4 Expert Tips For Shopping For a Vintage Wedding Dress (Plus, 8 Places to Buy Them Online)

We love the pretty charm of a vintage wedding dress. Photo via Pinterest.

We love the pretty charm of a vintage wedding dress. Photo via Pinterest.

Shopping for the wedding dress of your dreams is a nerve-racking (but also super exciting!) task in and of itself, but if you’re the type of bride who wants to wear a vintage frock down the aisle, finding The One can be even more of a challenge.

In the search for the perfect vintage wedding gown, many brides start online—there are plenty of reliable, well-stocked sites out there that offer large selections of dresses in all styles, shapes and sizes. These sites are often well organized and easy to peruse, and make narrowing down your options (by budget, silhouette, etc.) super simple.

On the other hand, if shopping for your wedding dress online seems a bit too risky (we don’t blame you!), you can find vintage gowns locally, too. It’s not as simple as walking into any bridal boutique and just plucking one off the rack, but it’s certainly possible to hunt down a beautiful vintage dress without spending hours scouring the Interwebs.

To make the process of shopping for a vintage wedding dress a bit easier, we chatted with Malena Martinez, owner of Malena’s Vintage Boutique in West Chester, to get a few expert tips. Here’s her advice:

  • Start by defining your silhouette: stream lined, full skirt, train, etc. Once you have an idea about what shape you are looking for, it will be easier to identify the right era for you. For example, a streamlined tea-length look is very 1920s and a fitted bodice and full skirt is late 1950s.
  • Start shopping early. These treasures don’t make it into shops that often, so start the hunt as soon as you can. Try on pieces, take your photo in them for a personal archive and take notes on what you like and what you don’t. Ask the sales associate if they have any sort of waiting list. At my boutique, we take people’s contact info and some notes on what they are looking for so we can later reach out to them.  In the vintage world, we never know what sort of goodies will be entering the shop, so being in contact with the shop will help you get first dibs. We will also actively reach out to sources of ours to help you find what you’re looking for and keep a specific eye out when shopping for the store.
  • Look at the bigger picture: dresses were made to be altered.  If you have the right seamstress (I highly recommend Nilah Petschelt, of Nilah and Co., as she personally has a love of vintage and can alter a piece without making it look new), the sleeves, straps, neckline, closures, length and panels can all be changed. Your favorite dress might show up as a tea-length gown, but a good dressmaker can give you creative ways of incorporating other fabrics to extend the length. Beads and sequins can be added and removed, stained lace can often be replaced and necklines can be dropped, so don’t balk at a dress that at first glance isn’t what you are looking for.
  • Don’t forget to budget in alterations—just like a new wedding dress, vintage ones will most likely need alterations or restoration.  The cost of alterations can be into the hundreds of dollars sometimes, so ask your seamstress for a cost and time estimate. Months may be needed to get the appropriate work done, and a rush job on your wedding dress can leave you disappointed.

Martinez also offered a unique tip to keep in mind when shopping for vintage headpieces: “If you are looking for the perfect vintage headpiece, don’t pigeonhole yourself by just looking at combs. Most necklaces, brooches and clip-on earrings can be added to a veil or updo to create a personalized look. If done correctly, no one will know the difference. Then, after your special day, the jewelry can be enjoyed as it was originally intended.”

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