This is me on my wedding day in 2005, wearing my thrifty wedding dress. I bought it on eBay for £25; according to the faded little note that came with it, the dress had last been worn in 1927. Candis magazine ran a piece about my vintage wedding dress in their September 2010 issue, as part of a feature about eBay bargains. Since the piece was written up in the first person, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the story….
My husband and I got engaged in March 2005 and the wedding needed to be scheduled for August as we were moving to America shortly afterwards. We had very little time to organise it and not much money, so we had to plan a budget wedding.
Once I’d seen the price of a new wedding dress it left me reeling, so I thought I’d look for something vintage – I’ve always had a real fascination with the 1920s. I’d used eBay for years to buy and sell, and had bought a few vintage pieces on there in the past. So for almost two weeks each evening after work, I looked up dresses in the vintage section but found nothing – the only ones I liked were just too fragile and would have fallen to pieces. So I broadened my search criteria to America as well, and the perfect dress jumped out at me almost right away. I knew this one was special.
The photography was horrible – there was lots of clutter in the background, but even so, you could see the fabric was beautiful. It was very heavy ivory silk, but over 80 years the colour had changed and there was a golden glow to it. The seller did warn that the bodice was fragile, but there was no reserve and no other bidders – so I paid the equivalent of £25 and it arrived two weeks later. I bought a back-up dress too, just in case, for around the same price. That too was from the 20s, with ruffles round the skirt, and wax blossoms at the waist – it was lovely, but nowhere near as beautiful as the first dress.
The dress arrived from Virginia in an envelope with a very faded note signed by a Mrs Lawrence that said “Last worn in 1927.” It had been hidden away in a case ever since.
It was a very unusual cut with a dovetail train. It was shorter at the front and longer at the back with a drop waist, which suited me perfectly because I’m 5ft 7in and I was a size 8 then.
I tried it on straight away, and it was stunning – a perfect fit, but I was dismayed to find that certain areas of the bodice were so fragile they had already started to shred – it was only a matter of time before it came apart completely. All the same, it was so gorgeous that I resolved to wear it.
I found a dressmaker in Battersea and asked her to fix the bodice. She said it was too fragile and would have to be remade. I panicked, as my Mum and I had already been to loads of fabric shops looking for a match, but because the silk had aged, there wasn’t anything else like it. I thought I’d have to give up on the whole idea, but then the dressmaker suggested making a new bodice from part of the dovetail train. She was far more nervous than I was. The fabric in the train was sturdier than the bodice, though there was still a possibility that it could rip on the day itself. Still, I loved it so much, I was prepared to take the chance. The dress was so beautiful I ended up going for a 1920’s look for my grown-up bridesmaids, too. I bought all their Monsoon 1920s style dresses from eBay, but they ended up costing more than my own dress did!
I researched old pictures of 1920s evening hair. I didn’t want a bob because they don’t suit me, so the stylist put it up in a way that was ornate, but close to my head. I couldn’t get authentic 1920s shoes, though, because I’m a size 7 and feet were tiny in those days, so I bought a new pair that looked the part. (Editor’s Note: yes! From BHS, of all places.)
We got married at St Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington and had the reception with a barbecue in The Fox pub in Shoreditch. It was a wonderful day and it didn’t feel like a bargain wedding at all, though the whole thing cost under £7,000 – about a third of the average wedding. As I’d feared, when I got in the car after the service the dress tore very slightly at the seam, but I wrapped my pashmina around it, then got changed for the evening anyway.
It was a very high-maintenance dress, but it was perfect. It was a big part of the day. It’s too fragile to wear again, but it’s just lovely to think that it was sitting in a case for over 80 years, and it was finally released for one last hurrah at my wedding.