NEW YORK — There’s something romantic about the idea of a vintage wedding dress, with the wonderful stories it could tell. Maybe there’d be some delicate lace, too, or exquisite siren-worthy satin.
Reality, though, isn’t always so pretty.
Some vintage dresses are those perfect gowns you dream of, said Mark Ingram, chief executive and creative director of Manhattan’s Mark Ingram Bridal Atelier, but others are too costume-y, too dated or, more likely, simply ill-fitting.
“You can reach back to some vintage eras and look as contemporary as buying a new dress. But,” he said, “you have to consider your figure first and foremost. If the dress isn’t flattering to your figure type, just don’t go down the road.”
Cameron Silver, owner of the Los Angeles couture vintage shop Decades, suggests these questions to ask frankly of yourself: Do you need to wear a bra? Do you have a boyish figure? An hourglass shape? What about your hips? All of these, he says, are factors in buying any wedding gown, but particularly those meant to fit women of previous generations.
Silver, a resource for Hollywood red-carpet looks, also warns that finding a pristine white vintage dress can be hard, and that a good vintage dress, if it’s not an heirloom, can be more expensive than you’d think. Even with your grandmother’s dress, there could be pricey alterations.
“Don’t do this because you think it’s the easy way out, or that it’ll be cheaper,” Ingram said. “You have to want it — you have to want to have this look.”
But if you do find that ideal gown from yesteryear, Silver said, it’s a magical moment. He once sold a full Chantilly lace wedding gown by Chanel.
(If you find a keeper, be ready to buy it right away — no wavering — because there’s not another one in the inventory closet.)
If you’re partial to embroidery, look at gowns from the 1920s-’30s. Sultry, satin gowns come out of the ’40s. Women with a full bust might look to the curvier ’50s silhouette, said Ingram, WE TV’s “gown guru,” while mini-dresses of the ’60s are cool, yet hard to pull off unless the event is casual or the bride prides herself an individualist.
Silver said that’s usually the case with those who wear vintage. “This bride doesn’t want to look like everyone else.”
Still, you can hit contemporary fashion trends. Something from the ’70s, a little bohemian but sexy, too, is probably the hippest look going. The period to stay away from is the ’80s, with its oversize pouffy shoulders and tapered sleeves.
A bride’s goal often is a timeless look, since the photos will hopefully last a lifetime, but each era still has its signature, says Michael Shettel, designer of bridal brand Alfred Angelo. You might be best off with a classic silhouette, while adjusting embellishments and details to current tastes, he suggests.
Ingram said the best combination might be vintage-inspired accessories on a new dress. “Add a fur piece — a shrug or a stole — and it looks vintage, even if it’s new.” he said.
But “your accessories, hair and makeup have to be incredibly modern,” Silver said.