fab.
How should I accessorise my vintage wedding dress?
Many vintage stores and markets will have shoes and jewellery on offer too, making it easier for you to put together a full vintage look. If an authentic look is what you’re after we also recommend looking into floral trends of the era and ensuring your flowers and finishing touches complement the overall theme.
Modern accessories can also work with vintage dresses and will create a completely unique blend of old and new, perfect for the stylish and creative bride. Order accessories that you like (again, check the returns policy before purchasing) and take them along to fittings to ensure they work with your gown.
Finally, show your hair and makeup artists your dress to give them a sense of the look you’re going for. They can then create complementary looks that will perfectly set off your vintage gown.