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How to buy a vintage wedding dress

‘I only came here to get ideas’ Bride-to-be Sarah confesses to me at the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair in May. Despite this, she has found the dress she wasn’t even looking for, a 1940’s vintage wedding dress from Peacock Vintage, one of the many stalls at the fair. ‘I wasn’t going for a traditional dress. The first stall I came to I bumped into Savitri and she took me shopping’. Savitri is the founder and organiser of Clerkenwell Vintage Fairs. When Olive Road caught up with Savitri back in May, she expressed her delight in helping customers find their ideal vintage outfits. Savitri advised Sarah to be open to ideas and try on as many dresses as possible. Between them they chose a dress completely opposite to what Sarah had planned, the beautiful traditional off white, silk dress that Sarah models in the above photo. The neckline sits across the clavical with tiny silk covered buttons running down the back seam to the base of the spine. The sleeves are slightly gathered at the shoulders, creating the classic 1940’s style. The highlight of the dress is it’s dramatic long train. Sarah was excited and shocked in equal measure and when I caught up with the bride-to-be she was waiting for her friend Jenny to arrive to give her a second opinion. 

Vintage shopper Sarah at the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair, May 2017

I know from experience how difficult it is to find a vintage wedding dress in a style that suits you and that fits. Before planning my wedding 13 years ago I had watched the 1957 film Funny Face staring Audrey Hepburn and dreamed of a three quarter length wedding dress. I am not blessed with a 1950’s sized waist and I gave up looking for a vintage dress before I had even started.  My friend Cathy suggested that I buy a vintage wedding pattern and have the dress made. I found what was looking for on an early version of Etsy, I think it was called Ruby Lane?  Luckily a friend had recently commissioned her wedding dress to be made by costume designer Nancy and she agreed to make my dress too, altering the original neck line of the pattern to suit me. I asked Nancy to include a vintage diamant√© belt buckle, that I had sourced on eBay.

My wedding dress and the vintage Vogue pattern it was styled from

Cathy had more luck in finding her vintage wedding dress off the peg. Her sister Su is a TV stylist and a vintage fair veteran as she shops for vintage clothes and ideas for her work. The sisters went to Frock Me at the Chelsea Town Hall and saw a beautiful 1950’s pure silk dress on a mannequin. ‘I want that one’ Cathy exclaimed. ‘As soon as it floated over my head and Su pulled up the zip it was if it were tailor-made for me, I couldn’t believe my luck’. It wasn’t a traditional wedding dress but Cathy hadn’t planned on a traditional wedding so it worked perfectly. Read more about Cathy’s dress in this month’s Vintage Stories.

Cathy and Matt on their wedding day

Sisters Pippa and Hesta from Peacock Vintage agree with Cathy that in order to find a vintage dress for your big day you don’t have to stick to a traditional wedding dress. ‘It pays to put the time in and do your research and try dresses you wouldn’t normally wear’ says Pippa. Hesta adds that it is important to ‘buy the dress when you see it otherwise it will go’. This true of all vintage clothing and if you change your mind you can always sell it on.

Pippa and Hesta from Peacock Vintage

Savitri Coleman shared her vintage shopping tips with Olive Road on a recent blog post and adds ‘When looking for a vintage wedding dress it is important to try different shades of white to find out which one suits your skin tone. Shape is also important, different eras suit different body shapes. For example bride-to-be Sarah was lost in a 1960’s box shaped dress yet the 1940’s dress fit her like a glove, it was like it was made for her, it was unique and the long train and sleeves added drama’. I caught up with bride-to-be Sarah a few hours later, she had bought the dress for her Australian wedding to Ian and was off to celebrate with her friend.

Buying a vintage wedding dress will ensure that you wear something completely unique for your special day. Not everyone will be as lucky as Sarah and Cathy in finding their dress so quickly but the same can be said when buying a new wedding dress. Start shopping early. Ask friends, write a post on social media requesting recommendations for dress makers who can make the necessary alterations for you, or in my case, copy a dress to fit and suit you perfectly. Most off all, have fun in searching, take a friend and treat yourself to a glass of bubbly when you find the dress of your dreams. 

Find more vintage wedding dress tips on my Pinterest board. The next Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair is on the 17th September 2017 at the Yard in Shoreditch. Olive Road’s next fair is at Pop-Up Vintage fair on 1st October, St Stephen’s in Hampstead. 


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Vintage Stories: A Vintage Dress Made for a Wedding

My friend Cathy married Matt in the most beautiful vintage dress in 2008. I know from experience how difficult it is to find a vintage wedding dress to fit so I asked Cathy to share the story of her dress. 

‘I walked into Frock Me at Chelsea Town Hall and there it was, on the first stall we came to. A beautiful 1950’s pure silk knee length dress on a mannequin. I said to my sister Su “I want that one!”. Being experienced vintage shoppers, we decided to walk the length of the fair before making our choice but the dress kept beckoning me back.  I don’t boast a vintage sized waistline but Su could see that this dress would fit. As it floated over my head in the busy changing room, I knew it was right. Su pulled up the zip and it was as if it were tailor-made for me. I couldn’t believe my luck! I ran out through the packed hall to show the stall owner and was delighted in the fact that I was going to get married in this gorgeous dress. There were lots of oohs and ahhs and as I returned to the changing room, I was approached by a German fashion magazine who photographed and interviewed me. It was the perfect wedding dress moment. 

Matt and I had a Ceilidh band play at our wedding reception and in the excitement of dancing I caught the heel of my shoe in the hem of my dress causing a large tear (very Strictly Come Dancing!). Always the girl guide, Sarah (from Olive Road) had a sewing kit with her and swiftly repaired the dress between dances.  I have worn the dress since, complete with repaired tear and it always reminds me of a wonderful day with my husband, family and friends.’

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Sew Amazing

‘I hate throwing away old machines’ sewing machine engineer and Sew Amazing Ltd. owner Robb Myers tells me as he shows me an early Bradbury sewing machine. His stock room is full of over 40 antique machines from his personal collection. ‘If they are 100 years old, I still repair them if I can or strip them for parts’ including a Singer domestic hand operated machine that is over a century old. I’m sitting very still in Robb’s workshop just off Roman Road market as there is a lot of heavy sharp equipment on the work benches and I am very clumsy. Sew Amazing are celebrating their birthday as it is 70 years since Robb’s father Alfie first set up the business in Stoke Newington. I’ve come to chat to Robb about the beginnings of the business and how it has changed, you can read the full piece on the Roman Road blog.

Robb used to have over 100 antique sewing machines in his collection but did manage to part with the majority of them to create more space for storing machines he services, for individual customers, schools and colleges. He lends them to TV and film prop departments. You can find Sew Amazing at the corner of Roman Road and St Stephen’s Road in Bow, London E3.



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Fantastic Evening at Wilton’s Music Hall with Pop Up Vintage London

Thanks to everyone who came along to this summer’s Pop Up Vintage Fair at the historical Wilton’s Music Hall in East London and helped make it one of the best vintage fairs yet! The rain was pouring down as I drove along narrow Cable Street with my tiny car (Bella) keeping me and my boxes of vintage clothing dry.  Goosebumps crept over my skin as I entered the dusty pink doors of the old music hall balancing a clothing rail and my dressmakers dummy. The walls of the World’s oldest surviving music hall is full of ghosts that seem to come alive as traders bump into each other in the bricked hallways and dusty stairs, arms piled high with vintage dresses, jackets, scarves and even Japanese Kimonos. My stall was on the balcony this year, a different position to the past two years I have traded at Wilton’s and it was the perfect place to survey the scene. Traders expertly transforming blank spaces into their vintage pop up shops, My Favourite Things with curlers in their hair and their voices filling the domed ceiling as they performed their sound check. The 300 year old music hall was starting to come alive and its spirits fill the atmosphere with past escapades.

From the moment the doors opened, the crowds poured in. True vintage fans were the early birds, parading around the fair in their finest vintage clothes and hairstyles, foraging for more inspiration. The queue outside started to snake around the corner as crowds turned up for the vintage shopping a cocktail in the bar and to experience the historical atmosphere of the now famous East End Music Hall.

As the vintage fans poured into the hall, My Favourite Things sang in harmony old tunes such as ‘Hit The Road Jack’ and ‘Summertime’, tunes that I can imagine were sung here before WWII, after which the hall became a missionary church. The venue was sensitively restored in 2015 to make the building safe, winning two RIBA awards for the project. The walls haven’t been covered up with new smooth plaster but have been left peeling away in soft dusky colours, conserving the layers of history in it’s walls. If you haven’t had the chance to view the grade 2 listed music hall yet, there are a wide range of events to chose from or join a guided tour of the building on a Monday evening.

Thanks to Pop Up Vintage London (top photo belongs to them) for working tirelessly to create such a popular and well organised event. Olive Road’s next stall is with Pop Up Vintage at another historic venue, St Stephen’s Church in Hampstead on the 1st October.  See you there!