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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.