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      5 Foolproof Ways to Shop Vintage Wedding Dresses

      Spoiler alert: designer vintage and "vintage-inspired"? Not the same thing.

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      Abby Jiu Photography

      Fashion trends come and go, and then eventually they make their way back. From '80s-inspired volume to '70s bohemia, all the way down to the sheaths and slips of the '20s and '90s, a true fashion bride knows how to incorporate old gems with new finds for a look that's uniquely her own, and truly one-of-a-kind. A word of caution: Too many retailers and e-tailers tout "vintage-inspired" looks that are nowhere near the real deal. This isn't as easy as scouring consignment shops with your friends on a girls' trip; trusting your vintage source and heeding expert advice is key.

      And with that in mind, vintage wedding dress shopping (or hunting) is a thrilling task that requires some insider information—and we've got the scoop. We sat down with Lily Kaizer, owner of LA's vintage-only bridal boutique Happy Isles, to chat about what you need to know to walk down the aisle in a relic from fashion's past. From researching which decades and designers best suit your vision to to finding that kismet match, this process demands patience and determination. With that said, the reward is a serious sartorial victory. Here, the BAZAAR-approved tips for shopping vintage bridal.

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      1 Shop Smart
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      noua unu / Courtesy of Happy Isles

      "The best way to shop for vintage bridal is to see things in person," says Kaizer. "This way you can try on multiple pieces for important compare-and-contrast purposes, and it gives you the opportunity to take a close look at quality and construction."

      The biggest mistake vintage-loving brides-to-be make is blindly searching online. When vintage shopping,"Google is not your friend," warns Kaizer. You will "likely come up against an onslaught of what can only be described as 'old wedding dresses.’ The kind of costumes that are expressly the opposite of that dreamy vintage silhouette you’ve always desired." Instead, Kaizer suggests scoping out online vintage sellers via "1stdibs or Etsy to refine your search for initial inspiration."

      Take a few hours to scroll on both sites to "get a feel for what’s out there," she adds. "Start your search with ‘white vintage evening dress’ and from there, you can narrow your search to any decade or designer you’re drawn to. When on Etsy, make sure to tick the 'vintage' option in ‘Item Type’ and play with searching by color."

      Pictured from left: '80s custom, '80s Mary McFadden, '60s custom

      2 Have a Healthy Budget
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      noua unu / Courtesy of Happy Isles

      Often, the phrase 'shopping vintage' can cross wires with saving money. If this was your mindset, you're mistaken. While you may stumble upon a steal, vintage (especially bridal) typically comes with a loftier price tag—and for good reason.

      Kaizer educates her brides that "great vintage—whether it’s a designer label or not—will hold, if not appreciate in value." She notes "investing $1k+ in a high-quality vintage piece means you will always be able to resell that piece for the same if not a higher price in the not-so-distant-future." Quality is the most important marker for vintage bridal; sourcing white or ivory pieces in good or great condition is much more challenging than finding a darker dress in a heavier fabric that hides signs of wear and tear more readily than sheer chiffon or lightweight silk.

      That being said, you may ask: How can I decipher “luxe” vintage against your average thrift store find? Look at the details. Get a sense for the fabric. Kaizer says, "If it’s a natural fiber, like a cotton, linen, or silk, or it has striking beading or detailed handiwork, then you’re on the right track." Look inside the garment. "If the piece has boning, a built-in waist belt, or other hand-stitched interior details than you should consider it a go." These kind of treasures, "often custom in their day, will always hold value. They are worth the investment. They will fall well on the body as their cut and silhouette have been painstakingly considered," Kaizer explains. "Look at buying luxe vintage the same as buying antique fine jewelry; your children and grandchildren will thank you."

      Pictured from left: '80s custom, '50s Elizabeth Arden, '60s custom

      3 Know Your Decades
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      noua unu / Courtesy of Happy Isles

      Avoid a costume-y dress obviously from another era and consider "a similar silhouette from a later decade," Kaizer suggests. "For example, an average '50s dress might feel too 'crunchy' or have the wrong fit in the bust because people were wearing different undergarments back then, while the right ’80s dress will give you that same look with a modernized cut." Similarly, if you love a '60s shift dress, keep an eye out for the right '90s number." Same goes for '30s slip dresses, which Kaizer admits are hard to find in good condition, whereas the '70s will give you a similar Studio 54 vibe. "You’ll find that pieces from the later decades have already reimagined older trends and have pieces with cleaner lines, while keeping the integrity of a particular silhouette."

      Pictured from left: '80s Victor Costa, '30s was flower crown, '50s custom

      4 Be Open Minded
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      From left: Norman & Blake / Gregory Ross Photo / Sylvie Rosokoff

      There are so many designers to look out for: Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Ossie Clark, Alaïa, Halston, Bill Blass, Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Chloe, Geoffrey Beene, Karl Lagerfeld, and Ungaro are some of Happy Isles’s favorites.

      "Lesser known to a wider audience, but equally important vintage designers include Pauline Trigère, Malcolm Starr, Ceil Chapman, Alfred Bosand, Arnold Scaasi and Victor Costa," recommends Kaizer. "The truth is, a label is as important as your own connection to a piece," before adding "there’s plenty of insane vintage out there without labels that pack as big a punch as a designer item. Take the blinders off—you’ll have more options."

      Pictured from left: '70s Loris Azzaro, '50s Harry Algo, '70s Saks Fifth Avenue

      5 Go With Your Gut
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      From left: Mikiash / Feather & North / Fenetre Photography

      A vintage wedding dress is not limited to the day of wedding look. Consider wearing a vintage style for your rehearsal dinner, after party, on your honeymoon, or all of the above.

      Whether you're considering a vintage wedding dress or something for another bridal-related occasion, you're likely to find a one-of-a-kind piece. Final words of wisdom? Kaizer warns, "sometimes your friends and family don’t get vintage. If your heart is set, only bring those [who] support your unique vision."

      Lastly, vintage is not immune to alterations. "If you find something you can’t live without but it needs alterations, don’t let it slip through your fingers. Get the dress. Then get it altered. #noregrets," Kaizer concludes.

      Pictured from left: '40s custom, '80s Victor Costa, '80s Travilla

      To make an appointment at Happy Isles, visit their website to book at their Los Angeles salon or meet Lily Kaizer in NYC April 26-30, 2019.

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