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Vintage Gown Shopping Tips

Vintage Gown Shopping Tips

Two years ago (which in blogging years means decades ago), I gave a few tips on TheKnot on the Do’s and Dont’s of vintage wedding dress shopping. This is timely with the current trend, and today we’re going to go into a little more detail. I also invited Paula of Mill Crest Vintage to share tips on vintage wedding dress alterations.

Invest in a good tailor to take your measurements. Remember to bring the undergarments and heels that you will be wearing on the day-of. Keep in mind that you will be looking for a dress with slightly larger measurements to account for the different sizes, vintage typically fits smaller as well as to leave room for alterations. A good tailor should be able to remove or add sleeves, change the neckline and back closure, more on that below. Remember you can’t find two of the same when shopping for vintage wedding dresses, so don’t let it pass you by if you love it!

vintage wedding dress shopping tips

Some gowns may be too fragile to endure wearing for the whole day then dancing, especially delicate Edwardian cotton dresses dating 100+ years old. If you have your great-grandmother’s or your grandmother’s dress, and would like to honor it but can’t wear it, put it on a dress form for display at your reception or display photos of your family on their wedding days. We love the idea from this vintage wedding we featured a few years ago.

tavin vintage wedding dress

Not all vintage wedding dresses can be altered. Check carefully for rips, stains and other flaws. If you’re shopping online, read the listing description carefully or ask the seller directly. Minor defects are common in vintage dresses, especially the older they are, but often times they can be repaired. However, flaws such as sweat stains are irreparable. Gowns that are much larger than your size can also be very challenging to alter. If the gown is too large, a seamstress may have to nearly sew the gown from scratch which would certainly increase the overall cost.

vintage wedding dress shopping tips

Most vintage boutiques have already done the bulk of the work for you by handpicking vintage wedding dresses that are in excellent condition, in style, and ready to wear. Don’t hesitate to check out these shops if thrifting is too daunting of a prospect for you.

millcrest vintage wedding dress

Paula of Mill Crest Vintage shares a few tips on what can a good tailor can do:

Add length: With banded inserts into the waistline or even added fabric to a hemline that complements other elements on a dress (like lace for example), length can certainly be added if the dress is too short. It really only takes a bit of imagination, creativity and someone who understands construction.

Add room in the bodice: Other things a good seamstress should be able to do might include recreating a back to a dress, change the button or corset closure, add invisible zipper, add bones or a bra insert in the bodice, shorten the skirt of a dress via the waist so as to not interfere with the integrity of a specially or intricately trimmed hemline, remove and replace a lining so as to add room.

Alter a neckline: A good seamstress can alter a neckline and even alter the silhouette of the gown. Other things that can be done is add gussets to create room in the bodice, add, shorten or remove sleeves, a add an attached petticoat or crinoline, reinforce and/or replace beading/sequins and buttons… many things that seem like they cannot be repaired can easily be repaired with the right seamstress. We have done all of these types of alterations for our brides…and it is truly one of the best parts of working with vintage.

Do you have more tips? Did you/Are you buying a vintage wedding dress? Please share!

Mill Crest Vintage is a member of Blue Label

Image credits and sources: top and third vintage wedding dresses from Kitten Paws Vintage; second vintage wedding dress from Tavin via The Loveliest Day; last two vintage wedding gowns from Mill Crest Vintage

View Comments (14)
  • Very true that a good seamstress can make these alterations. But it will not come cheap. The more you take apart a dress to make an alteration, the more the price goes up. So keep in mind that vintage does not necessarily mean less money than brand new.

  • Thanks for sharing! The sleeves on the last dress on the left are gorgeous.

  • I agree with finding a good seamstress, regardless if the dress is vintage or not. My sister had to buy a new dress after a seamstress ruined her gown!!!

    Ms. Bunny – I don’t think anyone in here stated that buying vintage is cheaper than brand new.

  • I’m looking for a vintage wedding dress so I was thrilled to see this post today. But what I really need is more advice on how to find the darn dresses, especially in local stores so I can try them on (online scares me — maybe later, if I get desperate). I live in San Francisco so it shouldn’t be that hard, but most vintage boutiques have just a couple wedding dresses, if any, and they’re never even close to what I’m looking for. There’s a boutique downtown called Torso with more options, but I struck out there too. Does anyone know of any other places in the SF Bay Area, or an online database of location-sorted vintage bridal boutiques?


  • Perfect timing!
    I have always wanted to wear my mom’s wedding dress, but the dress is too short and too tight on top…plus it has long sleeves. I thought I would never be able to alter it to fit me, so last month I got myself another dress.
    But these past few days I’ve been thinking about going to talk to a seamstress to see what she can do…I’m just scared they’re going to ruin it. I would feel so guilty!
    Now, if someone could possibly recommend a great seamstress in New York City…

  • These are all very good tips for every bride who plans to wear vintage dresses, most especially that vintage wedding dresses are quite popular to be worn by most brides today. 😀 I would really want to wear one myself, vintage always has this classic look 😉

  • I’m so lost when it comes to vintage shopping. Would love to do the whole vintage wedding dress, but feel it’s a bit to risky.

  • In response to the lady who asked where to buy lovely and reasonably priced vintage wedding dresses. Have her check out The Discovery Shops (Cancer Research Donation/Resale Shops) located all over California. You’ll find a lot of wedding dresses in these shops and all are very reasonably priced. Fit? That’s up to your taste and good luck, but there are many shops around, so look in the phone book and give them a call. Good Luck (and your money goes to a wonderful causes!)

  • Thanks for pointing out that not all vintage wedding dresses can be altered. My best friend is getting married in a few weeks, and she likes the idea of having a vintage gown, but she also really wants a dress that fits her like a glove. I’m sure she’ll want to find something that can be altered so that it can fit perfectly.

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