Despite the coronavirus, wedding season is back — with a slight twist. Brides appear to be leaning into vintage dresses for their big day. The desire for vintage gowns may be influenced by multiple factors: sparse stock in stores because of pandemic production lags and shipping delays; an increasing shift toward sustainable fashion; and tastes awakened by the Regency style of “Bridgerton” and the ’70s-style wedding gown donned by Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in the “House of Gucci” film.
What’s certain, though, is that the pre-loved gown business is booming in Los Angeles, where the vintage fashion market runs deep. Local shops are bustling to serve options for the bride’s big day, rehearsal dinner and after-party, as well as for guests and mothers of the couple.
According to fashion shopping platform Lyst, there was a 103% surge from March through May in online searches for pre-owned wedding gowns and a 53% spike in views of vintage bridal attire by brands such as Mugler, Vivienne Westwood and Versace.
“The irony is that ‘something old’ has always been part of traditional bridal, so now it’s just taking it to another level,” says Cameron Silver, owner of vintage couture boutique Decades in Beverly Grove. “And I think having something that’s not easily identifiable, or has a delicious story, is very, very attractive right now.
“I’ve had people come in and tell me, ‘The dress I got from you I reworked and used again,’” Silver said. “It’s a very antiquated notion to buy this dress and only wear it one time. Certainly, some dresses are really specifically only going to work as a wedding dress, but there’s no reason that you can’t wear a white gown to a black-tie gala.”
If you’re among the millions expected to wed in 2022 (Arizona-based research company the Wedding Report projects 2.5 million weddings in 2022 in the U.S., up from 1.9 million in 2021 and 1.3 million in 2020), we have you covered. We found seven spots — six in L.A. and one in Orange County — that offer vintage or vintage-inspired looks and accessories.
The Paperbag Princess
“We’ve been slammed with brides, their mothers and wedding guests,” says Elizabeth Mason, who founded the Paperbag Princess vintage clothing store, now in Beverly Grove, in 1992. “Usually it will be a year out and now they are saying, ‘It’s next weekend!’ Most important, they’re coming in and saying there is nothing in department stores because designers weren’t producing during the pandemic.”
Finds include a 1996 haute couture Valentino gown with a 50-foot cathedral train ($28,995, including sketches; originally $70,000) commissioned by Angie Everhart for her marriage to Ashley Hamilton; a custom 1980s Arnold Scaasi lace gown and veil; white caviar-beaded and embroidered 1950s and ’60s evening bags; and a trove of new rhinestone jewelry.
“We do a lot of early Hollywood glamour from the ’20s; Jean Harlow kind of bias-cut dresses are popular,” says Mason of her bridal department, which is packed with about 500 traditional gowns that average $2,500 plus alternative options. (A $250 appointment fee goes toward purchase.) “If an original isn’t in pristine condition, we can use it as a sample that I can replicate in my Elizabeth Mason Couture design line.”
The Paper Bag Princess, 8050 Melrose Ave., Beverly Grove. thepaperbagprincess.com
Next door to the Paper Bag Princess is the by-appointment Homa Bridal flagship showroom, opened in June, with exquisite couture veils crafted from European lace, hand-embroidered with silk thread and embellished with precious stones and beading ($1,000 to $15,000). Each piece is handmade on-site by Kyan Pirouz, who trained under his mother, Homa Pirouz, who grew up in Iran and studied in the U.K. before launching her collection in New York in 1987. A fall 2022 collection was unveiled in November. The shop also offers handcrafted Art Deco- and Victorian-inspired hair accessories, garters, belts, jewelry and tiaras ($300 to $900) for brides-to-be.
Homa Bridal, 8066 Melrose Ave., Beverly Grove. homabridal.com
As a sales associate at high-end vintage fashion shop Resurrection, Lily Kaizer noticed that “every 10th call was a hysterical bride wondering if there was anything there they could get married in.” Therefore, she launched dedicated vintage bridal salon Happy Isles in 2015. She moved to a Carthay space in December that stocks about 150 mostly designer pieces with a sweet spot of 1950s through 2007, starting at $2,800 for nontraditional bridal looks or at $595 for shorter party dresses.
Pieces range from a Christian Dior strapless lace wedding gown and an Atelier Versace skirt suit with rhinestone buttons (both 1990s) to an embellished 1960s Malcolm Starr shift dress. Trending are pearl embellishments, Paco Rabanne dresses, marabou-feathered frocks for after-parties, and silhouettes that mirror buzzy New York bridal designer Danielle Frankel.
In August, Kaizer added the Archival Collection of collectibles, including a $9,300 cream George Stavropoulos silk chiffon cape and burnout velvet gown once owned by Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters. Vintage earrings, bags and footwear are sold alongside fancy pandemic masks crafted in-house and Magnetic Midnight embellished headbands made in Colombia by designer Lucia Echavarría. First appointments are $85, donated to social justice organizations, and a $350 fee, applied to same-day purchases, buys access to the Archival Collection.
Happy Isles, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 8, Carthay. thehappyisles.com
Vintage bridal-focused atelier Maison Sully from Melissa Sullivan reworks upcycled styles from the 1930s to 2000, emphasizing the 1960s and ’70s.
More than 100 items (ranging from $600 to $3,000) span Mugler skirt suits and exquisitely hand-beaded Gene Shelly knit dresses to Vicky Tiel for Bergdorf Goodman princess ballgowns. Sullivan may remove and refinish lace, add pleating, redesign a dress as a jumpsuit or completely remake the top of a gown. The aesthetic is clean-lined with mainly natural fabrics. Statement sleeves, sheer elements, shorter party dresses and “anything flapper-esque” are popular. Sullivan also designs custom veils and offers vintage footwear and handbags. An $85 appointment fee is applied to purchase.
The business soft-launched in March in Silver Lake and in August opened in downtown L.A. A 25-piece holiday capsule collection of restored vintage dresses dropped in mid-November. For New York Bridal Fashion Week in April 2022, Maison Sully will release a branded accessory line of handbags, hair accessories, pillbox hats and jewelry in original designs, crafted from vintage materials.
“With many vintage gowns, there’s a lot of potential but one [detail] will throw off a bride — i.e., ’80s sleeves or a matronly neckline,” says Sullivan, who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. (She also runs luxury event planning business Studio Sully.) “We’re looking to make pieces more wearable in a modern sense,” she adds. “The direction of the brand definitely is a semi-custom, fashion-designer approach to vintage. Before it ever hits the floor, I give a lot of thought to what it can be, not just what it is. Every piece is a one-of-a-kind labor of love.”
Maison Sully, 840 Santee St., Los Angeles. maisonsully.com
Platt Boutique Jewelry & the Kit Vintage
Housed under one roof in L.A.’s Fairfax neighborhood are Platt Boutique Jewelry (owned by Larry Platt and his sister, Natasha Tsimmerman) and the Kit Vintage (a vintage fashion business from Larry’s wife, Robyn Goldberg), which count a majority of their clients from bridal parties.
Eighty percent of Platt’s fine antique jewelry sales are engagement rings in Art Deco styles from 1900 to 1950, with an average $10,000 price. The company, launched in 2005, sells and makes wedding bands too.
“People have become more socially and ethically conscious, and they feel like recycled diamonds predate a lot of the mining conflicts that exist today, so they are leaving a smaller footprint,” Platt says.
Goldberg, a former fashion editor and stylist, started her business in 2014 with a rack of vintage special-occasion gowns at the jewelry store. The dresses (ranging from $125 to $3,000) bridge the 1930s to the 1990s. One bride recently landed on a 1970s white Grecian-inspired Luis Estevez caped gown, while another picked up an early-2000s Burberry tuxedo for her engagement party. A case is loaded with retro crystal earrings. August saw the debut of the Kit Vintage kitten-heel satin mules with marabou feathers in black or white ($195), perfect for bridal parties or the boudoir.
The Way We Wore
Vintage fashion expert Doris Raymond, owner of the Way We Wore in Hancock Park, stocks about 50 bridal-appropriate looks ($300 to $5,000) from the Victorian era through the 1990s. In the mix are 1960s Malcolm Starr dresses and layered chiffon gowns by George Stavropoulos alongside elaborate 1920s wax floral headpieces, Judith Leiber clutch bags, assorted gloves, white hats and veiling, and embroidered handkerchiefs to hold rings or blot away tears. “Because of sustainability, people don’t want to pay $8,000 for something they are only going to wear once,” says Raymond, adding that she looks for pieces that are “classic and iconic, timeless, so you can’t tell if the photograph was 50 years ago or 10 years from now.” She mentioned there has been an uptick of interest in ’70s Halston styles, influenced by Netflix’s “Halston” miniseries.
The Way We Wore, 334 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park. thewaywewore.com
In Laguna Beach, the sustainability-focused shop Stone Bridal from husband-and-wife duo Chase and Anna Dusatko debuted in December 2020 to target “the fashion-forward and ethically minded bride,” Anna Dusatko says. Vintage gowns and slip dresses from the ’60s, ’70s and ’90s (ranging from $500 to $2,500) constitute 15% of inventory, which includes finds by Alberta Ferretti and Valentino. The couple plans to increase vintage inventory in January. New dresses are sourced from brands that focus on natural textiles and eco-friendly production, such as Norwegian label Leila Hafzi, New York designer Leanne Marshall and German brand Ritual Unions. Appointments are $25.
Stone Bridal, 1452 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. stonebridal.com
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.