Finding vintage and vintage-style prom wear

If you’ve been shopping for your prom dress or tuxedo and all the styles are starting to look the same, do not adjust your set. It’s not an illusion, it’s true. The traditional prom stores offer plenty of variety, but they’re all variations on a theme. It’s almost like there’s an official prom uniform. If you’re looking for something a little different, a little more interesting and maybe even a little more iconic, you might be a vintage prom kind of person.

Shop Vintage

The easiest way to buy true vintage is online, unless you happen to live in an area that is blessed with a few awesome vintage stores. Dresses and tuxes are available on Ebay and Etsy as well as from vintage sellers who have their own sites. Here are some things to consider if you’re buying online:

  • Try different search terms: prom dress, party dress, formal dress, rockabilly dress, tuxedo, morning coat, disco suit…
  • Forget about the sizes, judge the fit by the measurements.
  • Take your own measurements late in the day, your shape changes from morning to night.
  • Choose a style that traditionally looks and feels good on you. Trying new things is good, but this might not be the time to do it.
  • Start your search early so you have plenty of time to choose and have a garment tailored.
  • Find out if the seller has had the garment cleaned, or if you will need to do that before you wear it.
  • Examine the photographs carefully, contact the seller and ask for additional photos if you have questions.
  • A good seller will provide specific condition details. If details aren’t there, ask the seller if there are any noticeable flaws. You want to know about things like seams that might need to be re-sewn, small tears to be mended, stains, lingering aromas like perspiration or smoke.
  • Look for a seller with good feedback from previous buyers.
  • Check the seller’s return policy. Many vintage sellers do not accept returns on clothing, particularly on party clothes.

There are a lot of great vintage sellers online, more than we could ever list here. Whatever era, whatever style you’re looking for, it’s out there.

Shop Vintage-Style

Although as lovers of true vintage, we hardly ever support the notion of vintage-style. But when it comes to clothing, we’re a little more open minded. It’s mostly a function of necessity. Over the decades, we humans have gotten a bit larger. It can be a challenge to find a vintage special occasion look that fits a modern frame. The other advantage of a vintage-style outfit is that the seller is much more likely to accept returns, which means you can order a couple of sizes and styles to get the fit that makes you feel like a million bucks.

Best case scenario is to find an independent seller who makes vintage inspired dresses, like these pretty cool dresses from (l to r) swingingchicksshop, CoralieBeatrix and DigforVictory, all on Etsy.

There are also some larger well known retailers and/or makers of vintage inspired party and/or prom dresses. Here are a few of the many.

For Women

Modcloth If you love vintage style and haven’t discovered Modcloth, oh heavens, are you in for a treat. Despite the distressing news that this spunky little independent site is being bought by the Jet division of Walmart, we still love it. We love the clothes, we love the accessories, we love the shoes. And mostly we love that they use real people models in assorted ages and sizes. (FYI, certain adults who write blog posts about vintage dresses have purchased things from Modcloth for themselves…)

Pinup Girl Clothing This is not a girl-next-door kind of dress site, lots of dresses inspired by vintage screen sirens. And for women of all sizes, like it should be, eh?

BettiePage More screen siren glam here, in modern sizes. A nice mix of materials and styles, including wiggle dresses, fringed dresses, and dresses inspired by Roman Holiday and Some Like it Hot. They’ve got a small selection of shoes as well. 

Stop Staring! Lots of lengths, lots of styles, lots of great dresses made in Los Angeles. They have extended  sizes as well and a super helpful guide to fit.

Unique Vintage Oh me. Oh my. Lots of sizes. Styles from the 1920s though the 1970s. Get a cup of tea and clear your schedule. You’ll be here a while.

For Men and Women

Victorian outfit
Late Victorian outfit from HistoricalEmporium.com

These sites offer something for both prom guys and prom gals.

ASOS Although not typically considered a vintage site, they do have plenty of dresses and tuxes with a vintage feel at pretty great prices. And they’re one of the few sites to offer shoes in wide widths.

Bennie’s Fifties Store From Holland to you, jackets and ruffled shirts for him, retro fun dresses for her. Shoes and accessories too. Warning, there is no shortage of things Elvis would love.

Historical Emporium If true period clothing or Steampunk is your style, start here. Their Western wear and Victorian gear is great. It’s a one stop shop for an original look from head to toes–their shoes are pretty great.

For Men

For the gentlemen out there, lots of tuxedo rental stores have vintage style tuxedos. There are also vintage stores that rent classic tuxes. Here’s a site you might want to check if you want swing era style:

Zootsuitestore Nothing subtle about these suits, but subtlety is overrated when it comes to prom style. They’ve got swing era suits, jackets, hats and shoes. 

That’s enough to get you started…

Shop Shoes

To get you finished, let’s think about shoes. 

If you’re the creative sort, thrift stores are always amply stocked with the simple satin pumps that are dyed to match bridesmaid dresses. Using a pair of those as a starter, a paint brush, a glue gun or some shoe clips can turn a $5 pair of shoes into a pretty amazing statement.

But if you don’t want DIY Cinderella slippers, there are a some vintage inspired shoe sites we love:

American Duchess Although these shoes are historically styled well beyond what are typically considered the vintage eras, they will make you swoon.

Royal Vintage Shoes Shop for shoes by style or by era, but be careful, you may wind up with more than just a pair of prom shoes.

Re-Mix Vintage Shoes Lots for girls, a few for boys. Timeless style you can dance all night wearing.

Prom Fashion Through the Ages

Need more inspiration? Here’s a video that takes you through 50-years of prom fashion. Have fun at prom!

Did you have a favorite prom dress? Share the details in a comment below!

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3 comments

  1. Awesome resources! Unique Vintage has a B&M store that is just down the street from me too. So if you are L.A. local, it’s a great place to shop.

  2. I wish I wore vintage to my proms in the late 1960s. I worked with a woman whose daughter is very artistic. For her prom all of her friends chose to spend $20 at the local thrift store for their finery and were the hit of the dance! Great article Laurie!

  3. Great tips! I’ve been selling authentic and inspired vintage special occasion dresses in my online shop http://www.bluevelvetvintage.com since 2002. So I know a thing or two about vintage style 🙂

    One of the things I always advise girls is to budget for alterations, especially with true vintage,since they’re one of a kind. Meaning no options to try other sizes. If you find a vintage dress you love, but the measurements are off from yours by a couple inches, a professional seamstress can really come in handy to get you into the vintage prom dress of your dreams!

    Theresa

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