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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 aging.

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.

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.

 

Vintage dresses and body shapes

Sally’s passion for adapting vintage styles to the modern silhouette means her dresses retain the nostalgia of the era but flatter in all the right places.

 

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.

A bride’s guide to Boho styling

Boho-chic has been favoured by such fashion idols as Sienna Miller and Kate Moss. It is influenced by 60s hippie and bohemian styles but has become much more than that over the years.

The Boho look is the perfect wedding style for those who prefer a comfortable, laid-back ceremony and want to look and feel effortlessly elegant.

Here are four ways to achieve a boho wedding look.

 

Unlined lace and free-flowing lines

For a truly relaxed boho feel try an unlined lace dress, such as the Carly, worn with a separate silk slip. There is no formality to this type of style at all. Kick off your shoes and run barefoot through the grass.

The Carly is our Edwardian inspired dress. Worn over a silk slip, the dress allows free movement.

 

The beauty of treating lace like this is that the two layers move independently allowing light to pass through the lace and highlight the beautiful patterns.

If a single layer of lace worn over a simple slip feels too light or slightly exposing, then choose a style where lace has been mounted onto a layer of silk and then lined. This will give the dress more body. Using soft lace and fluid silks ensures that the dress remains light like we have done with the Elise.

 

A more structured silhouette

Reminiscent of the 50s, a more structured bodice with a fuller skirt can look very elegant and classic. Or, if accessorised in a more playful way, can give a fun and relaxed look.

A good example of this is the Sylvie dress which holds a 50s shape whilst keeping a boho ballerina look.  Pair this with some fresh cut wildflowers and you will have a pretty and ethereal effect.

 

A boho twist to the tea dress

The nipped-in style of the Bea dress flatters the waist.

 

For Sally, the Edwardian style is all about softness which she believes can be translated beautifully to fit the boho aesthetic.

“I particularly love Edwardian afternoon tea dresses. These would have been worn for a game of badminton or taking tea on the lawn, but now this style works wonderfully for modern day boho wedding.”

These Edwardian dresses can be made to fit your style and shape. We find the Violet and Isadora empire line styles will lengthen the legs whilst the more nipped-in Bea flatters the waist.

 

The alternative approach: Separates

Boho is all about flexibility and bending the rules. Opting for bridal separates rather than a dress offers a range of new possibilities for creating a unique and flattering silhouette.

By combining a wedding top with a skirt you can get the exact boho feel you’re looking for. Bridal separates give the flexibility to combine silk mousseline or georgette with lace and to play with the balance of proportions.

Add an extra boho touch through accessorizing. We love to pair soft dreamy dresses with vintage leather belts for a contrast look or adding floral head pieces to an elegant shape for a romantic, hippy-chic style.

The beauty of boho styling is its flexibility, effortless femininity and ability to remain elegant whilst being relaxed.

 

Twelve steps to perfecting vintage bridal makeup

Finding the perfect wedding dress is a very big part of a bride’s preparation for the wedding. But any bride-to-be knows that her makeup will have a large part to play in completing the look.

Bridal makeup for a modern vintage look needs to be both subtle and sophisticated.

When we recently photographed our new Sally Lacock separates collection, bridal makeup artist Catherine Bailey shared some of her tips for creating a radiant bridal look that pairs beautifully with the soft flowing lines and textures of vintage-inspired lace.

How to perfect vintage-look  bridal makeup. Photo: Alice Whitby.

How to perfect vintage-look bridal makeup. Photo: Alice Whitby.

 

1. Apply a primer

Start by applying a primer where needed. A primer evens out your skin’s surface and helps your makeup last. Catherine’s current favourite is Clarins Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch (£26) which fills out fine lines and smoothes out pores.

 

2. Use your fingers to apply foundation

Apply a sheer foundation with a foundation brush and then blend with your fingers. “The warmth of your fingers will help the base to ‘melt’ into your skin,” says Catherine. She uses Liz Earle Sheer Skin Tint (£21). “It’s dewy, mineral based and suitable for sensitive skin.”

 

3. Conceal

“Use a well-pigmented concealer such as Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer (£18.50) to hide any under-eye shadows, which can look very blue or purple in photos,” says Catherine.

Avoid very light-reflective concealers for the under-eye area as they can give you ‘panda eyes’ with flash photography. Then cover any blemishes using a matte, densely pigmented concealer like Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage (£26) on a fine brush.

 

4. Highlight

Smoothing highlighter in a ‘c’ shape across the tops of your cheekbones and up to your temples will catch the light and give your face more dimension in photos. Catherine used Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector (£33) which gives the skin a beautiful luminosity.

 

5. Subtle, shimmering eyes

For the eyes Catherine used a simple wash of a pale shade with a subtle iridescence all over the lids, a slightly darker shade in the socket for depth, and a ‘pop’ of a very light shimmery shade on the inner corners.

“Dior’s 5 Couleurs ‘Incognito’ palette (£40) is a set of five soft neutrals which I often use on brides,” says Catherine.

 

6. Flick out eyeliner

Catherine carefully brushes on a line of gel eyeliner or a very dark eye shadow along the upper eyelids only. She then ficks it out and up slightly at the corners.

 

7. Double-up on the lashes

To get eyes that look open and fresh, lashes should be gently curled – twice. Then set them with two coats of a very good quality waterproof mascara. According to Catherine, “this stage is vital!”

 

8. Fuller brows are better

Catherine recommends filling in any sparse patches in your brows with an eyebrow pencil or powder such as HD Brows, applied with light feathery strokes.

She then fixes brows in place with a brow mascara or strong hold hairspray applied on a disposable mascara wand to ensure they stay neat for the photos.

 

9. Line your lips

Lining lips with a neutral lip pencil evens out the shape and prevents lipstick from bleeding.

“Use a good quality lip brush and carefully apply your chosen lipstick, blotting gently between layers with a tissue so it lasts longer,” says Catherine.

 

10. A touch of blusher

For a gentle rosy glow, Catherine blends a little cream or powder blush into the cheeks. She prefers using Chanel’s powder blusher in ‘Discretion’ (£31). “It’s a delicate peachy-pink shot through with a very subtle shimmer,” she explains.

 

11. Powder for shine free photos

To set the makeup, Catherine then dusts the bride’s face all over with face powder. “This stage is absolutely essential when being photographed”, she says. “Even the slightest bit of oil on your face will make you appear greasy and shiny in your wedding photos – definitely not a good look!”

For a bit of extra glow, Catherine suggests a light dusting of Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder (£38). “It works wonders.”

 

12. All set with setting spray

For makeup that lasts all day and night, Catherine recommends misting your face with a setting spray. She uses Urban Decay All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray (£20).

Though there are quite a lot of steps involved, the final result is a natural, radiant bridal look that pairs perfectly with feminine lines and delicate lace. And it photographs wonderfully. To look at the full shoot, visit our bridal separates collection.

Catherine Bailey trained at The London School of Beauty & Make-up. Pop over to Catherine’s site or send her a mail at contact@catherinebaileymakeupartist.co.uk.

 

A bride’s guide to vintage lace

There are so many reasons to fall in love with vintage lace – and to declare your love whilst wearing it.

Initially worked by hand, making lace required incredible attention to detail. Though it was made according to a pattern that might be replicated, each piece of lace was essentially unique. The process demanded perfection, was painstakingly slow and incredibly delicate.

As far as textiles go, lace was once the ultimate luxury. With its rich history of handcrafting, its detail, variety and delicacy, even modern vintage lace remains among the most romantic and nostalgic textiles. No fabric is better suited for a wedding dress. Here we give an overview of the kinds of lace most often used to make wedding dresses.


Mechanical lace making

A mechanical Leavers lace machine.

A mechanical Leavers lace machine.

 

During the Renaissance lace was regarded an element of prestige, signifying both the fashionability and wealth of its wearer.

Making only a small strip of lace could take months. Because it was such a labour intensive process, lace was initially used only in parts of garments or accessories, for example collars, cuffs and shawls.

However, since the invention of the Leavers mechanical lace machine in the early 1800s, which for the first time was able to reproduce lace handwork, lace has been used more abundantly.

 

Lace and wedding dresses

Though machine made lace was already available in the mid-19th century, Queen Victoria famously commissioned her dress to me made from handmade lace. Over 100 lacemakers toiled for half a year to make her white lace dress. Though she would not have been the first to wear some lace to a wedding, Queen Victoria helped to establish lace as a wedding dress staple.

A number of royal weddings since have continued the tradition of getting married in lace. Lace also featured frequently in Edwardian and later flapper-era gowns.

 

Modern vintage lace

Very little authentic vintage lace survives. But the patterns and craftsmanship have thankfully been preserved. As a result, there are nearly endless varieties of lace still being made. The Lace Guild has an extensive list of these and is an interesting read.

But not all lace is made equal. Though now mostly machine made, as with all fabrics, some lace is still far superior to others.

The world’s finest lace is made just across the channel in Northern France, a region with a rich legacy of lace making. This is where great couture houses including Chanel, Chloe and Dior source their lace from and where the lace used on Catherine Middleton’s Alexander Mcqueen wedding gown was made. These exact same mills make the lace for our Sally Lacock dresses . This French leavers lace is perfect for creating the soft unstructured look of a boho inspired lace wedding dress.

These are among the most popular lace types used in wedding dress making:

 

Chantilly lace

Our 1930s inspired Elsa dress is made using French Chantilly Lace.

 

Chantilly lace is said to have been a favourite of Marie Antoinette and is the lightest and most delicate lace of all. It is made up of an abundance of fine threads on a very fine net ground with subtle yet intricate detail.

This lace perfectly suits the lightness and freedom of the 1920s style sometimes with beaded embellishments to add weight, or the elegance and grace of the sleek 1930s look.

 

Corded lace

These elegant classic wedding dress laces, sometimes also known as Alencon lace, are formed by outlining areas in the lace using a heavier thread or cord, giving a three dimensional look. These are often used in the structured ballgown style dresses of the 40s and 50s.

 

Cluny lace

Usually made of cotton threads with an even thickness this lace is very reminiscent of the 1970s. It is made with geometric shapes and closely woven motifs. It suits a boho type dress with a country-chic style.

 

Guipure lace

Guipure lace has a continuous motif which creates a denser pattern than with other laces. It is normally quite firm to touch and commonly contains a floral or geometric design. The motifs are held together with links rather than net, leaving gaps between. Perfect for 1960s shift style dresses.

 

Flounce lace

Our Violet, Edwardian dress uses Flounce lace at the border of the sleeves and hem.

 

Flounce lace has a deep border at one edge of the lace with the pattern graduating as it moves up the net.

This is beautiful on a column style where the border can be placed at the hem giving a natural weight and definition. Flounce lace can look wonderful on an Edwardian style dress like our own Violet or Emmeline lace dresses.

 

Allover lace

As the name suggests, this kind of lace is patterned all over often with no obvious top and bottom. It is mostly cut and used as a fabric rather than a trimming. We use allover lace in our Elise dress and for sections of our Carly dress.

 

Embroidered lace

We made a custom veil for our real bride Antonia, using vintage lace passed down to her.

 

Not strictly lace, embroidered lace is net or tulle with embroidery applied on top. This style suits an Edwardian dress particularly well. This technique is also often used on veils, like the vintage heirloom piece we used on our real bride Antonia’s bespoke veil.

We achieve an authentic vintage look by mixing different laces together, choosing antique hues, careful application, cutting and hand stitching to form delicate embellishments or edgings and sometimes mixing antique lace and trimmings in with the new lace.

 

Each lace dress is made individually and to perfection. We spend a lot of time on every garment and many of the details are finished by hand to ensure that the dresses are infused with the same care and love that has gone into choosing them.

Press: Love My Dress

There was a lovely piece on Love My Dress blog this week featuring Our Bride Kathryn’s beautiful Whitstable wedding. It is brimming with inspiring details so grab a coffee, have a read and swoon!

lace wedding dress by sally lacock