Vintage fashion is having a moment—from the resurgence of Regency-era silhouettes and ‘70s-inspired platform shoes to archival looks on the red carpet, nostalgia is at an all-time high. And, when it comes to wedding dresses and accessories, calling back to previous decades is a great way to showcase your personal style. Whether you’re looking for a traditional ball gown or the perfect pair of earrings to complete your ’20s-inspired bridal look, there are a ton of options out there to match your vision.
Meet the Expert
- Maddy Anderson is the founder of Madly Vintage, a curated vintage shop that features bridal pieces for pre-wedding events, receptions, and more.
- Jamie Lee is the founder of Blossom Vintage, a vintage shop carrying a collection of vintage and antique items, including wedding dresses and bridal accessories.
To help simplify your search, we tapped two vintage fashion experts—Maddy Anderson and Jamie Lee—and asked for their best advice. If you’re looking to lean into the retro vibe for your big day, everything you need to know before you start shopping is just ahead.
What Is Vintage Fashion?
Quite literally, vintage means “of age,” which leaves room for personal interpretation. Lee considers a vintage item to be 20 years old or older, with an antique being at least 100 years old. As for Anderson, she notes that vintage “is anything pre-loved that resonates with you or inspires from previous eras.” For those searching for second-hand bridalwear, whether it’s a slip dress from the ‘90s or a pair of lace gloves from the ‘50s, if it’s representative of the era and was made at least 20 years ago, it can be considered authentically vintage.
Why Shop Vintage?
Aside from the thrill of vintage treasure hunting, turning away from traditional bridal salons has its benefits.
One clear advantage to vintage shopping is the ability to wear a one-of-a-kind bridal look. No need to worry about donning a wedding dress dozens of brides have already worn, and choosing a vintage look is a great way to highlight your personal style. "Wearing vintage brings another layer of personal style. All brides want to stand out, but when you choose to wear vintage you’ll truly be in something one of a kind and timeless,” says Lee. “There is also something romantic when you’re choosing to give a vintage wedding dress a new story.”
According to Anderson, shopping vintage is also typically more affordable than buying other items in the bridal market. “While at the same time, vintage pieces almost always look higher-end (regardless of price) than modern fashion, so it’s a win-win,” notes Anderson. That’s not to say there aren’t some expensive designer pieces out there, but most items will be significantly cheaper than a newly-made wedding dress or accessory.
Choosing pre-loved bridalwear pieces over new items is also a more sustainable choice. “The sustainability of shopping vintage is a huge benefit,” explains Anderson. “The wedding industry can often be very wasteful, so it’s nice to know you’re helping the environment by shopping vintage or second-hand.”
Lee has also noticed a clear uptick in second-hand shopping due to an increase in more eco-conscious buying trends. “With this shift in consumerism, buyers are also more aware of the negative impacts of fast fashion on a societal and humanitarian level,” notes Lee. “Reusing what we already have in new creative ways is the future of fashion.”
What to Know When Shopping for Vintage Bridalwear
Before you take the plunge on a vintage wedding dress or accessory, these are a few important tips you should keep in mind as you start your search.
Do Your Research
As with all wedding dress shopping, you should clearly define the type of look you want. Research different decades, then create a mood board of the eras or looks that inspire you. Additionally, try to focus on popular silhouettes or accessories of a particular time, rather than attempting to completely replicate a specific look. "It’s important to not think too literally when shopping vintage, you never want to look like you’re in costume,” highlights Anderson.
Keep an Open Mind
Even if you have a specific style in mind, remaining flexible as to the specific era you want to replicate is a good rule of thumb to follow. “It’s easy to fall into these stereotypes of what each era was known for (i.e. ‘60s = boho/hippie), but when you take style elements you love from a ‘60s dress, you can find it in other eras as well without even knowing,” advises Lee.
Anderson also recommends finding a vintage style that is similar to modern-day fashions you love today. “This makes it much easier to make [your dress] relevant when styling for today’s time, and not to mention much more special,” she notes.
Know Your Measurements
Knowing your exact measurements is essential when it comes to shopping for any type of wedding dress, but especially vintage looks. “When you’re shopping for vintage, never rely on the sizing tag,” explains Lee. “Always be familiar with your own measurements and have a fabric measuring tape on hand when out shopping.”
Anderson agrees, noting that it’s also important to “know your body type, [as] some eras or styles might simply fit you better.” Knowing your measurements can help you make those quick decisions before an item sells out, and will also help minimize future alteration costs.
It's best to start shopping for your pre-loved pieces as soon as possible, Anderson recommends. This will ease the pressure of finding the perfect ensemble on such a definitive timeline. And once you fall in love with an item, it’s usually a good idea to buy it immediately, even if you’re not sure how you’ll incorporate it into your overall look.
“With vintage, you have to remember if it fits right and feels right, you should jump on it because it’s one-of-a-kind and it won’t be long before it gets snatched by someone else,” advises Anderson. Anderson also suggests booking consultations with a few vintage or bridal shops that align with the vision you’re trying to achieve. Most shops will work with you to find a piece that suits your needs.
Check Dress Conditions
You’ll want to check the conditions of a dress before you purchase it, but Lee notes that you shouldn’t be discouraged if you notice a few marks or snags on the item. “Most stains or discolorations will come out in the hands of a good dry cleaner,” says Lee. “What should be of main concern is how durable the dress is when worn, especially for the older pieces.”
Vintage ensembles can be fragile and, depending on their age, aren’t always made for a day-long affair. "If you’re wearing a dress from the 1930s or older, you’ll want to look for one in pristine condition, depending on the activities of your wedding,” adds Lee. “If it’s just for the photos, most of the antique dresses will hold up to that, but for all-night dancing, I’d recommend an outfit change to save the integrity of the dress.”
Find a Good Tailor
If you’re a dedicated vintage shopper, then you already understand the importance of using an experienced tailor. While most dresses can be altered to fit your body, Lee explains that when it comes to dresses from the ‘30s or older, you should find a tailor that has experience handling delicate fabrics.
Additionally, "vintage dresses are oftentimes lined with too thick of material which can be ill-fitting,” says Anderson. “I suggest instead, adding your own undergarments and/or slip if it’s needed. You’ll see how much better the piece falls and fits your body this way.”
How to Accessorize a Vintage Bridal Look
Knowing how to accessorize a vintage bridal look depends on your wedding dress of choice and bridal style. If you’re wearing a vintage wedding dress, Anderson recommends using more modern pieces to freshen up the look. For brides who want to use vintage pieces to supplement a contemporary wedding dress, you can easily find pre-loved accessories tailored-made for your vintage-inspired vision. “There are so many cute vintage purses and accessories out there that could really make an outfit even if you’re not wearing vintage,” explains Anderson. “Shoes are hard because of sizing, but purses and jewelry are always easy and fun ways to throw in something special.”
Where to Shop for Vintage Bridalwear
- Happy Isles: This by-appointment vintage bridal salon in Los Angeles has pieces from the 1930s to the early 2000s. With a focus on designer labels, you can find vintage wedding gowns from the likes of Versace and Dior. They also carry vintage jewelry and accessories to complete any look.
- Madly Vintage: This curated vintage shop is sold directly through Instagram, pop-up shops, and in-person at its showroom in Venice, California. With new bridal releases every few months, Madly Vintage has a range of pieces for all wedding events, with looks from the ‘30s to the ‘90s.
- Blossom Vintage: Focusing on modern and wearable vintage pieces, this online shop started as a physical store that operated out of a 1970s Safari Airstream. Its bridal collection focuses on the Edwardian era to the 1930s, meaning you're guaranteed a wedding dress that is truly one of a kind.
- Maison Sully: If you’re looking for a vintage wedding dress from the mod and disco eras of the 1960s and 1970s, this bridal atelier may be the right choice for you. However, with an ever-changing collection, you can find gowns, cocktail dresses, separates, and accessories from multiple decades.
- Gossamer: An online vintage shop filled with one-of-a-kind pieces, Gossamer carries items from the Victorian era to the 2000s. With a bridal collection of beaded dresses and tulle gowns, you can find a look for all your wedding events, including the ceremony and rehearsal dinner. They also offer rentals for those on the hunt for a one-night wedding occasion!
- Thrilling: Thrilling is an online vintage marketplace that includes items from multiple small business owners and vintage shops. They have a vast selection of wedding dresses from the ‘20s and on, as well as shoes, purses, and other accessories.