Altering Vintage

Have you ever found your dream vintage dress? The one that looks like it was made just for you? Chances are, if you did happen to stumble across that perfect piece, it wouldn’t be in your size. It’s the nature of vintage shopping. We don’t have the luxury of walking into a store and selecting a dress that comes in a variety of sizes. And for a lot of us that is half the fun. The thrill of the hunt. But what if you did find it? Could you walk away?

Back in 2011 I received an email from Patricia asking how I felt about two dresses. She had been participating in our version of window shopping, trawling the internet for amazing vintage dresses, and had come across two spectacular 1950s prom dresses. One in mint green, the other in soft lemon. We often share our finds with each other, which, to be honest, is a terrible habit as we often attempt to peer pressure each other into buying completely unsuitable things. This email was no exception. I emailed Patricia back straight away.


‘You should buy one.’

‘I can’t! I’d never have anywhere to wear them! They are beautiful though…’

‘You should definitely buy one.’

‘Well, the green is a tad too big and the yellow is an inch too small. Maybe one could be my wedding dress?’

I should point out here that while Patricia had a boyfriend she wasn’t officially engaged at the time so that reasoning was a bit of a stretch.

‘You should definitely buy the yellow one.’

She bought the yellow one.

When it arrived it was as beautiful in the photos and it fit, just. But she still didn’t have anywhere to wear it.

Fast forward to 2013 and not only was Patricia engaged but the wedding was rolling around fast.
At least she had the perfect dress organised well ahead of time. But there was a bit of a problem.
The dress had a 25 inch waist. When Patricia first received it she could, after a little bit of a
struggle, do the dress up. Two years and a very happy relationship later and it was going to
take a bit more than a struggle to get that dress
on. There was never a question that she wear another dress, so the hunt was on to find a way to make it work.

Luckily we have a number of friends that work for luxury clothing brands that could direct us to the best dressmaker in town. We packed up the dress and with high hopes, we went to visit Sonya.

She looked over the dress and said that she could definitely get it to fit Patricia. Yay! It would involve removing the zip and adding a panel and loops so the back would become a lace up. Sonya recommended a fabric store and off we went to collect some matching fabric for the panel. It was literally that simple.

A few weeks later and Patricia went back to Sonya to collect the dress. The panel and lace ups looked like they were part of the original dress and, best of all, it fit perfectly! The added panel meant the dress now fitted a 25
to at least a 30 inch waist.

The big day went off without a hitch, Patricia looked glorious and the dress was everything she hoped it would be.

If you have spotted a special vintage piece that you are dying to wear but doesn’t quite fit, there may be a solution.

When deciding to alter vintage clothing remember:

• If you live in a city talk to your local luxury brand sales people for recommendations on dressmakers and tailors. Brands like Chanel, Hugo Boss and Armani will often all use the same tailor for alterations and if that tailor can’t help then they should be able to recommend someone great.

• If you don’t have access to luxury brands and have found a dressmaker/tailor but are unfamiliar with their work do some research. Find examples of their work and talk to some of their previous clients. It’s ok to be pedantic. They will be working with a unique piece of history and should appreciate that.

• Be prepared to lose some of the piece’s authenticity. The alteration could result in a zip being removed or new fabric being added. The upside is that you can greatly increase the longevity of the garment.

• It will always be easier to alter solid colour garments. Patterns can be incredibly difficult to match. Talk to the dressmaker/tailor and the fabric salesperson for advice on finding the right fabric.

Happy styling

Lauren x

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