Eleven Orchids Photography/Dress by Amy-Jo Tatum

Want an edgier look than what you’re finding in the salons? White not quite your thing?  Maybe you just want to go Art Deco or sport a to-the-floor suit you can’t get going the traditional route?  You may need to go beyond the the salon to find what you want.  Where to start?  

 INDIE DESIGNER SHOPS, those little places they used to call boutiques . . . .

Because brides are changing so are designers.  A couple off the charts bridal fashion sites have emerged the past few years: Think BHLDN and Ruche.  Not so many years back there were brick and mortar stores like these called designer boutiques.  Example: Paraphernalia in New York during the 60s went trendy offering one-of-a-kind clothing with an edge.  Since then boutiques have become the best fashion labs for designers as well as clients.  Today's equivalent of course is the Etsy designer aka indie shop.  No matter where you live in the world, I'm sure your area has more than a couple Etsy designers who open up their stores or in-home boutiques to clients.   True, not all indie shops carry bridal but the extraordinary dresses they do have can sometimes be special ordered in white or ivory. Think about this: Almost any white dress has wedding day potential as long as it works with your accessories, fits within the scene and theme of your wedding and you absolutely adore it. Also, if you’re not into wearing white on your wedding day, indie shops and department stores might be your best option. Some stores work closely with up and coming specialty designers. With a little imagination and the help of professionals, you might be able to put some stunning looks together.
Also a great option if you don’t want to wait 4-6 months for your gown.
Most Vintage clothing stores stock actual gowns from by-gone eras as well as ‘retro-inspired’ selections that are brand new. The bride in love with a particular era of clothing usually checks vintage clothing stores first. Not all brides opt for an actual gown that survived her favorite era though. Some choose a newer style reflecting the period instead. Why? Because that authentic 1925 chemise may be so delicate, without proper restoration it could literally fall apart. Think of gowns belonging to the ages like you would certain antiques: some so precious to be considered museum quality. Depending on restoration, the rule of thumb is, the older the gown the less they should be worn. If you are set on wearing that 1910 dress find a specialist in restoration who can advise. Also know your1910 dress can be an expensive but wise investment. For instance, if you invest in an original 50s-60s style, you’ll pay a lot less than the 1880s-1913 originals that, if intact, could be the equivalent to some down payments on a house.
Above: Retro dresses from Divine Elegance, an online vintage retailer.  The blue ruched ball gown on the right went to a lucky bride who shopped beyond the salon.  Photos by Bryan John Hendon/Below: A vintage-inspired gown custom designed by Amy-Jo Tatum/Photo by hy LirettePhotography


Chances are, if you’ve gone this route to unearth real finds before, you already know your way around and what you’re doing, hopefully with the same eye that serious antique dealers and clothing collectors scout these markets often and with great skill. However, rummaging through flea markets and thrift stores takes a certain kind of bride—the kind who believes in recycling even on her wedding day; the kind that doesn’t give a damn whether she’s wearing hand-me-downs. If this is you, you’re a rarity. And yes, you’re likely to spend hours and days sorting through racks of Four Weddings and A Funeral cast-offs before you uncover that rare 1963 Priscilla of Boston original.


Go custom. This way you can get exactly what you want custom made to your measurements and your dress will be like no other in the world. Most custom designers can be found online through Etsy. Your best bet in finding one is going the old fashioned route: Knowing a bride who had a custom designed gown you love. 


SHADOWS-Yes, a traditional bridal salon with a bit more: Real vintage clothing and jewelry. A Northern California landmark. Clued up owners have been collecting vintage for years. They have some beautiful turn of the century pieces on display in the store.
DECADES OF FASHION SF-A store with everything vintage from Victorian, Edwardian to 1980s
BHLDN-Just a few years on the scene and this this company offers some of the best alternative bridalwear online. 
RUCHE-Another new alternative on thescene changing bridal fashion

AMY-JO TATUM BRIDE: My website. I do alternative and custom bridal wear and love it.