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Vintage Wedding Gowns

Updated on September 8, 2011

Glamour Gowns

Vintage wedding gowns have a way of making anyone who wears them look like a Silverscreen Goddess. There's something about how they fit over the body and flow with complete elegance that keeps their designs coming back year after year.

I've included photos that are either actual vintage dresses, some from people's attics and closets, others that exist in museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (Christian Dior Gowns), or in designer collections (Haute couture gowns) that perhaps only royalty or red carpet celebrities may get the chance to wear. I've also added a few pictures of gowns that are attainable and affordable in comparison to other "new" gowns that can be found on the rack at a Bridal shop.

Beautiful Vintage Gowns

This is a vintage inspired gown.
This is a vintage inspired gown. | Source
Updated version of a 1940s wedding gown
Updated version of a 1940s wedding gown | Source

Finding your Vintage Inspired Wedding Gown

Vintage gowns that are pictured, go back to the 1920s. You'll notice that the style in the 20's, when Flapper girls were taking over the fashion market, was a bit more sleek in comparison to their crinoline counterparts of the 1950s.

The best way to wear these sleeker styles, that are either "A" line or more like a "sac dress" that bunches at the waist (you have to be fairly thin to pull this off with grace), is to combine it with a full lace veil. Since the style is sleeker, you can add other embellishments such as chunky jewelry, funky shoes, a colorful bouquet made of flowers or buttons, and a long veil with thicker lace.

The styles of the 1950s that flare out are fantastic for women with larger hips. They look absolutely great on every figure. I personally like the gowns that are tiered because they give the illusion of height. These gowns can also double as a ball gown, instead of a wedding gown.

You'll notice that I've included a black dress from John Galliano's collection. It's very unusual nowadays to see any bride wearing black, unless she's going Gothic. However, black was the style to wear during turn-of-the-century weddings in Europe. The one pictured is so elegant, I think the color can be forgiven and would look extravagant anywhere at anytime.

When looking for vintage gowns, or take-offs of vintage gowns, look for the details. Vintage bridal gowns paid more attention to detail than their new modernist, sleek counterparts. When I was recently shopping for a gown, I was surprised how difficult it was to find any of good quality that had hand sewn beading or cut lace. Most of the ones I saw looked very cookie-cutter and plain.

Fabric also plays a huge role in wedding gowns. The more expensive the fabric, obviously the more expensive the gown. Silks seem to be the most expensive, whereas taffeta looks really pretty and has a more elegant sheen than your run of the mill satin. If you're going for a 1950s inspired dress, you're in luck - crinoline is pretty cheap and comes in many colors.

Many of these vintage styles use a tremendous amount of lace. I didn't know how many types of lace or how many different processes were involved in making lace. There's the hand made kind (If you're lucky enough to have a relative that makes lace - utilize their skill and your dress will be an instant heirloom!), and there's the machine stitched kind. I'm not a huge fan of this kind, however it lessens the cost of a gown by at least half.

Beading was very popular for flapper girl dresses. There's one pictured that is dripping in beads, all hand-sewn. This will set you back quite a bit in price. An alternative would be to use fringe, or alternate fringe with beading.

For those of you considering purchasing a retro-vintage dress and are on a budget...consider checking out some of the Chinese businesses online. I found a few that I was communicating with from Ebay.

They apparently can replicate most gowns. I actually sent them 4 gowns and told them how I wanted the neckline of one with the skirt of another and a bustle of yet a different design, and they seemed confident they could recreate it and the cost was minimal. Their cost was under $300 to create the entire thing.

Their fabric is cheaper, but no one would know in the photographs. However, there is no way to have fittings done with their seamstresses. So, you'd have to set up an appointment and work with a bridal shop in your area, which costs more money.

I ended up not using the Chinese companies, and instead went to a tailor in Thailand for my vintage-inspired gown. I used 2-ply Thai silk and had about 10 fittings to get it all perfect. I used lace from Japan, (machine made) it wasn't my favorite, but the way they cut the lace to apply it to my dress worked well. I did not attach beading as it raised the price tremendously and I also knew I had to carry the gown on an airplane, so no beading was a safe idea. The total cost for my custom handmade, vintage-inspired gown was about $600.

If you have the time and money, it may be worth it to either hire a tailor or friend that can stitch for you, or an even nuttier idea - fly to another country to have your gown made. I know that sounds extravagant, but the dress that I had made, individual components of it came from dresses that retailed at $26,000. Also, it helps that I'm in Thailand, where silk is made. And to give you an idea, silk in Thailand is $8 - $12 a meter (or approx. 1 yard).

There is nothing more stunning and elegant than a classic vintage wedding gown on a bride. They come in all shapes and sizes and make amazing heirlooms.

Some Helpful Tools for the Vintage Bride

Xl Acid-free Storage Box for Linens, Quilts, Keepsake
Xl Acid-free Storage Box for Linens, Quilts, Keepsake

A storage box to keep your dress fresh after the big day. This is for do-it-yourself brides on a budget.



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    • healthymiss profile image


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Beautiful! I love vintage much detail without being overdone.

    • EllenDean profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Austin

      KoffeeKlatch Gals, Thank you! I totally agree! Thanks for stopping by.

      WedPhotoCards, I hope you get to do so! Cheers!

    • WedPhotoCards profile image


      8 years ago

      I've always wanted to have vintage wedding gown on my wedding.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      EllenDean, you chose some beautiful gowns. I have to agree, vintage gowns are so romantic. They add that special something to any wedding.

    • EllenDean profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Austin

      Nellieanna, I couldn't agree with you more! I'll always be more of a traditionalist with the gown, even if other elements may be funky and fun. (Actually, I went ivory for my own ritual!). So great to hear from you! More hubs on the way - summer gowns coming next!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      I love your reply! You're so knowledgeable.

      Yes it's possible that the gown was a debutant or even a pageant gown. The last bridal shop where I worked (In Louisville, Kentucky) was actually called "Brides and Belles" - and catered to both groups.

      I know that fashions now are much less traditional, almost "anything goes". But in the same spirit that "glue and wedding gowns don't mix" (such an apt phrase!) I often think that the far-out ideas don't mix with wedding gowns. A wedding is still associated with being a formal religious sacrament or ritual - though it's not always in a religious setting and many people have little concern for that aspect. I am not "religious" but there is something about respect which still attaches to a wedding in my mind. But like most things which are human cultural practices, where are the lines drawn, even if one accepts there being any lines? LOL

    • EllenDean profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Austin

      Hi Nellieanna,

      You sure know your gowns! I bet you were a fantastic planner. I suppose Vera Wang isn't so much vintage in time, as many of her gowns are in style. She certainly has a lot of contemporary and sleek modern styles in her collection as well. I agree with you about the strapless gowns. And, to look really amazing in them, toned or muscular arms are a must - otherwise, they sometimes can look like a fancy towel wrapped around the bride.

      I too, am a fan of sleeves, even just off the shoulder small sleeves to give a neckline to the dress. It's very flattering to have a neckline that continues to the shoulder and makes the focal point of the bride the face and neck (which most can pull of gracefully!).

      The sleeveless dresses flatter lots of cleavage. Which I suppose, if you're in your early 20's and everything is place with muscle tone and you're looking for something a bit saucy...well, go for it - afterall, the gown may be vintage-inspired, but culture certainly is not!

      I love those tiny cramp-in-hand-causing buttons. They're lovely. They're always elegant and classy. Now they make gowns to "appear" as if they have all of those buttons. Instead the buttons are there, but there is an invisible zipper that zips them straight up the back, and a false panel of ready-fastened buttons magically appears.

      I wonder if that 50's gown I put in there was for a debutante rather than a bride? I found it listed under bridal wear, but you could totally be right. And, it certainly does not look couture.

      Glued lace. I can't think of anything on a high-priced gown that would be more disappointing. Even here in Thailand, they have the courtesy of cutting the factory-made lace and stitching it on by hand. Glue and wedding gowns don't mix well. As a visual artist, I've seen what happens to glue over time - it doesn't age well...and certainly would never fly as an heirloom dress. When looking for my gown, I even saw silkscreen printed lace. Not sure how I feel about that...I suppose on a really funky gown that could be kinda cool for the right bride...but this was white silkscreen lace on ivory satin...kinda gross and very cheap looking! Amazing what they'll try to sell to brides. I have another hub coming soon on summer gowns. You may find it interesting some of the cotton fabrics they use now. Some of them are very beautiful and probably a lot more comfy for heat!

      Thanks again for stopping by. I always enjoy hearing from you!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      Lovely! I sort of have to smile at the idea of Vera Wang being vintage, along with other examples of what are still to me, "new". If it is strapless it isn't really vintage. LOL I guess the most difficult adjustment for me about newer wedding gown trends is straplessness or even bare-shouldered. Short sleevees even required long kid gloves (heavens, not fabric ones unless fine lace!) It still seems a bit inappropriate to this former Bridal Consultant, but I guess the nature of fashion, whether traditional or avant-garde - is change. Nothing is sacred about fashion really.

      But in my heyday, a wedding gown had long sleeves with a gang of tiny covered buttons (same as the ones up the long back closure of the gown) with fabric loops for fasteners. It took agile fingers to button them and even then, resulted in hand cramps! My "day" was the 50s - and I suppose that Madame Chanel was turning over in her grave (or bed) when she beheld some of the styles of that day, though similar to the 40s one with long sleeves, except in the 50s, everything was more dramatic and elaborate. Such is the evolutionary nature of fashion, though.

      The one you've labeled as a 50s gown was surely from the later 50s, with the little cap sleeves and zipper - or else was not a very high-end one. The Valentino gown is more typical of the era.

      In those times, a sign of a really couture garment (not a wedding gown which had a zipper only if it were a really cheapo) - but the ordinary couture dress - had the zipper sewn in invisibly by hand and heaven forbid that a hem was machine stitched other than shirttails. LOL Other details were "giveaways" of quality or lack thereof. I'll never forget my horror the first time I saw a wedding gown (with a stiff pricetag, to!) with lace appliques GLUED ON!! Of course - it's practical for a gown only destined to be worn once- though hopefully not for a garden wedding if there is a sudden thunderstorm! lol.

      The gowns you've featured are really breathtaking.


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