How to Buy Vintage

Photo: Left: Brantley Gutierrez, from Couture: An Illustrated History, edited by Ruth Lynam. Right: Hannah Whitaker

Alexandra Durbin was determined to wear vintage, but she was having a tough time finding the dress of her dreams. “One lady told me, ‘Not a chance in hell are you going to find white or cream,’ ” she explains. “Because over time, fabric yellows.” Her dress also had to be fairly modest, since she was getting married in a synagogue. Then she stumbled onto, a meticulously curated website that draws from A-list vendors across the country, and immediately found “the one”: a 1967 Givenchy haute couture gown. “I called the vendor, Juliana Cairone of Rare Vintage, right away,” says Durbin. “Fortunately, she’s in New York. She said, ‘It’s here, but it’s a size 4, and it’s even smaller because it was tailored for Nan Kempner.’  ” Durbin was shocked—and completely thrilled: Kempner, a famous clotheshorse, is among her favorite fashion icons. She ran over to Rare Vintage. “The gown was perfect—an elegant silhouette, a little sexy without being too revealing,” she says. “I loved the long sleeves, the open back, and the teeny train I wouldn’t trip over. And it fit me with no alterations! It wasn’t in mint condition; there were a few stains, but they were barely noticeable. And I thought they gave the dress character.”

Vendor TipsThe Vendor
Juliana Cairone of Rare Vintage (24 W. 57th St., Ste. 501; 212-581-7273)

What to Look for
“Make sure the fabric is intact. Fading is irreversible, and stains that have been there a while won’t come out. Be careful with camera flashes—sometimes a dress doesn’t look see-through but will become transparent in photos; a nude Wolford body stocking can help.”

How to Clean It
“Many places send out garments to be cleaned, which can do damage. I use, and recommend, French Hand Laundry in Pasadena, California (626-792-3881). I ship a gown FedEx ground, and they clean it, pack it, and send it back. It’s inexpensive by New York standards. Pamper Cleaners, in Locust Valley (, also does a good job and is reasonable.”

How to Store It
“Wrap your dress in acid-free archival tissue, then lay it flat in an unbleached-muslin garment bag inside an archival box. Don’t store anything—especially white— in plastic, which releases fabric-damaging chemicals as it ages. Once a year, air out the gown for the day (and admire your good taste!), then refold it in a different position. This preserves the life of the piece.”

Secondhand NewsA vintage dress is fine, but is it weird to wear someone else’s wedding gown? Not at all, say experienced thrifters; your dress has a happy history, and you might stumble on a gem (like the one on the first page). “We know where all our gowns came from and can look it up for our customers . . .  though, really, most brides don’t ask,” says Geraldine Brower, executive director of the Bridal Garden.

217 Mott St., nr. Spring St.; 212-625-1374
The gold standard for vintage couture.
Recent Find: Bill Blass strapless purple-and-white silk-chiffon dress, $1,400

The New World Order
13 Ave. B, at E. Houston St.; 212-777-3600
A hand-picked selection of couture gowns that could easily work for a wedding.
Recent Find: Givenchy column gown in plum, $1,200

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Thrift Shop
1440 Third Ave., nr. 81st St.; 212-535-1250
This uptown vintage treasure trove gets wedding dresses in from time to time, so it’s worth checking.
Recent Find: Liancarlo couture gown, $350

The Bridal Garden
54 W. 21st St., nr. Sixth Ave., Ste. 907; 212-252-0661; by appointment
The store collects overstock from top designers and well-preserved gowns from brides. All dresses are priced within reach ($495–$2,900), and proceeds are donated to charity.
Recent Find: Twenties-style pencil gown with beaded tulle and lace appliqués, $795

How to Buy Vintage