I outfitted my three bridesmaids in vintage dresses. My motivation was twofold: I love vintage styling, and I try to live by a reduce-reuse-recycle ethos. I loved how it all worked out. If you are thinking of going with vintage dresses, or are in the throes of things already, here are some tips for you:
1. Have a heart-to-head with yourself. Dealing with vintage dresses is not for everyone. You have to have a flexible vision for your bridal party's look. You cannot be obsessed with matchy-matchy. You have to invest time in shopping, mending, and alterations.
2. Sizing can be a bust. Vintage dresses tend to be small. I'm not sure if girls back in the day tended to be more petite, but they did wear corsets. It can be difficult to find a vintage dress in a modern-day size 8, and plus-sized women can find it almost impossible. So, be realistic — if you are outfitting a couple girls who wear size 2, no problem. If you expect to outfit five girls who all wear size 16 and up, think again. Also, be creative — take a tiny, long dress and make it into a bigger, shorter dress. Add a gusset.
When unable to have your bridesmaid try on her dress ahead of time, double check measurements. And remember, if a person's waist measures 28″, a dress that has a 28″ waist will be uncomfortably snug. There needs to be an inch leeway, a little less than that if the fabric is stretchy.
3. Shop early, often, and everywhere. Get your bridesmaids' measurements upfront, and carry them and a measuring tape everywhere you go. Look online — eBay and Etsy, of course, and many online retailers have curated vintage collections — but don't ignore vintage and second-hand stores in your area. Be systematic. Find out when local stores get new items, and go that day. Check online retailers daily for new listings.
I searched every night for “orange dress” in the Vintage > Clothing > Women category on Etsy, and similarly on eBay, until I found dresses for all my girls. In the end, I bought one dress from eBay, one from Etsy, and one from Posh Girl Vintage.
4. Don't ruminate for too long. If you find a dress that will work, buy it promptly. When dealing with vintage dresses, once it's gone, it's gone.
5. Anticipate the need for mending and alterations. Expect that mending and alterations will take 2-3 times as long as you first suspect, and get started on these without delay. Vintage fabrics can be delicate, and that can make the process more challenging and time-consuming. Figure out who should be responsible — you, a friend, family member, or a hired seamstress — and get them involved promptly.
One of my dresses required no alterations. A lacy number required minor alterations — my bridesmaid added pleated detailing to the straps, and added a bustle for when she changed from her heels into her flats — but no serious repairs. My mom spent two whole days mending holes in the lace and seam splits. The third dress I bought very large, and my mom spent another two days on it resizing the bodice and shortening the dress.
6. Have fun, and let your imagination run wild. I think that limiting yourself to vintage finds actually spawns creativity.