Thinking of going vintage? Every era has its own retro craze going. Right now we’re in love with the 1950s and all those Jackie/Audreyesque styles with defined waists and lots of skirt. When I was young (1970s) the retro trend was for long, granny gowns. This is the era when Jessica McClintock claimed fame with her Gunny Sax line of cotton and lace gowns. That was back in 1973 when I found a unique store called, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Named the same as the popular Sergei Parajanov film that helped launch the craze for ethnic clothing, SOFA specialized in authentic folk costumes and fabrics. Eventually they brought in Edwardian lace gowns when brides put in requests for them. I used to cut chemistry class to drool over the lace- white confections hanging up high, lining the walls of this museum-like store.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors eventually became Shadows, and owner Sylvia Stewart evolved it into a bridal business, always keeping a showplace somewhere in the shop for her turn-of-the-century pieces. Still collectors of vintage, most of what they carry now is vintage-inspired.

If you're just starting to navigate around the world of retro, you’ll find 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 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 they are 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. This could be a wise investment. If you do invest in an original 50s-60s style wedding gown, 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.

After all these years Shadows is still in business. I stop by every so often to talk to Sylvia about my favorite subject: vintage fashion, or to be more precise, vintage bridal. You can visit Shadows online at

Left and right: Retro-style gowns by Astoria