Pre-owned, pre-worn, pre-loved, used, vintage gown roundup

Whenever sleeves are the topic de jour, there’s always at least one person who suggests that vintage wedding gowns are the way to go. Buying vintage isn’t always easy, however. I’ve yet to find a gorgeous dress from yesteryear that fits my modern contours. Shopping outside of the world of vanity sizing, one discovers that size 12 was once more like a size 4 in terms of relative measurements.

The luckiest vintage obsessed brides-to-be are those with 24″-26″ waists and small everything else, being as those are the sorts of numbers you’ll run across often when exploring the selection of wedding gowns from the first half of the twentieth century. That’s not to say that the rest of us can’t take a nice long look at the vintage gowns that are up for sale on various web sites, which is precisely what I spent my entire morning doing.

Here are some of the gems I found:

Dripping with handmade cotton lace

From the description: “The designer of this exquisite [1910-ish] wedding gown combines straight-edged tape lace with the rounded shapes of princess lace in a highly textured statement. The torso and sleeves of the gown are completely fashioned from hand-assembled écru cotton lace. The matching cotton tulle skirt is hand appliquéd with scattered lace motifs. The gown is lined with an écru satin slip and closes in back with small hooks.”

A 30″ inch waist? OMG!

From the description: “This [satin and lace] gown exemplifies the beginnings of this fashion revolution. Many 1930 designs featured the “lingerie” detail of pintucking. This technique is used to great effect in this gown, actually providing its shaping.”

Just as poufy as anyone could wish for

From the description: “The heaviest, richest glowing satin ever in this fabulous gown from the post-war 40’s. What a beauty! Shown with a hoop petticoat that is a little shorter than the gown, a more bell shape could be accomplished with a hoops that go all the way to the edge of the dress. Made for the tall slim girl.”

This one is by far my favorite

And, natch, a description: “Total fairytale, a beautiful sparkly [1950s] wedding dress with voluminous ballerina length skirt which comes complete with original matching coronet.”

I’m quite besotted with the last one, though I’m surprisingly keen on the 1930s gown. I don’t usually care AT ALL for the gowns that came out of that decade. What’s your favorite wedding gown era?

11 Responses to “Pre-owned, pre-worn, pre-loved, used, vintage gown roundup”

  1. Toby Wollin says:

    Though I was a bride in 1977 (and I made myself a suitably hippy-dippy Duro-esque dress out of white islet with woven in red and white gingham ribbons), I’m not a big fan of the period. Actually, my favorite periods are up through about the mid-60s: you could still get a dress with a decent neckline, sleeves, and interesting skirts and waists. Once you get into the 70s it was Gunnysack Hell, and then straight down the road to the Strapless Follies. If I had to make myself a bridal gown today, I’d go straight to the vintage pattern folks and look there.

  2. Sarah says:

    I tend to gravitate towards gowns from the 40s and 50s, which are nicely suited to my hourglassy figure. A great website for vintage gowns is They have a special page just for bridal/prom dresses!

  3. Melissa B. says:

    “Once you get into the 70s it was Gunnysack Hell, and then straight down the road to the Strapless Follies.”

    With a brief detour into Mutton Sleeve Mania.

  4. Never teh Bride says:

    Oh man, those Gunnysacks…when I was browsing the vintage fare out there I kept happening upon them. They are either absolutely shapeless or way too big for the people modeling them. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the contours…

  5. Pencils says:

    Oh, I loved Gunne Sax when I was in jr high. I had the most amazing green velvet knickers that I wore with a white high necked blouse with lace insets on the leg-o-mutton sleeves. I was about 13 then.

  6. Nony Mouse says:

    The top dress actually reminds me quite a bit of mine (except straps only sweetheart neckline). The mother of one of my bridesmaids (who stored the dress for me) was blown away with how timeless it looked.

  7. Little Red says:

    I’d say the 1950’s because they are the most flattering to my figure. That last one except for a little less volume in the skirt would be perfect for me.

  8. duvetgirl says:

    my H2B’s brother got married last September and his wife’s dress was almost identical to that top one (slightly more elaborate beading I think). She looked amazing and so refreshingly different. It wasn’t a vintage dress though – I’ve seen it advertised in current magazines, but not sure of the designer.

  9. Annie says:

    I LOVE vintage gowns. The 20’s and 30’s are my favorite.

  10. La BellaDonna says:

    The 1950s suit my figure best, but I’m happy to go skipping and dancing through the centuries, as well. Belle Epoque? Yes, please. Bustle? Crinoline? Empire? Regency? Oh, yes! And I would take that beaded, lace-edged, gold-and-silver-brocaded, fur-lined Time Machine even further back.

    What most women attempt, these days (generally) is to compensate for whatever figures they have in such a way as to make them achieve, as closely as possible, the hourglass ideal. There’s nothing wrong, really, with doing this; however, it seems a pity that so few are aware of the gowns that are available from the periods when the figures they already have were in fashion. The girl who is top-heavy and narrow-hipped, like Sars of Tomato Nation fame, should look at either gowns from the 30s, or 1910; the girls with pear shapes can look at the 1950s, or 1915, or the Regency; the linear girls can look at the 1920s and 1930s (as well as some of the Regency styles); the girls who think they’re too Rubensque to find something should look at the dresses Rubens’ models were wearing, and look for, or have made, something along those lines. Women’s shapes vary tremendously, and virtually all have had their moment of being the height of fashion; I strongly urge that ladies at least consider the silhouettes from their own particular period.

    I would point out that, in actual fact, the “hourglass” figure is NOT the ideal of the 2000s; no one actually is looking for hips on women, to balance out large busts! Even the tiny waist is not truly ideal, because then it makes hips look bigger. The current ideal is thin, with a broad shoulders, a big bust, a modestly indented waist, and narrow hips – the silhouette of the 1930s and 1910, and, to some extent, certain shapes of the 1940s.

    I would urge the ladies, especially those who find fault or “flaws” in their figures, or who have been known to moan, “If only I had been born in—!”, to go to some of the vintage and historic clothing websites, and look, really look, at the different shapes that the dresses both make and are made for. If actual vintage clothes don’t fit you, there are dozens of sites that sell vintage patterns, and plenty of competent seamstresses who can make you gowns, not for a song, but cheaper than any fashion magazine, and exactly what you want.


  11. Brenda says:

    I loved the Gunne Sax dresses. I thought they were so medieval – Queen Gwenivere and Lancelot and the Round table and all that. I still like vintage items, tho usually not to wear, but to look at and collect — I love it. I suppose that is why I sell it.