From potato picking peasants to privileged princesses, up until the mid-19th century, the concept of a woman wearing her wedding gown on one single solitary occasion was completely unheard of. The treasured garment would go on to make Sunday best appearances at church and family celebrations until the fashion of the time changed and the dress would then be altered, modified or passed on. Even Queen Victoria had her wedding dress and veil altered for subsequent use after she married Prince Albert in 1840. So it seems that the tradition of buying a wedding gown specifically for the purpose of saying “I do” is a relatively modern phenomenon.
Over the past few years, Team Fuze have noticed a slight shift in bridal consumer habits, where vintage wedding dresses and accessorize have been popping up at ceremonies more frequently than previous. Could a small slice of Victorian frugality be rubbing off on 21st Century brides or is there more to it?
When we clocked Gemma Carver standing in her glorious Hardy Amies wedding gown in the grounds of Enterkine House in Ayrshire, we fell hopelessly in love. With intricate crystal detailing, ornately embroidered flowers and yards of silk organza, the dress alone contained more romance than a Shakespearean love story, but there’s far more to this gown’s tale than its beautiful façade as the dress was first worn by Gemma’s mother, Siobhan, on her wedding day back in 1973. Gemma said: “I’ve always loved vintage, but apart from that I love the story of any garment; the nostalgia, the history – all garments have a story to tell. This, being my mother’s wedding dress, is even more precious as it’s part of her life and now in turn, mine. It comes from a time when my grandmother had all her clothes made by a dressmaker, my grandpa’s suits were all made by Saville Row tailors, a time of refined elegance and splendour. This dress was made in the 1970s and so it marks the last of that extravagant family history. The end of an old-school era”.
While there’s no doubting the nostalgia and sentimentality that comes with wearing your much loved mother’s wedding dress, what if instead of a vintage Hardy Aimes hanging in her closet, there’s a shimmering, polyester meringue?! Happily, there is an answer to this problem and that answer lies on the bohemian streets of Stockbridge in the north of Edinburgh.
Positioned at basement level amongst a mishmash of independent shops and cafes lies a treasure trove of vintage wedding dresses that will knock the socks off any bride-to-be. The first customer gleefully skipped over the vibrant threshold of Those Were the Days back in 2011 and since then, proprietor, Claire Paterson’s feet haven’t touched the ground. Initially, the boutique contained just one modest rail of vintage wedding dresses situated behind a mass of fabulous eclectic pieces, but emboldened and encouraged by the nation’s penchant for vintage bridalwear, Claire decided to grow both her bridal collection and her business and as fate would have it, last year the shop next door became vacant and Those Were the Days Bridal was born!
Those Were the Days Bridal now operates as a standalone boutique directly next door to its older brother where Claire and her team are on hand to offer a sensational shopping experience for brides-to-be who can enjoy having the entire shop to themselves for one full hour. Claire says: “We have a lot of brides who are not necessarily vintage shoppers, but they’re on the lookout for a quirky dress”. With dresses spanning from the Edwardian era right up until the 1990s, brides-to-be looking for a unique dress from a bygone era need look no further. There’s something intrinsically magical about stepping into a wedding gown that has already lived through the excitement and joy of somebody else’s big day and Claire truly recognises this. Those Were the Days Bridal boasts a superb and varied collection, handpicked personally by Claire who searches tirelessly across continents for the most beautiful and enchanting dresses and accessories. From the glamourous silky bias cuts of the 1930s to the full skirts and corseted waists of the 1950s, it’s all racked up and ready and Claire and her staff are on hand to guide you through the collection.
The magnetism and popularity of vintage wedding dresses isn’t only by virtue of the nostalgia and style of the garments, there’s also a financial benefit to buying vintage. With the average UK wedding costing upwards of £25,000, couples are choosing to trim back costs where they can and buying vintage is a prime example of how brides-to-be can pay far less without having to compromise on style. For instance, gowns at Those Were the Days Bridal start from £300, which is a fraction of the price of the average UK wedding dress spend, which is currently £1000.
Eco-conscious brides-to-be are also turning to vintage bridalwear in their droves in an effort to swerve the environmental impact of buying new. Every pre-loved garment purchased means that one less garment is produced and it seems that many brides are embracing the great sustainability mantra ‘re-use, recycle, reduce’ on their wedding day. Western “wear once” culture is proving to be seriously detrimental to the environment and a recent study showed that Brits are buying more new clothing than any other country in Europe leading to 235 million garments being sent to landfill in 2017.
So there you have it, buying vintage ahead of your big day is all kinds of brilliant; it’s stylish, nostalgic, unique, great value for money, environmentally friendly and it even ticks the “something borrowed” box.
Claire Paterson at Those Were the Days Bridal
Gemma & Siobhan Carver