Altering a vintage lace wedding dress

Authentic vintage wedding dresses are a very rare find. If they are made of lace, they are even less likely to have withstood nearly a century of ageing.

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Those vintage dresses that do survive are usually so fragile that wearing them risks forever damaging the fragile fabrics. They are also very unlikely to fit. Body shapes and styles for wedding dresses have changed significantly over the last hundred years, for a variety of reasons from different undergarments to changes in brides’ average ages.

If you have been lucky enough to find a true vintage wedding dress treasure and want to have it altered to fit for a wedding, here are a few guidelines.

A dress we custom made from vintage lace. Photo: Sarah Gawler Photography.
A dress we custom made from vintage lace. Photo: Sarah Gawler Photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Dresses by era

If you have found that one of a kind vintage dress then you will need to think seriously about the era and the shape and whether it can be altered to fit you without removing any of the authenticity of the dress.

A 50s dress, for example, will have been originally cut to sit over some quite substantial underwear usually resulting in a large bust and proportionally very small waist. Dresses like these can often be taken in and fitted if they are in good condition. But more slender cuts can be tricky, meaning you will need to add fabric in to make it work.

If you are lucky enough to find an Edwardian dress that hasn’t turned to dust in the last 100 years it is likely to be quite tiny. This is not only to do with the corsets that were worn beneath but also the age of the girls when they got married, usually between 18 and 23.

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The problem with this is that altering a vintage dress to be larger is not as simple as making it smaller. It is sometimes possible to add panels to a vintage dress, but to preserve the original look and feel of the dress these will also need to be made from vintage lace and it can be very tricky and costly to find big enough pieces in the same colour or similar style to the original.

This is a large part of the motivation behind the designs in Sally Lacock’s collections. “I wanted to create vintage style wedding dresses, and have a particular love for soft Edwardian lace pieces that have the gentle look of an afternoon tea dress, that work well without restricting uncomfortable underwear and have the softness that appeals to the modern boho bride” explains Sally.

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Vintage dresses and body shapes

To minimise the amount of alterations needed, try to work with your body shape when looking for vintage dresses. A lot of the Gatsby-era dresses, for instance, flatter straighter body shapes and can be quite unkind to curves.

If you love this era but your figure type doesn’t why not consider having a bespoke dress made which will work for you. A well designed dress taking inspiration from the era will create the mood and flatter your shape.

Dresses from the 40s and 50s on the other hand, tend to suit a more curvy figure. A fitted bust and defined waist can be very flattering. But beware the high necklines often found on these styles which on a larger bust can look a little frumpy.

Don’t be too disappointed if your body shape doesn’t work for most vintage dresses. Not only have styles changed, but modern aesthetic has also evolved. What used to be considered a good fit may simply not be regarded the same today.

That doesn’t mean you will have to give up on creating an authentic vintage feel. Vintage style wedding dresses can achieve the nostalgia and magic of a vintage gown whilst working with modern, high quality materials and tailoring them to the shapes and tastes of the contemporary bride.

Working with a good vintage dress designer you will be able to replicate the feel of an era but have it tailored for you. And your dress will still be as unique as any vintage find.

 

Using vintage lace in modern designs

If vintage lace really is a must for your wedding day it can be possible to source good quality vintage lace and design a dress from it.

At the Sally Lacock studio in Dalston we really enjoy breathing life into old lace and from time to time work with vintage lace.

The issue with antique lace though, is it’s fragility. Antique lace can break incredibly easy. It is why we preference using it for detailing a dress or veil, rather than creating a whole gown from it. This way we preserve the beauty and authenticity of antique lace and combine it with modern vintage style lace for larger parts of the dress.

 

Getting rid of discolouration

Depending on the fabric and condition of a vintage dress it might be necessary to get rid of any age-related discolouration through a professional dry cleaner. Sometimes they can get it back to its original colour. However, many brides fall precisely for the antiqued colouring of a vintage piece, so be careful not to have all its antique charm cleaned away!

Authentic vintage dresses can hold a magnetism for brides with their classic beauty and feeling of nostalgia, and when you can give an old dress another chance, we say go for it.

But remember that just because a dress is newly made does not mean you have to sacrifice on any of the qualities that attract you to a vintage dress in the first place.


We go to lengths to ensure the lace we source is of the finest quality and reflects the spirit of the era you are looking to invoke. That way a vintage style dress can be tailored to your every want and still look completely authentic. Or it can combine vintage laces with newer fabrics and still be be shaped just for you.