This #SecondHandSeptember, we wanted to shine the spotlight on second hand wedding dresses, and why they’re so brilliant – and who better to ask for help than Claire Patterson, the owner of Those Were The Days, a vintage shop with its sister bridal wing? We asked Claire for her top tips for buying second-hand wedding dresses and outfits…
Tip #1 – second-hand wedding dresses don’t have to mean you’re having a ‘themed’ wedding
Choosing a vintage wedding dress doesn’t mean you have to theme your wedding, or look a certain way – as rare and covetable items, they instead allow brides to create a style unique to them. With almost over 100 years of style available there really is something for everyone – glamourous gowns and dresses, suits, jewellery and accessories such as veils, tiaras, hats, headpieces and handbags, and fur stoles, wraps and capes.
True vintage wedding dresses are reflections of the fashions and wedding styles of the times they date from. And because our dresses date from Edwardian times through to the 1990s, this means that they often are often quite modest and covered up compared to more modern styles. Fashion trends were so different and people’s weddings weren’t the big parties we have now, so the dresses were designed to reflect this. This means that you won’t find current bridal trends or designs in our collection, for example you won’t find sheer designs, 2 piece sets with crop tops, backless or deep v front designs, or very sparkly rhinestone covered designs. These are all modern trends, and dresses like these, although they are absolutely beautiful, won’t be part of a vintage collection like ours for some considerable time yet.
Also, be prepared to be realistic about what era and design of dress will work for the wedding celebrations you are planning. If you’re planning to wear the same dress for your ceremony and then for a wild ceilidh party afterwards, a delicate and fragile 1920s flapper dress, or a delicate lace 1940s dress, wouldn’t be the best choice. Neither would a very corseted 1950s dress that might restrict your arm movement when you’re dancing. However, if your heart is absolutely set on a particular style that your bridal stylist advises you might be quite fragile, then think realistically about whether it might be a good idea to consider having a second dress to wear for your party.
Tip #2 – Buy a second hand wedding dress in person, where possible
The best way to shop for a vintage wedding dress is to visit a boutique like ours where you can see the dresses in person and have a close look at the style, fabric, quality and construction. This also enables you to have a dedicated consultation and fittings help and advice from a professional vintage bridal stylist. However, if you decide to buy a vintage wedding dress online, it’s essential that you know your measurements in detail and ask for the dress measurements in centimetres or inches, not generic sizes. At a minimum you need to know your bust, waist, hips, shoulder, arm length, bicep circumference, wrist circumference, and height measurements in centimetres or inches. And ask to see images of the dress on a mannequin so that you can see how it drapes and hangs. Be aware that vintage sales are usually always final, with no returns or exchanges being available, so there’s no room for error with an online purchase.
Tip #3 – Check the condition of your second-hand wedding dress
All of our pieces are professionally cleaned and restored before they arrive in the boutique, but if you’re buying a second-hand wedding dress from elsewhere make sure you check over any potential dresses for any faults, or damage (and that you’re confident you can clean, remove, or repair them). Some stains, such as brown rust stains, can’t be removed.
Tip #4 – Keep an open mind
It can be helpful to have had a think about what era, style, fabric and colour of dress you think you might like and would suit your type of wedding, and to be aware of what styles suit your body type, but don’t get too hung up on what you think you want. Don’t come along glued to the idea of wearing a particular design of dress you’ve found on Pinterest or in a magazine because you need to remember that our dresses are one-off-a-kind vintage pieces so you’ll never find the same style as one you come across.
Equally it’s also ok to come along and visit us having no clue at all about what you think you’d like to wear. We’re here to help you find your perfect dress and love working with you to make sure you find your special dress, and for that reason it’s always helpful to be open to any suggestions your bridal stylist has for you. Remember they are experienced bridal stylists who know the collection inside out!
Tip #5 – Be ready to buy the second-hand wedding dress you fall in love with!
Be ready to buy your dress immediately when you find ‘the one’. Vintage pieces are one off, unique dresses, and demand for them can be high. If you don’t want to lose your dream dress, don’t’ wait to snap it up!
Tip #6 – Allow yourself lots of time to find your dream vintage wedding dress
If you have your heart set on wearing a very particular style of dress from a particular era, then allow yourself lots of time to be able to find it. Wedding dresses dating from the earlier eras are becoming much rarer and harder for us to find in good condition, so it would be extremely unlikely you could walk into a boutique and find that dream 1930s liquid satin dress just waiting for you. It might take time and research to find the dress you are looking for, and that is something we can sometimes help our brides with.
Tip #7 – bring the people who get your vision
Not everyone ‘gets’ vintage fashion, or is interested in sustainable or ethical shopping. If this is the case with some of your bridal entourage, only bring people dress shopping with you who support your unique vision.
Tip #8 – check about sizing availability
We always try very hard to have the widest selection of sizes of vintage wedding dresses available in our boutique as we can find, but it is true that true vintage wedding dresses, i.e. dresses dating over 30 years old or older, tend to be a lot smaller in size than modern dresses. This means that most of our collection tends to range in size between a modern UK size 6 to a size 14.
We find it very difficult to find true vintage wedding dresses above a size 14 because people were smaller in height, bone structure and build in times gone by, and as such we usually only have a few dresses available in a size 16 which will generally date from the 1980s and 1990s. However, we are always sourcing new dresses and adding to our collection so it is always worth checking about size availability with us.
It is also true that there are many ways a skilled dressmaker can make dresses fit when they are too small or too big, and they can also be re-modelled to your taste.