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How to Shop for a Vintage Prom Dress

Score an authentic, quality vintage piece for prom!


Shopping for a vintage prom dress is a whole new ball game. You’re looking at a one-of-a-kind find that you’ll probably never see in any store ever again, the size makes absolutely no sense compared to today’s standards, and you have to worry about inspecting the dress for rips, stains and wear. How do you know if you’re getting a quality piece? I’m glad you asked…

1. Check for moth holes, tears and rips.

Carefully inspect every inch of the gown, including any underskirts and linings, for holes and tears. Sometimes, they can be mended- especially if they’re on a seam. But if the dress is made of satin, silk or lace, or if the rip is in the middle of the bodice or skirt, it may be unsalvageable. Sure, you could sew two pieces of fabric back together, but if it’s not knit, you’ll likely be able to tell where the hole was fixed.

2. Where to look for wear, tear and stains.

First, check the armpits. You don’t want sweat stains on your prom dress… especially someone else’s sweat stains. Gross. Secondly, check the dress’s stress areas: the shoulders, the rear and anywhere where there’s a lot of movement and it’s form-fitting. These are the areas most likely to be damaged.

3. Check the hem.

If it’s a long hem, check the bottom for fraying and staining. Sometimes, the dress can be hemmed an inch or two or even shortened into a mini dress. But, if it’s a large pattern, lace or intricately beaded at the bottom, hemming might not make sense. Use your best judgment.

4. How to tell if it’s a quality dress.

If the fabric is luxurious, if the garment is heavy and if it looks like there was a lot of hand beading or extremely detailed stitching, it’s a quality garment. Check the seams to make sure they’re not bumpy. Inspect the hem and sides to see if there’s extra fabric to let garment out. If it’s a patterned dress, see if the patterns line up at the seams. Check the inside for lining and boning: those are traits of a quality piece.

5. Consider the shape.

Almost every vintage dress you encounter will have been worn several times. You want to find one that’s been worn gently. Make sure the shape is intact and it’s not stretched out or baggy.

6. When buying vintage silk dresses.

Remember that silks are very delicate. You’ll want a vintage silk dress that was worn gently, and that you in turn can wear gently. Silks rip and fray easily, so make sure to finely inspect every centimeter before purchasing. If there is some wear or damage, use it as a way of bargaining down the price.

7. Bigger is better.

First of all, pay no attention to the sizes on vintage tags. They’re very different from modern sizes. Secondly, it’s smarter to buy a vintage dress that’s a little bit bigger on you than one that’s smaller. A tailor can usually take a seam in, while it’s much harder and sometimes impossible to let one out.

8. Bring cash.

Cash is king when it comes to vintage dress shopping, especially if you’re at a flea market or an estate sale. Smaller sellers may not accept credit/debit cards, and it gives you more bargaining power. A lot of sellers will make price exceptions if they’re staring at bills, or will give a discount for cash payments.

9. Don’t be afraid to bargain...

...especially if you're at a flea market or estate sale. Check out these flea market haggling tips, which I use every time I’m shopping for vintage dresses!

Want more prom shopping tips? Check out how to shop at those high-end prom boutiques for a totally different kind of prom dress shopping.
  1. About.com
  2. Style
  3. Proms/Formal Dances
  4. Dress Basics
  5. Shopping for Formal Wear
  6. How to Shop for a Vintage Prom Dress

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