|Xtabay gown being worn on the White House step, far right.|
|True Blood star Kristin Bauer in her Xtabay party dress at the season premiere.|
Xtabay featured in the UK Guardian:
Xtabay featured in Conde' Nast Traveller :
Xtabay in the Oregonian:
Vintage gowns provide a fashionable, and economical, option for brides-to-be
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012, 7:00 AM Updated: Friday, November 30, 2012, 7:31 PM
"We were selling vintage bridal gowns and they were so popular that when the space upstairs became available I decided to take it over and turn it into a bridal salon," Gross says.
Today, thanks in part to that smart move and an ensuing stampede of brides, business is booming at Xtabay Vintage Clothing and Bridal Salon. Revenues have jumped from $75,000 in 2008 when the transition toward selling to brides began to $250,000 last year -- and along the way the store has captured the attention of VIPs from the White House to Tinseltown.
Vintage wedding dresses, once discarded or left to slowly molder in cedar closets, are now a hot commodity thanks to the resurgence of vintage styles in all sectors of the fashion industry, including weddings.
"People are tired of everything looking the same and being made in big box stores or overseas," Gross says. "When a girl wears one of our dresses in her wedding portrait she is not going to look dated, like, 'That's from 2012 or 1987.' There's a level of quality and character in them that is not available today unless you are willing to spend $2,000 or more."
At Xtabay, the selection of about 120 vintage wedding gowns ranges from turn-of-the-century bridal fashions to mid-'60s gowns that can be worn by brides or bridesmaids.
"I went in there not completely sure of what I wanted," says bride Samantha Hogan, 24, of Portland, who married Erik Larson, 27, in October. "I knew I wanted vintage but didn't expect it to be the third dress I tried on."
Her 1930s satin back crepe silk bias cut gown features lace shoulder insets. The dress' simple elegance fit the tone of the wedding: a rustic outdoor fall ceremony and reception along the banks of the Metolius River at Camp Sherman.
"It required one alteration and that was it. I was really amazed the first time I put it on," says Hogan, a hairdresser. "It was form flattering and I was really happy with it."
Total cost of her wedding ensemble: $389 for the dress and $69 for the vintage veil, also from Xtabay.
A growing trend
It's that one-of-a-kind style and affordability that have made vintage wedding gowns so popular. But despite the fact that the gowns are decades old, they can be decidedly upscale and stylish, too.
AlexSandra's Vintage Emporium in north Portland also carries a large selection of vintage wedding dresses and is enjoying the vintage wedding boom. Owner Alex Sandra remembers a time when nobody wanted them.
"Now, it's almost exclusively what I do," she says. "With vintage wedding dresses, it's the quality of craftsmanship, the high quality materials and the fact that you can choose a style that is flattering to your body rather than just go with what is popular."
Even mainstream bridal gown stores that carry mostly modern-day dresses are getting into the vintage side.
Connie Bradley, owner of Richele Kay Bridal Consignment in Northeast Portland, carries about eight to 10 vintage dresses (mid-'60s and earlier) at any given time and sees a growing demand.
"It's very interesting," she says. "I think right now what is popular is the late '50s and early '60s when they used a lot of lace and very little embellishment. Even new dresses that are coming out right now are very similar in style. The big poof is out."
Adds Gross: "Vintage dresses are economical and ecological. But we are selling to cute modern brides -- not girls who go to rockabilly concerts."
To that end, she designed her bridal salon to look like a luxurious department store from the '50s or '60s. "I. Magnin or Bergdorf -- that was my inspiration," says Gross, who attended the Rhode Island School of Design for three years before moving back to her hometown of Portland in 1995. "I believe in the presentation and the art of it."
Sandra says she started collecting and fixing up vintage bridal gowns nearly 20 years ago, long before they were popular. "At 12, I started working at estate sales and eventually went to work with my mother at a local antiques shop. I also taught myself to sew. And about the only people in the market for sewing are brides."
In the early days, she came across vintage bridal gowns "that weren't quite right for the time we were in. But I felt so bad for them. So I would keep them and fix them."
Over the years, she amassed hundreds of old wedding dresses and finally had the idea to start a vintage bridal show with a milliner friend. Now in its third year, the Vintage Bridal Show will be held on March 23-24.
Most old wedding dresses come to resale vendors from estates and other obscure sources.
Gross recently acquired 30 midcentury Priscilla of Boston bridal gowns when a Michigan bridal store closed its doors after decades. So far, she has sold 12 of them for $695 to $1,000. They range from '50s tulle-and-French lace ball gowns with cathedral length trains and hip bolsters to '60s silk-and-lace empire waist dresses with "Watteau" back trains.
Four "pretty great" mid- '60s gowns, including an unworn Oleg Cassini silk column gown with a low scoop neck and tie, came from the estate of a "shopaholic" in Lake Oswego, Gross says.
Vintage is big with the Hollywood set thanks to people like stylist Rachel Zoe and her vintage-clad celebrity clientele who sometimes pay the equivalent of a down payment on a middle-class house to wear an old Gucci frock.
Capricia Marshall, the U.S. Chief of Protocol, wore one of Gross' gowns to an event at the White House last year and a photo of her standing next to President Barack Obama that night ran in the national media. Then actress Carrie Brownstein wore one of Gross' gowns to the season premiere of her show, "Portlandia," last year and raved about Xtabay to People Magazine.
Then, Kristin Bauer, a star of HBO's "True Blood," wore a strapless dress from the Xtabay bridal salon to the show's 2012 premiere.
Brides, like celebrities, are always after that one-of-a-kind frock, Gross says.
"There is a certain amount of ceremonial sacredness to these wedding dresses that is lost a little bit today. I feel like a lot of today's brides look like a Miss Universe contestant rather than someone who is part of a sacred ceremony. But these have all the little details that make them special."
-- Elisabeth Dunham