Do you like having things that no-one else can have? Do you want to look amazing wearing a one of a kind dress? If you answered yes to either of these questions and you adore fashion history and the romance of past eras, then chances are a vintage evening or wedding gown could be just for you.
HOW TO FIND A VINTAGE DRESS
Vintage formal wear and bridalwear is very rare and very precious. It usually consists of intricate details, handmade lace and beading, unique textiles and high quality workmanship. Usually sewn all by hand! Finding good quality vintage wear is becoming more and more difficult. Antique wedding dresses tend to be kept within families as heirlooms and rarely go up for sale.
If you dont have a dress in your family that you can wear, try looking in vintage clothing boutiques, antique stores, estate sales, auction houses, newspaper classifieds and of course EBAY! Remember, that if you do happen to find a gown that you love, it will be one of a kind. If you can't fit into it or don't buy it straight away, and find later that it has been sold, you can't go out and find another one.
For a truly tailored fit, you might need to search for old dressmaking patterns of vintage era's and have a dressmaker make you a reproduction from a peice of antique material.
WHAT STYLE OF VINTAGE WILL BEST SUIT YOU?
The elaborate evening and wedding dresses worn by the Victorian and Edwardian women were perfectly suited to sit down dinners, genteel balls and candleit soirees. So if you are having a full on wedding or event, you might be best suited to find another type of gown!
However if you are a bigger size, looking for a vintage dress find may prove to be rather hard. Sadly most antique and vintage dresses were generally a soze 6-8. Women's bodies have changed significantly over time, and the upper class women were married off young and avoided forms of pyshcial exertion. Their small and delicate figures emphasised the Victorain notions of the "weaker sex". Tiny hourglass figures were all the rage, and ladies achevied this look by wearing bone crushing corsets and girdles, 24 hours a day!
Today of course we dont wear corsets and girdles, which explains why finding a vintage gown that fits is almost an impossible task. Vintage shoes also tend to be rather small and narrow.
Vintage dresses can be easily taken in, but are rather difficult to let out, even by a professional seamstress. Even so many vintage gowns have been taken in and out by their original owners, unless they are mint and never been worn.
Your vintage gown should fit ideally best across your chest and shoulders, this is where the most movement and straining occurs, you will be busy at your wedding or formal even so movment is a must!
If you are a larger or more curvaceous woman, you may find that a 1950's gown (think marilyn monroe) will best suit your figure. Thin and flat chested women will look beter and authentic in 1920's garments. Finally petite girls with tiny waists, hands and feet will fit most Victorian and Edwardian gowns with ease.
THE PERFECT DRESS FOR YOU
Short and full figured - to flatter your figure, you need to look for garments that create a slender silhouette. Dresses made from shantung, taffeta, peau de soie or floating chiffon will skim over your curves and not cling or strain awkwardly. Lift people's eyes away from your waist by choosing a gown with lovely detailing around the neckline, and pair your dress witn a tall headpeice and long veil, Don't choose a gown with a full skirt or lots of ruffles, or anything made from heavy, knitted or ornate material.
short and slender -you want to emphasise your height, so look for a dress with long vertical lines and a detailed neckline. You can get away with some small ruffles and trimmings and a little fullness in the sleeves, waist and hips. Choose soft, medium weight fabrics such as taffeta, satin, gauze or a simple lace design. Don't wear a large antique hat.
tall and slender - you can experiment with vintage fabrics and wear textured moire, beading, chintz, brocade or lace. you can experiment with full skirts, sleeves and busts, ruffles, tiers, flounces, horizontal patterns, or different fabrics on your upper and lower body. you dont want to wear anything to up and down or you may look like a flagpole! so choose dresses without strong vertical lines, seams, trims and dont wear a tall headpeice!
tall and full figured - you want to create the illusion of a slimmer body line, so keep your look simple. your antique gown should run closely down the lines of your body, without clinging awkwardly in places. look for vertical seaming and avoid puffy sleeves, ruffles and full skirts. you will look beautiful wearing a material with a subtle texture or matte finish, eg taffeta, shantung, peau de soi or chiffon. steer clear of heavy textures or knits or anything with a really shiny surface. and dont wear a tall headpeice of full veil.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOU NEW GOWN
Once you have your gorgeous new dress at home and in your hands take a good look. are there any rips, tears, stains, lookse seams, discoloration, missing buttons or broken parts? ideally you should have looked at all this before buying, as it may ultimately cost you more in alterations and dry cleaning to fix it all.
Think positive, a stain could be covered up with a peice of lace or other beads!
Antique textiles can be extremely delicate, seams may be easily stressed, fabric may fall apart, bleach will quicly burn and materials like chiffon and organzaoften wrinkle and shrink when cleaned. Make sure your specialist dry cleaner DOES NOT steam press vintage materials, this can leave caramalised or brown starch deposits on your dress.
Depending on the fabric, just give your dress a really gentle hand wash and add a few drops of lavender oil to remove those musty smells. You don't really want to smell like mothballs now do you?
Orange or rusty colored "mold spots" are quite common in vintage gowns. To remove the spots, but retain the look, don't use products like napisan. the only product that wont remove a gowns natural ivory/white tone is something called "herbon" which is available in health food shops.
Be prepared to be patient and leave the gown to soak for a few days if neccasary, in a wash tub etc, if your not confident in yourself check out a professional dry cleaner.
Well thats the end of this guide on how to buy and care for a vintage gown. Hope it was helpful to you and please vote if it was. Check out my other guide to on how to Identify what era your vintage clothes are from.
This gude was compiled in reference to Bride to be, 2002 Volume 121 pages 80-83.