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Vintage Wedding Dress Shopping Dos and Don'ts

Photo: Jennifer Bowen Photography

There are a lot of reasons to go vintage with your wedding dress -- a unique look and a classically elegant style, to name a few -- but finding the perfect vintage gown is not always as easy as rummaging through your grandmother's attic. For those of us not blessed with the perfect hand-me-down, we asked Amanda Nistor, Ruffled blogger, for the dos and don'ts of finding your fashion treasure.

DO know your measurements at the outset. "Keep in mind that vintage sizes run smaller than today's sizes," Nistor says. "Most vintage garments won't fit like today's clothes." So the size 6 dress hanging in your closet might have been a size 16 back then -- seriously! (Feel free to ignore the implications of that.) Before you start your search, pay a minimal fee to a seamstress or tailor to get your measurements taken and keep the numbers on you at all times. This will make it easier to ensure you get the right fit, especially if you're shopping online.

DON'T buy a dress without checking carefully for stains or damage. Vintage wedding dresses are used, and any seasoned bride can tell you the dress is bound to go through some wear and tear by the end of the night. Be sure to examine the dress from every angle, and keep in mind that older fabric is more difficult to clean and mend. If you're purchasing your vintage gown online, be aware of the site's return policy in case the dress isn't quite as perfect as the photos led you to believe.

DO go up a size. "The hardest thing about shopping for a vintage dress is finding a gown that fits without too much altering," says Nistor. "If you can't find a dress that fits precisely, it's better to get one that is a little too big so a tailor can alter the gown to fit your body properly." Since matching the fabric will be virtually impossible, it will be much harder to let out a vintage wedding dress if it's too small.

DON'T hesitate too much. Yes, it's a big decision, but if you dawdle too long before making a purchase, someone else might snap up your dream dress. And since most vintage looks are now one-of-a-kind, you probably won't be able to find the same gown again. For the same reason, invest in a trusted tailor to make your alterations. Avoid mistakes more than ever, because often "there are no do-overs!" Nistor says.

DO consider other ways to honor the past. If a wedding dress has sentimental value, but it's too delicate to make it down the aisle, you have other options. "Dresses from the early 1900s are too fragile for someone to wear today," Nistor says. "If you have your grandmother's dress and would like to honor it, put it on a dress form for a display at your reception." Or post Grandma and Grandpa's wedding photo on the guest book table. Not only does this reinforce the theme of your wedding, but it also ensures that this priceless keepsake will live to see future generations.

DON'T feel trapped into buying an authentic vintage wedding dress. If it's really only a certain silhouette you're after, consider having a reproduction of a vintage gown made. You can get all the glamour and style of the real thing without worrying about fitting into someone else's dress. Nistor also recommends adding vintage accessories, such as antique buttons for your bouquet's wrap or 1930s-inspired T-strap heels, to give any style a vintage feel.

-- Justine Lorelle Blanchard