From the Expert: Vintage Wedding Gowns

It’s so exciting to have an expert in the house! Personally, I’ve always loved antiques and historical items. I may not be a mathematician (when I hear “pi” I think pumpkin and apple), but I do know this: vintage styles + wedding = gorgeous! Today, Mill Crest Vintage is on board to help us all out in a Q&A series all about how to shop and wear vintage wedding styles. Paula Cooperman, owner of Mill Crest Vintage, has spent three decades hand selecting each piece to add to her amazing collection of vintage bridal wear for both the traditional and non traditional bride. She has an amazing eye for detail and a great passion for finding what makes a woman feel the most beautiful on her wedding day. Offering personal and private bridal consultations in her Lambertville, NJ bridal salon, Paula has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of brides, gaining both experience and expertise in what goes into selecting a vintage wedding dress.

The Wedding Yentas: First thing’s first. We’ve got to know: What does “vintage” really mean? The term is “vintage” is thrown around a lot, but let’s get technical about it.Mill Crest Vintage: For something to truly be considered vintage, it would have to be made between 1920 and 1980. Anything made prior to the 1920s, such as garments from the Edwardian or Victorian era, is often referred to as antique.

TWY: I’ve never really shopped for anything that wasn’t brand new and it’s overwhelming to stray from what’s familiar. So, what’s the best way to shop for a vintage wedding dress?
MCV: The journey to finding the perfect vintage wedding dress often begins with a clear vision of the look and feel of the wedding day and a little bit of inspiration. Brides considering vintage, typically have an idea of what sort of look they want for their wedding and are looking for the dress to set the tone for the rest of the day. They often look to old movies, magazines and books to find inspiration and taking into consideration their own body type, venue and time of year, the hunt commences for the perfect vintage wedding dress.

TWY: What about measurements? If something is already made, how can it be tailored to a bride’s body?
MCV: This is my favorite question and one that I am asked often. One of the very best things about vintage is that nearly every piece can be altered to achieve a customized fit. We all know that a dress can be made smaller. However, what many don’t realize is that a dress can also be made bigger! A professional seamstress, like the one we have on staff at Mill Crest Vintage, can make the appropriate alterations. To keep the integrity of the dress, we recommend the use of vintage fabrics and whenever possible, use fabric from the dress itself. With the extra fabric, gussets can be added under the arm to allow for additional room in the bust. In some instances, it is necessary to think a bit outside of the box to achieve the desired fit. By changing the cut of style of the back of a dress, the shoulder line or the neckline, additional room can be achieved. The most important thing to remember is that it is always best to work with someone who is familiar with bridal or better yet, someone familiar with vintage textiles.

TWY: When I think about vintage dresses, I think about old and delicate materials that were handmade. Is a vintage dress more fragile? How can a bride let loose, dance, and enjoy her day in a vintage dress without having tsuris that her dress won’t fall apart?
MCV: Fragility really depends upon the age of the dress and the quality of design. Most vintage dresses have stood the “test of time” due to their sturdiness of construction and the quality of the materials used. With that said, there are a few types of materials that are a bit more fragile than others. Lace is the perfect example of a fabric known for its fragility, especially if it is hand lace. To add strength to a dress, we recommend starting with the foundation. Adding a lining can fortify a dress. Having a professional seamstress strengthen the construction by adding some stitching to the seams is also a good idea. The most important thing to remember is to choose the right dress for the venue and allow for a bit of wiggle room in the fit of the dress so the seams do not endure too much stress.

TWY: What kinds of materials would a bride most likely see in a vintage dress?
MCV: What a vintage dress is made of will largely depend upon in what era the dress was created, as nearly every decade carries its own distinction. For instance, dresses from the 20’s are typically done in silk velvets, tape lace (also known as Battenberg lace) and needle lace, while vintage dresses from the 30’s are typically done in organza, organdy, cotton eyelet and liquid silk satins. Dresses from the 50’s tend to be done in silk, organza, lace, tulle and voile. In some cases, dresses from the 50’s have a paper lining and the bodices are layered and boned for added structure.

TWY: How do you complete a vintage ensemble? What kinds of shoes and accessories would a bride wear to finish the look?
MCV: Depending upon what look and feel the bride is trying to achieve, really anything goes. Vintage really does allow for the freedom of self expression. Fabulous head pieces from nearly all eras are available. Lovely clutches, shoes, jewelry and veils are also a great way to accessories and complete the overall look.

TWY: Okay, let’s take this to the next level that some Yentas readers might wonder about. For a bride who’s having a very traditional Jewish wedding, how would you suggest she cover her shoulders?
MCV: For the Jewish bride that wishes to cover her arms for the ceremony, but would like to bunk tradition for her reception, she might consider wearing a fabulous cashmere sweater with beading or a simple shrug during her ceremony that can be shed for the reception. Faux fur wraps and caplets are another wonderful option. For the bride who wishes to have full coverage for the entire affair, sleeves can be added to just about any style of dress.

TWY: Covering the shoulders is one thing. There are plenty of options there. But when you’re wearing a vintage dress, don’t you have fewer options? What kinds of shoulder coverings would look appropriate with a vintage dress?
MCV: The appropriate shoulder covering for any vintage dress will largely depend upon the style and silhouette of the dress itself. For instance, a 60s style sheath style wedding dress would look fabulous with a longer cardigan style lace jacket, while an A-line 50s style vintage wedding dress would pair well with a bolero or cropped cashmere and beaded sweater or faux fur stole.

TWY: Oooo! Cashmere! Yum. So stylistically speaking, is it okay to mix and match vintage with modern pieces?
MCV: Absolutely! Have fun with fashion, even on your wedding day!

TWY: Okay, I’m loving the vintage dress idea. So, if I got to have a do-over and I came to you for my vintage wedding ensemble, tell me what the shopping experience is like when exploring vintage dresses at Mill Crest Vintage?
MCV: Being a bride is truly special and nothing is more important, except for the person she will marry, than choosing the perfect dress for one of the most special days in her life. With that in mind, we offer personalized private bridal consultations on Mondays and Tuesdays, when the boutique is closed to the public and we can focus all of our attention on each individual bride. Each appointment is set for 2-3 hours in our fabulous bridal salon.

Upon setting an appointment, we like get to know our brides a little bit prior to meeting each of them in person. We ask about each bride’s vision for her special day. Style, color and measurements are also discussed, so that we are sure to pull the best selection of dresses from our vast collection, which will best fit the style and flatter the figure. During the consultation, we work closely with each bride, as we narrow down the selection and find “the one”. Shoes, hats and other bridal accessories are also available to complete the ensemble. An appointment is then set up with our professional vintage costume restoration specialist for fittings, when needed.

TWY: Wow. Very thorough. I don’t think most brides get that kind of attention at corporate-y stores and salons. What about alterations? And can you ship anywhere?
MCV: We are proud to have an in house vintage costume restoration specialist who is available for fittings and alterations on Saturday by appointment in our bridal salon. We do ship throughout the US and to Canada, the EU, Australia and Japan, but alterations are only offered in our Lambertville boutique.

TWY: Does Mill Crest Vintage carry shoulder coverings, hair pieces, shoes, jewelry, and handbags?
MCV: Our vintage bridal collection includes a wonderful array of bridal accessories and shoulder coverings from nearly every era to complete the ensemble.

TWY: Wearing things that have belonged to other people can be concerning. When shopping vintage, how does a bride know if the dress and other ensemble pieces are clean and in good condition from its previous life?
MCV: To ensure that we bring only the finest in authentic vintage fashion to our clientele, each individual piece is hand selected and scrutinized with exquisite attention placed on every detail from the cut and fabrication of the item to its overall design. We also take great care in offering a full and accurate description of each piece. An explanation of our rating system is provided on our website and we also are available to answer any questions.

TWY: Since you’re the pro of all things vintage, you’ve got to share! What is your favorite vintage look and era?
MCV: My favorite would have to be the strong, sultry and sexy look of 30’s/40’s. I find that dresses from those eras really celebrate a woman’s curves, while offering an aura of strength and confidence. I think it is all in the cut of the fabric used in both eras, especially the bias cut liquid silk satin and the strength pulled from Victorian influences in the design that brings it all together.

  • Paula says:

    Fabulous post! Fun interview. Thanks so much!!