A blonde woman wearing a sheer white silk chiffon vintage wedding dress


9 Shopping Tips On Finding Your Dream Vintage Wedding Dress

Consider secondhand shopping for your big day.

by Shelby Ying Hyde

As popular programs like TLC’s Say Yes to The Dress have shown, shopping for a bridal dress in and of itself is one of the most memorable parts of wedding planning. And with the resale fashion market continuing to grow, more brides are buying secondhand and vintage wedding dresses in lieu of a brand new find, and to be honest, it’s something everyone should at least consider. Here’s why.

More often than not, once the festivities are over and the proverbial party dust settles, all that’s left is an ornate dress sitting in the back of your closet, never to be worn again. By going the secondhand route, you’re investing in a piece worthy of your big day that is unique but will remain timeless — both in photos and IRL — making wearing the ensemble again in the future less taboo than one may initially think. Whether it’s a no-name skirt suit a la Carrie Bradshaw’s vintage find in the Sex and the City movie or an archival Vivienne Westwood corset dress, the bottom line is that by shopping vintage, you’ll find something that’s unlike anything you may come across in a more commercial setting.

Vintage offers brides something unique, that no one else has, in a bridal landscape that is super oversaturated online and on social media,” Lily Kaizer, owner of Los Angeles-based luxury vintage boutique and bridal salon Happy Isles, tells NYLON. “[It] first and foremost, allows for the bride to feel totally like herself, not like some other bride she’s seen on Instagram.”

However for Kaizer, who has been in the game since 2006, the benefits of the pre-loved bridal market go beyond the surface level. Aside from possessing what the store owner calls “a little piece of history,” going the used-dress route is also friendlier on the environment. “We love that the uniqueness of vintage is also coupled with the value of secondhand sustainability,” Kaizer explains on the reason why many brides prefer this approach. “We’re big believers that there is enough stuff in the world already, and for brides to consider secondhand for their wedding really means that they are socially and environmentally conscious as well as fashion-forward.”

It’s also worth mentioning that while in some instances the terms “secondhand” and “vintage” are synonymous with an item being discounted, that isn’t always the case when it comes to shopping for a bridal look. Much like with other pre-owned categories from past decades, there’s often a substantial price tag that comes along with buying a dated piece, especially if it’s decked out in embellishments. So before deciding to venture the secondhand wedding dress route, you’ll want to be sure to consider your reasoning. If it’s to ultimately save money, apart from a few exceptions, you may be disappointed.

To help make sure the process goes rather smoothly, below is a list of tips and guidelines to keep you on the right track to find your dream vintage wedding dress.

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 1: Try It On

For those just starting the process, it’s OK to browse online to get a feel for what it is you want. But before you can make any serious decisions, it’s important to see these styles in person. Aside from trying it on for fit, touching and feeling the fabrication are an integral part in differentiating between a find that requires some work and a piece worth adding your archives as is. So rather than focusing on a specific dress online that you may not be able to see in person (because the seller doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar or you live in another city), consider finding vintage wedding salons in your area first. This will give you a solid starting point.

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 2: Do Your Research

Whether you’re going for a piece from a specific era or hoping to find a style from a collection you loved just a few seasons ago, shoppers should start their process with a little research. By doing your homework, you will go into your shopping journey with the knowledge needed to identify popular silhouettes according to the decade, offering some insight into the piece’s history. This guidance will narrow your search and help prevent you from getting too overwhelmed with all the options, while saving you some time in the process.

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 3: Make The Most Of Your Appointment

By no means do you have to have it all figured out before making your first bridal appointment, but you do want to be somewhat prepared. Start by grabbing a few different styles — ones that you’ll love and others that you may not have initially gravitated toward. This process of elimination helps you decide what you do like, weeding the dresses you don’t like from the bunch. Plus, even if you don’t find the one on the first browse (which, don’t worry, hardly anyone does), it will allow you to walk away knowing that you’re one step closer, and that time was not wasted for all of those involved.

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 4: Remain Open To Options

While many shoppers go into the process with an idea of what it is they’re looking for, those who have been through it will tell you that it’s important to keep an open mind. According to Lyst, a good number of brides are skipping the “classic gown” all together, with an increasing amount of interest in bridal separates, jumpsuits, and mini-dresses — which are up 170% over the first quarter of 2021. So it makes sense that shoppers are also perusing vintage bridal salons for styles that go beyond the usual silhouettes.

Plus, more and more brides-to-be are gravitating toward colors other than the traditional white, cream, and ecru palette. “We’ve been fielding lots of requests for emerald green, yellows, pinks, and blues,” Kaizer divulges on the demands of her customer base. “And, of course, anything with a feather.”

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 5: Know Your Exact Measurements

Before stepping foot into a bridal salon, you’ll want to take measurements of the key areas on your body to ensure you’re able to make an informed purchase. Think bust, waist, hips, hem length, and if you’re wearing something that’s going to sit across your decolletage, you’ll want to measure your shoulder width, too. Having this information on hand will help you find the best dress size and “perfect fit” (regardless of what the tag says).

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 6: But Still Keep A Trusted Tailor On Speed Dial

Though, in instances where you fall in love with something that’s a few sizes too big or find the perfect dress aside from minor superficial blemishes — snagged embellishments or a faulty zipper, for example — you should absolutely have a seamstress or tailor on standby to assist with the fine-tuning. (Bridal salons may have someone in-house, as well.) This will come especially handy for brides who decide to take a pantsuit or jumpsuit approach. Not to mention, they will be able to help with any last-minute size and fit concerns you may have.

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 7: Find The Vision

Much like with flipping houses, sometimes all you need is a vision in mind to take a dress from dated to stylishly retro. So ask yourself if you are able to see the potential of a piece before you buy, because sometimes that’s all it takes. Whether it’s picturing how you plan to style a dress, or imagining it with more modern elements that can be added with the help from your trusted tailor.

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 8: It’s A Marathon Not A Sprint... But Be Ready To Act

One of the biggest pieces of advice that brides are given is to take their time shopping around before deciding on what they’ll wear down the aisle, and the same can be true when buying vintage. However, while you don’t want to rush the process, unlike with retail finds, you’ll want to act quickly because the likelihood of finding anything like it anywhere else is slim, which means someone can snatch it up if you wait too long. So you’ll want to have your allotted funds ready to go, so that when you come across your dream dress there will be nothing standing in the way and you won’t miss out.

Buying Secondhand And Vintage Wedding Dresses Tip No. 9: Have An Exit Plan

In the event that you don’t want to keep your dress after the big day, start researching ways to either responsibly get rid of it or upcycle it into something you’ll wear again. By thinking of the full life cycle of your bridal look, shoppers are often able to justify the hefty price tag in a rather reasonable way. Consignment is another option to consider, as it’s a great way to trade in your dress for cash that can go toward something else you’ve always wanted. And then for those feeling charitable, donating your dress is also a common option.