How To Shop Vintage: Engagement Rings and Wedding Gowns

Trumpet and Horn's vintage engagement ring | follow along on Instagram @

photographer: Kayla Barker | vintage engagement ring: Trumpet & Horn

As the adage goes, every wedding needs ‘something old.’ For many brides, choosing a vintage ring or wedding dress is a symbol of good luck, as the piece’s heritage and happy memories can be passed from bride to bride. Whether you choose to wear your grandmother’s wedding band or you find the perfect gown at a tiny antique shop, going vintage means preserving a part of history while creating a fresh and elegant look. Searching for the perfect vintage bridal look does require effort, but the gorgeous results are worth the hassle.

Buying Vintage Dresses

Vintage Marchesa gown with delicate embellisments | follow us on Instagram @ the.wildflowers

photographer: Kayla Barker | vintage wedding gown: Marchesa via Gossamer

  • Know your measurements. Go to a seamstress to get measured—you should take note of measurements of your chest, waist, hips, inseam, sleeve length, upper arm, shoulder width, and dress length.

  • Choose a dress with a little give. Since bridal gowns almost always require alterations, it’s essential to pick one that is a bit roomy. While you can always take in waistlines or add or remove sleeves, it’s nearly impossible to make a too-tight bodice several sizes bigger. Remember that dresses of decades past were often cut with bigger busts and smaller waistlines, and that sizing has changed through the years. Focus on the fit, not the numbers.

  • Keep in mind that if you love a dress’s shape, it’s possible to alter the things you don’t love—removing sleeves, creating a fuller skirt, converting the bodice to a halter, and such.

  • Be careful when evaluating online postings. Always check for information regarding the dress’s condition. Many retailers use the phrase “good vintage condition”—note that this can mean small stains, scratches, or tears may be present. Study any up-close pictures and never purchase anything from a seller who will not send you extra images upon request.

  • Vintage dresses often include beautiful detailing that modern dresses lack. Be sure to pay attention to the quality and condition of buttons, boning, and hand stitching.

  • Certain silks dry out over time and can fall apart easily with alterations or reworking. Look for satin or lace, which better maintains its elasticity.

  • Things that can’t be fixed include stains on satin or rayon-crepe, tears on fabric other than on the seam, extreme damage on lace, and underarm stains.

  • Know the decade that best matches the style you want. 1930s dresses were column-shaped, with bias cuts that accentuated curves. 1940s dresses featured puffy sleeves, sweetheart necklines, and full skirts. 1950s dresses often boasted long lace sleeves, nipped waists and flowing skirts. 1960s dresses were slim with empire waists, and in the 1970s, dresses were prairie-style, with tiers, peasant shapes or puffy sleeves.

  • If you find a vintage dress you love that is much too small or big, or if you want to use a family heirloom dress, you can repurpose the fabric or lace. A dressmaker can add the fabric to a new dress or even custom make one.

  • Reputable shops:

Archive 12
Antique Dresses
Authentic Vintage Bridal
Beloved Vintage Bridal
Elizabeth Avey 
Millcrest Vintage
Stone Fox Bride
The Ivy Retreat

Buying Vintage Rings

A white and yellow diamond vintage ring from Trumpet and Horn | follow us on Instagram

photographer: Natalie Shelton | vintage engagement ring: Trumpet & Horn

  • To determine if a ring will hold up for years of use, look at its intricacy. A delicate band with cutouts or light thin twists is of course less durable than a solid thick band.

  • Keep in mind that wearing a wedding band with your engagement ring can cause wear or scratching. To maintain the dignity of a ring’s design, consider wearing the antique ring by itself, or only wearing it some of the time.

  • Diamonds of decades past are often less sparkly and clear than modern-day diamonds, as the 4 C’s (cut, color, clarity, and carat weight) were not large factors in diamond selection. The stones are a bit more subdued in this way, and a larger surface size can look classy rather than flashy for this reason.

  • Select a ring that is no more than two sizes bigger or smaller than your size—anything more and the resizing cost may be monumental.

  • Check stone settings by gently pushing on the stone with a fingernail, or ask a jeweler to evaluate its credibility before you purchase it. Stones can often be reset.

  • If you want to keep a ring in the family but the band or even the cut is outdated for your taste, you can have the stones reset into a new band or the stones reshaped.

  • Ensure that the seller is knowledgeable about the ring’s history, time period, carat, and material. If they can’t answer any questions you have, it’s not worth the risk to purchase a ring that could be a vintage replica or constructed from a low quality material.

  • Reputable shops:

1st Dibs
Erin Antiques
Erstwhile Jewelry
Estate Diamond Jewelry
Lang Antiques
Pebble and Polish
Trumpet and Horn