Want To Wear A Vintage Wedding Dress On Your Big Day? Here’s Your Guide To Finding The One

Everything you need to know about where to go, how to manage alterations and how much they cost.

vintage wedding dresses

by Natalie Hammond |
Updated on

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress pulled at the heartstrings like no other (royal) wedding dress before it. Instead of commissioning a bespoke designer gown, the princess chose a vintage dress from her grandmother’s collection. The Queen wore the Norman Hartnell design - made from ivory taffeta and satin, and encrusted with diamanté - for many occasions, including the 1962 premiere of Lawrence of Arabia. Her dressmaker, Angela Kelly, and designer Stewart Parvin made the alterations, including a romantic set of puffed organza sleeves that meant the dress was entirely Beatrice’s own.

This stroke of sartorial genius will have set many brides-to-be on their quest to find a vintage wedding dress. If, that is, they weren’t already. But what’s their appeal exactly? ‘The strength of vintage lies in the story behind each piece. To know your dress contains an element of history, and reflects cultures and inspirations from the past, is truly special’ said Alice Hebrard Lemaire, Vestiaire Collective’s head of vintage, speaking last year to Grazia. There’s also the environmentally-friendly element to consider. ‘As awareness rises around circularity, [a vintage wedding dress] is also a more sustainable option. To make a choice that is less harmful to the environment is another positive,’ she says.

But where do you start if your grandmother doesn’t have a museum-worthy archive of vintage looks ready and waiting? Jane Bourvis, owner of her eponymous vintage wedding dress label, says the process can quickly get confusing for brides.The trick is to do research and concentrate your ideas. ‘Build a Pinterest board with thoughts of how you want your dress to be,' was the advice she gave us last year. Consider the basic specifications first - e.g. whether you want something long or short, with a veil or without a veil, fitted or more flowing, off-the-shoulder or strapless or with long sleeves - and think about whether a vintage wedding dress’s aesthetic fits with your venue.

Places to explore as well as bridal shops include fairs (Bourvis recommends the vintage fairs at Hammersmith and Kensington Olympia in London, and the Frock Me Vintage Fair), auction rooms and places like Etsy and eBay, although she warns that trying without buying can prove difficult. With that in mind, always check the quality. ‘Check there’s no staining as it’s hard to remove,’ says Bourvis. ‘If [it’s] beaded, are all the beads there?] She also believes that brides should go by themselves at first. ‘She can [look] quietly without pressures from others. Go at a quiet time during the week if possible - Saturdays are always busy - then go back with a friend, but always go with what your heart and gut tells you,’ she says.

Bourvis has a vintage-inspired ready-to-wear collection and a vintage collection, including gowns, veils, headpieces and belts, made entirely with antique laces and textiles. Wedding dress shopping, despite what rom-coms might suggest, can be stress-inducing - and she wants her customers to be as comforted as possible throughout the experience. ‘It’s a really special time when everything is coming together and [can] sometimes [be] stressful for a bride. They do need support and need to feel totally beautiful.’

An obvious downside to the online experience is that you can’t consult the experts on-hand or take anyone ‘shopping’ with you; pinging links around in a WhatsApp group doesn’t have the same kind of sentimentality, does it? But if you want to browse in peace and quiet from the comfort of your sofa, there’s plenty of great options like Vestiaire Collective, Oxfam)&No=0&Nf=&Nrpp=30){href='https://onlineshop.oxfam.org.uk/category/bridal-wedding-dresses?N=3336598367&Ns=product.creationDate|1&Ntk=&Nr=AND(product.active:1,NOT(sku.listPrice:0.000000))&No=0&Nf=&Nrpp=30' target='_blank' rel='noreferrer noopener'}, which has an entire wedding shop for the bridal party, and Hope & Harlequin, which currently has the most gorgeous 1970s three-piece set in its offering.

As with most wedding dresses, you’ll probably have to make at least some alterations (or, like Princess Beatrice’s sleeves, additions) to whatever you buy. ‘Most vintage can be altered beautifully and carefully,’ says Bourvis, who advises that older dresses are often more difficult to modify. ‘Sometimes the shop where the dress is purchased will do the work and it’s best not to take it too far from the original styling.’

Of course, you could go down the rental route and kill two birds with one stone (buying a wedding dress and finding ‘something borrowed’.) By Rotation, the rental app that’s fast-becoming a favourite with fashion editors, has several vintage wedding gowns listed. Molly Whitehall’s 1930s silk gown, sourced from William Vintage and uploaded last year, can be rented from £255. While some rotators are open to temporary alterations, others offer free trials so that you can try on something before committing to renting it.

The app’s founder, Eshita Kabra-Davies, said that renting your wedding dress is both rational and romantic. ‘Having spoken to many brides, and also reflecting on my beautiful wedding dress sitting in a box, I understand that wedding dresses can sometimes be a non-efficient purchase. There’s also something romantic about the story of the dress living on,’ she says. (She's also listed several of her wedding outfits on the app, including this spectacular 100% silkdupion lehenga from Gaurav Gupta.)

And what about the bride herself? ‘I felt so amazing in it on the day,’ says Molly. ‘I never wanted to take it off.’ As soon as she got engaged, she loved the idea of wearing something vintage to match her ring, a 1930s antique design that her husband, Toby, found at Farringdons in Hatton Garden. ‘I loved the idea of finding a one-of-a-kind dress that had a story and had lived a life before me.’


SHOP: The Best Vintage Sellers And Shops Online

Nina Gabbana Vintage1 of 9

Nina Gabbana Vintage

The source of Rihanna's blue Dior by John Galliano beaded choker, Nina Gabbana Vintage is run by Marie Laboucarié from her apartment in Paris. She mainly sells '90s and '00s pieces from designers including Dolce and Gabbana, Dior, Gucci, Fendi and more. Well, if it's good enough for Rihanna...

May de Vere Vintage 2 of 9

May de Vere Vintage

If you're looking for a showstopper of an outfit that nobody else will have even seen, May de Vere is your answer. There are glittering sequined pieces, puff sleeve party frocks and wonderfully over-the-top, frothy concoctions with oversized bow details. There are more understated options, too, but it's almost impossible to resist the frills and flourishes on offer. Every piece is a one-off and can be purchased [via Instagram](https://www.instagram.com/maydeverevintage/?hl=en){ =_blank}.

ASOS Marketplace3 of 9

ASOS Marketplace

While you might not think of ASOS as the most obvious choice when it comes to buying vintage, there are actually a number of brilliant sellers on the brand's Marketplace. It's one of the best places to look for pre-loved designer pieces, some of which are very affordable. While many of the boutiques are worth checking frequently, look out also for The Rare Edit, a a limited curated collection of rare designer vintage pieces. Follow [@asosmarketplace](https://www.instagram.com/asosmarketplace/){ =_blank} on Instagram to keep tabs on when the next drop will happen.

Darling & Vintage 4 of 9

Darling & Vintage

Cassie set up Darling & Vintage as a store on Etsy, where she still sells everything from embroidered 1950s jackets to sun dresses and '70s maxis. It's certainly worth following her [on Instagram,](https://www.instagram.com/darlingandvintage/?hl=en){ =_blank} however, where she announces new items for sale. Given the speed at which most of them tend to sell, it's best to keep a close eye on her posts!

Bonjour Vintage5 of 9

Bonjour Vintage

A relatively new venture from influencer Rachael Clifton, this is a great Instagram account to follow if you're in the market for stand-out pieces you could wear every day. Think excellent accessories and statement jackets, all of which can be bought via DM.

A Virtual Vintage Market6 of 9

A Virtual Vintage Market

Not only will you find live markets that you can follow [via Instagram](https://www.instagram.com/avirtualvintagemarket/){ =_blank} (a very welcome way to spend yet another day in lockdown), you'll also find information on independent sellers around the world, giving you plenty of options. One of the founders has also established [Peony Vintage](https://www.instagram.com/peony_vintage/){ =_blank}, which allows you to [shop pieces directly from the website. ](https://www.peonyvintage.com/shop){ =_blank}

Retold Vintage7 of 9

Retold Vintage

Every piece is handpicked by owner Clare Lewis, who favours modern, directional pieces that are built to last. As well as clothes that work for every day, Retold also offers a [personal shopping service for prospective brides.](https://www.retoldvintage.com/aboutretoldbride){ =_blank}

Rokit Vintage8 of 9

Rokit Vintage

A vintage stalwart in London, Rokit is a treasure trove packed with everything from perfect party dresses to knitwear, shoes, belts and bags. If you can't find something you love here, then you're possibly just not looking hard enough. Best of all, there's something for every budget.

Imparfaite Paris9 of 9

Imparfaite Paris

Imparfaite offers a curated selection of pre-loved clothes and accessories from France's most beloved vintage shops. From Gucci bags to Levi's shorts, this is certainly the place to find pieces that will collect compliments and become some of your favourite clothes in your wardrobe.

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