For the fashion-forward bride, a vintage wedding dress does not always imply antiquated. In fact, it's actually a great idea to look to another era to inspire your wedding look, whether you buy something vintage-inspired, wear your mom's antique wedding dress (hello, something old and borrowed!), or find a vintage wedding dress you love from a thrift store, vintage shop, or even online. There are those who dream of a '90s slip dress à la Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, a classic '50s ball gown like Grace Kelly's, or even a Jane Birkin-esque '70s stunner. Though shopping for a vintage gown requires more patience and resourcefulness than a standard salon experience (you'll need to do some research and inspect the dress for tears and stains), your aisle style is sure to be one-of-a-kind—and something you'll treasure for decades to come. Seriously, what better heirloom to leave your future children or grandchildren than a wedding gown from another generation? Here, we uncover must-know dos and don'ts of buying a vintage wedding dress, including where to shop for antique dresses, paired with photos of brides who chose throwbacks for their big days.
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Whether traditional, Deco, midcentury, or boho, very few modern-day celebrations are inspired by something truly current. In fact, 90 percent of weddings are vintage-inspired, says vintage expert Cameron Silver, co-owner of the Los Angeles-based vintage and haute consignment utopia Decades, Inc.
Before you get started, identify what it is that makes you want to wear a design from another time period. "Wearing vintage usually arises from an emotional decision to wear an heirloom piece that's been worn before," explains Molly Guy, Creative Director of Stone Fox Bride, "or, if you're the kind of person that has an introspective relationship with clothing or a particular era that resonates with you."
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Before you can focus in on which designers to look for when shopping for a vintage dress, you must decide on a decade that speaks to you. For example, Guy recommends a mid- to late-1990s look from Calvin Klein or Chloé for a Kate Moss-inspired vibe.
"Try a sleek Halston 1970s cream charmeuse one-shoulder option, a '50s pleated Madame Grès gown, or if you prefer a boho look, a crepe Ossie Clark might be ideal," Silver says. "Currently, I am loving our selection of Rochas gowns, and a cream vintage YSL tuxedo is ultra-chic as well!"
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Since vintage gowns are often one-of-a-kind, they can sell out quickly. Avoid missing out once you've stumbled upon the "one" by doing your legwork ahead of time. "One must look at everything modern first, then go vintage shopping," Silver recommends. He suggests hitting up a bridal salon or the evening wear floor of your favorite department store, narrowing down the silhouette that best suits you, and then trying to find that cut with a vintage dealer.
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Find a vintage dealer you can trust. You need to feel good about your purchase and understand why a piece is priced the way it is: Was it a part of a well-known collection? Did it have a famous previous owner? Is it limited edition or couture? Are there others out there? A good dealer will be able to guide you. In addition to Decades and Stone Fox Bride, other favorite resources of ours include NY Vintage in New York, Ver Unica in San Francisco, and Didier Ludot in Paris. For online vintage vendors, we like 1stDibs and Pink Clouds.
"Do not buy vintage online unless you have the option to return it," Guy says. "Photos can look beautiful on a website and then the dress arrives and it is ill-fitting, or has that waxy hand-feel that old polyester can have."
Guy also recommends having a point person for alterations in mind. "It's important to find someone in your area that can be trusted to do a good restoration should you need it, like Madame Paulette in New York."
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Look the gown over and assess any tears, spots, underarm stains, and discolorations before you purchase it. Of course, you'll want to have your vintage find professionally cleaned before you have it altered, but Guy also suggests taking the gown into natural light before buying it, if at all possible.
"There may be a slight stain that can go unnoticed in a dimly lit boutique, but will be easily spotted in the natural light of your ceremony," she explains.
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If the gown has an imperfection the seller insists can be removed or repaired, coordinating a return policy you're comfortable with in the event the flaws cannot be fixed is essential.
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When it comes to vintage, buying immediately is key—especially with designer vintage pieces that can be in high demand with collectors and fellow brides alike.
For those going for something gauzy and sheer—like an Edwardian cotton dress or these vintage day dresses chosen by a bride for her bridesmaids—invest in slips to avoid a peekaboo moment down the aisle.
"Slips are not the place to skimp or save! You do not want your guests seeing through your gown as you are saying your vows, and they should be perfectly fit—even if that means investing to have one custom-made," Guy says.
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Styling your vintage gown to keep it looking current, not costume, is key. Guy suggests pairing your vintage look with one or more new pieces, like an Eva Fehren diamond ring or a sparkly pair of Louboutins. But, as Silver puts it, "To each her own. Traditions are meant to be broken."