The Vintage Wedding Gown

They often appear otherworldly, those brides of the past. Captured in time through fading photographs, or perhaps vividly preserved on the artist's canvas. Their faces are mysterious, their shapes unique. And their clothes -- well, their clothes are absolutely exquisite. Now that you are ready to walk down the aisle, you may be wondering if you can do so in a dress drawn from the pages of time. If so, perhaps a vintage wedding gown is just what you've been searching for.

The lure of a vintage wedding gown can be strong. For a price that is often a fraction of the cost of a new gown, you can wrap yourself in a one-of-a-kind look that's as stylish now as it was generations ago. But before you rush out to comb the racks of your local vintage boutique, there are a few things you need to know. While the rewards of choosing a vintage style are great, the hunt itself is not quite as simple as a trip to your local bridal salon. 

What's really possible. First of all, fabric deteriorates over time so you need to choose wisely or you could find yourself leaving bits of your dress behind as you march down the aisle. It is highly unlikely that a gown pre-dating the nineteenth century will be wearable. Additionally, the way that the dress was stored could easily accelerate the aging process, causing a gown, which might have been wearable if properly cared for, to disintegrate before your very eyes. Yellowing is often a problem with older gowns as well, and whether or not the gown can be restored depends a great deal on the cause of the damage.

Unless you're a veteran vintage shopper with an eye for spotting fabric damage, your best bet is to ask around until you find a reputable vintage shop. If you aren't sure where to begin, try contacting a nearby theater company or historical society for recommendations. Once you've found a good shop, be very clear with the sales staff about your intentions for a particular dress. A wonderfully preserved Edwardian gown may be perfect for a quiet, intimate wedding, but not for a wild bash with a swing band.

The perfect fit. There are two different schools of thought when it comes to resizing a vintage gown. Many vintage clothing mavens insist that the only way to go is down. Vintage gowns often do not include additional material at the seams and new trims and fabrics will likely not match the original cloth in shading or quality. Others however, maintain that letting out a vintage gown successfully is possible, although extremely difficult -- often requiring creative embellishments to cover gussets and new stitching. So if you happen upon a fabulous dress that is just too small, you may be far better off continuing your search than struggling with difficult restyling.

Just a few alterations. Women's bodies have changed quite a bit over the last two hundred years, so it is very likely that your 'perfect' gown will need a few alterations before you are ready to walk down the aisle in it. Nips and tucks, hard-to-find replacement buttons, a slightly updated neckline -- it can all add up, so be sure to budget accordingly. Remember too, there is a difference between alterations and repairs. Stains that have been left untreated for one year can be extremely difficult to remove, so just imagine what happens when you multiply that by 40, 50 or even 100 years. And a tear to an older dress, particularly one not located near a seam, can be a sign of seriously damaged fabric. Again, unless you have experience restoring vintage clothing, you are better off avoiding dresses that require extensive cleaning and repairs.

Don't give up. By now, you may be just about ready to toss out the whole idea of wearing a vintage gown. Stains, disintegrating fabric, rare buttons -- it's all too much! Take heart. There are really just a few things you need to do to turn your vintage dream into a reality:

  • Stick to reputable vintage shops.
  • Steer clear of dresses requiring extensive repairs and alterations.
  • Find a seamstress with experience fitting and restoring vintage couture.

It will require a little legwork, but with the rise in popularity of vintage clothing, you can be certain that the resources you need are within reach.

Old is new again. If you have a specific image in mind for your gown, or want an updated look on a classic style, you might want to opt for a reproduction gown rather than an authentic vintage gown.

Reproduction gowns are new gowns made to replicate the fashions of days gone by. These reproductions may be created from vintage sewing patterns, cutting apart an old gown to copy the design, or creating an entirely new design from vintage photographs and drawings. Some salons use vintage fabrics for authenticity, but many use new materials, allowing for more flexibility in the alteration process. If you love the hourglass look of the 1890s but prefer a slightly less constricting neckline, it will be far less heartbreaking to rip apart and restyle a reproduction than an authentic piece of history.

Whether you greet your big day in a fabulous forties Dior design or a reproduction of a turn of the century lawn gown, a vintage wedding gown can transform your walk down the aisle into a magical moment plucked from an antique photograph. Who could imagine a grander entrance?

By Hannah Goodman 12/16/2015 09:36:00

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