How to Create a Vintage Swing Wedding on a Budget

 Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 at 6:29 PM
Apr 282014
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~ How to create a vintage swing wedding on a budget ~

40s Wedding style photo Tam Francis


















When David and I got married we wanted to have a vintage wedding. I mistakenly picked up bride magazines, but found them filled with articles and advice for people with a minimum $10,000 budget. I had about $3,000. Not to mention the ad pages were filled with generic dresses which lacked inspiration and vintage appeal.

I searched the internet, and although I found lovely style ideas and vintage-esque ideas, I didn’t find anything that would satiate my need for a stepped-back-in-time 1940s wedding. What follows is my information and research culled from 1940s McCalls, Home, and Women’s Day magazine and Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogues. I found everything I needed to know such as style of gown, head piece and veil, grooms wear, style of bridesmaid dresses and accouterments. These can be the idea sources for you vintage living needs. In my search, I even found a handy dandy Pocket Size Guide for Brides from 1948.

There are some key points that will set your wedding apart and make it a classy, vintage affair. Not that other facets don’t play a part, but if these are done correctly you can have a reasonably inexpensive wedding with the charm and feel of 1940:

  • Clothing & Hair
  • Flowers
  • Location
  • Entertainment
  • Decor and favors

Fashion: Clothing & Hair

40s weddign gown picture patternThe Wedding Gown

The wedding gown is the most important item. The bride wants to feel like a princess and should be the most beautiful woman in the room on her day. Although there are some designers that have borrowed from the past and have vintage lines and touches to their gown, if you’re on a budget, these gowns are out of your price range. I have several recommendations for finding the perfect gown.

Ebay and Etsy are still wonderful places to shop for your wedding gown. There are usually NO returns so make sure you measure yourself (don’t cheat) and ask a lot of questions of the vendors.

Thrift stores, second hand and estate sales are also a good choice, but you’d have to be pretty lucky to find one in your size. I found an amazing 1930s gown in cream silk with asymmetric lines and a matching bolero, but it was a tad too small and the silk had began to shred at the seams. I bought it anyway just in case I wanted to use it as a pattern.

Which bring me to my next choice. Have one made. There are many retro reissued patterns of vintage gowns, or you can scour ebay and antique stores for a real vintage pattern. Most lindy hop, swing and vintage scenes have a few seamstresses in their midst, but be generous. Hand made gowns are usually $200 on up.

Don’t forget to ask relatives. Wedding dresses are one of the few items that are rarely thrown out or given away. Hit up your Great Aunt Bea, cousins and friends. You never know, your vintage dream dress may be in their closet.

I found my dream gown at an antique store. I walked into the shop it was love at first sight. My gown was trussed on an old dress dummy with a terrible eighty’s hat at the neck, which covered the decolletage of the gown. When I lifted the hat, I knew it was for me. A gathered bustline, inverted V bodice, elegant braided staps, a-line skirt cut on the bias, all in an ivory satin, screamed elegant 1940’s fashion.

I wanted to bring my sister with me to try it on. I was so afraid to leave the store, afraid that someone else would sneak in an buy it. I was in a tizzy. She met me as fast as she could and helped me into it, buttoning up the delicate satin covered buttons up the back. It fit like a dream and was only $95 dollars. We both knew it was THE ONE. I still needed a petticoat crinoline, to push out the skirt, but I knew I could find one of those second hand at a thrift store, (and I did for a mere $10).


Sometimes you find vintage gowns with a matching veil, but not usually. What I found in my research was that 30s and 40s wedding often had a tiara or crown headpiece with the veil attached. Most of the ones in the vintage catalogs and antique pictures were pearly or done in millinery flowers. Again, all the same shopping locations apply. I found mine at a thrift store for ten dollars, but it had a short netted veil like you would see on hats. I pulled that off and sewed the tulle veil to it.


Some gals are great a doing their own hair. I did my own, but it was an added stress. If you’re on a tight budget by all means do your hair yourself. There are wonderful How-To books out there which can help, but start practicing early. I advice you set aside money to have someone do your hair.


Once you have taken care of yourself, you must decide what to adorn your dearest girlfriends in. There are a few options here as well. If you want to keep the gals in authentic garb, pick a neutral color and ask each girl to find a vintage gown of that color. Bridesmaid dresses were traditionally long, but this may not be practical for the vintage clan who swing dances. There are also wonderful reproduction sites that offer reasonable copies.

Your other option is to have them made, sewn from a vintage pattern. This is the option I chose. Fortunately, my mother and I sew. We found beautiful aubergine satin and made simple bias cut dresses that would look lovely in the wedding, and also swing on the dance floor.

40s grooms 30s 40s tuxMenswear

My husband was (is) in the Navy and although I wanted him to wear his adorable dress blues, he insisted on a vintage tuxedo. And I’m glad he did. He looked every bit the 1940s movie star when I walked toward him down the aisle. For his groomsmen, he spent months looking for authentic 1940s tuxedos. Because black tux jackets and trousers are abundant in thrift stores and church bazaars, he was able to find matching combinations for all of his groomsmen.

If you don’t have the vintage eye, or gobs of time to comb second hand shops and antique malls, you can again try ebay or etsy. But the simple solution is to ask the fellas to wear plain double-breasted tuxedos with white tie instead of black (and NO funky colors, nothing say MODERN wedding like men in colorful ties and pocket squares). Avoid satin lapels and try to find a tuxedo rental that has plain or grosgrain (fabric characterized by its ribbed appearance. In grosgrain, the weft is heavier than the warp, creating ribbing, or a corded look). Classic tails are nice, but unfortunately newer rental tuxes make the men look like waiters. Do not let the men wear shiny tux shoes either. Encourage them to wear a plain-toe smooth leather shoe.

Encourage the fellas to wear their hair slicked back with gel or the entire contents of a can of Aqua Net ought to do it. 40s hair for men often sported a side part with a slight wave or mini pomp in front.


1940s bouquets were smaller and usually consisted of white, cream or eggshell colored flowers and greens. This is a lovely article, if you want some in-depth information about bouquets. I found a florist who did my bouquet and boutonniere with magnolias. Below is a list of popular 1930s and 1940s flowers:

  • calla lilies
  • roses
  • gardenias
  • stephanotis

40s dance hallLocation

The wedding ceremony and reception locations should compliment your fabulous wardrobe. Outdoor wedding are always classy and cost effective and can be beautiful at the right time of the year. In the absence of a home wedding, (which was a popular choice in the 1940s), a public park would be a lovely choice. Most parks will have to be reserved at least a year in advance. Some parks require special permits for groups, alcohol and amplified music. Make sure to check city ordinances for a successful event.

An alternative to an outdoor wedding would be a vintage hotel built in the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. Friends of mind found an authentic olf ballroom in a charming antiquated hotel which was reasonably priced and perfect for their small wedding and reception.

40s wedding ring adDon’t forget the classic church wedding. If you don’t belong to a church, finding a church to suit your needs might be challenging. Non-member wedding fees can be twice to four times as much. Plus, many churches require pre-marriage counseling at an added expense.

You might also consider you favorite dance hall or club for the reception. They can be accommodating if you plan a daytime event that will not interfere with their regular nighttime business. We worked out a deal for the rental and clean-up and purchased a set amount of alcohol ahead of time with drink tickets distributed to the guest. After the guests went through their drink tickets they were asked to buy their own. Another cost-effective measure. We chose this option (more about that in the Decor section).

You can also check with your local swing dance venue. I know many jitterbug couples who said their I Dos under the roof of their local dance studio.

With any of these options you will need to decide what type of food service you would like sit-down, buffet, light appetizer, the wedding cake. There are some wonderful resources for vintage cocktails, appetizers and meals to add to the ambiance of your wedding.

1940s musicians clip artEntertainment

What’s a wedding without entertainment and since you’re planning a vintage themed wedding you’ll want to provide era perfect music. Start out by pricing your favorite swing bands. If you’re in the swing dance or vintage scene, chances are you know these guys. They often have special pricing for weddings. If your first choice is out of your budget, try independent college groups: Jazz Bands or quartets. And don’t rule out the retirement community. It is filled with wonderful musicians who have been playing big band longer than you’ve been listening to it. They are perfect for weddings and usually affordable.

If a live band is not in your budget at all, make sure you get an excellent disc jockey. I recommend staying away from Wedding DJs, they usually have a few standard swing songs, but they’ll end up playing the Chicken Dance and the Macarena and that’s NOT what you want at your vintage wedding. Create a play-list of your favorite songs with room for requests. Go to your local dance scene deejays and ask them how much they would charge for deejaying your wedding, but don’t take advantage, make sure to offer them a reasonable rate for their time and expertise.

cigarette girls 40s styleDecor

After you’ve coordinated clothing, flowers location, and entertainment, there are a few subtle touches that will add class and atmosphere. Make sure guests KNOW it’s a vintage wedding and encourage them to join in with vintage attire.

Look for a vintage cake topper (again, online stores and antique malls). Choose vintage wedding bands in platinum or white gold (more popular for that era). We found a beautiful set at an antique store for $500 for me in platinum with a 1932 date engraved inside.

Offer guests retro designed programs of reception events as they enter the door. For our wedding as you entered the club you were transported back to a 1940s jam join with live music, clinking glasses and cigarette girls. We worked with the club management who let us on the premises after they closed the night before. So, at 2:00am, my mom, sister, aunts and friends, turned a regular bar into a classy 40’s dinner club with white tablecloths and candles  at each table.  Here is a list of items to help you on your way to being creative:

  • Hand out sewing kits with the bride & groom name and date
  • CDs with a mix of your favorite swing dance music
  • Sets of vintage postcards tied with rick-rack ribbon
  • Candy cigarettes and gum or candy cigars
  • Photo booth where they can take a 40s mugshot (email to them later)
  • Stripey Jitterbug socks (all jits where stripey socks)

Little inexpensive things will add up and make your wedding especially vintage. Be creative, be yourself and give yourself lots of time to organize and research all aspects of your event. When working with a tight budget it is important to give yourself at least a year to prep. I suggest making a dream binder of ideas to help keep track of your planning.

As you can see, it’s possible to have a beautiful, unique wedding that keeps with your vintage lifestyle and thank the heavens that your wedding will not be followed by a wartime goodbye kiss.


Have I missed something? Do you have any suggestions or things that worked for your wedding. I’d love to hear about your experience and ideas!

Tam Francis, authorTam Francis is writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She  shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page


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  7 Responses to “How to Create a Vintage Swing Wedding on a Budget”

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  1. Hello! I loved reading about all the time, work, effort and most of all, love, that went into putting together a fab 40’s vintage wedding! I’ve been a swing/big band music fan for ages, and everything 40’s is always in my list of things to find, read about, and examine. Especially read about! I seek out biographical and historical writings, rather than fiction, because they always tell so much about 40’s life that just doesn’t come round properly in the rest. Much of it is heart-warming, others heart-wrenching, but all of it is always interesting to me!

    Another focus I have is vintage wedding jewelry, and I have managed over the years to collect several vintage wedding ring sets in my size, so that I can wear them myself. Also vintage wedding bands, from JR Woods and Sons/ArtCarved, because I can tell by the style of hallmark how old they are, and not have to rely on an inscription, which none of them have. Also in my size, or easily and inexpensively sized up or down a bit (mostly down, it’s always cheaper than adding gold!) I have a good friend who runs a jewelry store locally – third generation, family store, not a chain – and she can always “stretch” or “compress” the bands a little bit to make them fit without having to cut or otherwise damage them. She usually always gives me a “deal” on the work ~ usually gratis if she does it herself! It’s always nice to have friends “in the biz” as they say!

    I have a nice little collection, but all either solid yellow bands, solid white gold sets with diamonds, or two-tone (the most common for those with smaller wartime budgets, with beautiful, great quality diamonds in smaller carat weights, set in white gold mounts on yellow gold bands. Platinum was quite difficult to come by during the war, because it was needed for war use, primarily in electronics, making white gold the white metal of choice at that time. There was a little of it released for use in wedding jewelry only, and relative to gold was quite expensive, as it is now! I have yet to find a 40’s band or set in platinum that I can afford. Most 40’s sets in platinum came out just after the war, when it was no longer needed for the fight.

    I know how to clean and polish the gold to give them a gleam and sparkle in the lowest light, and wearing them takes me back to the times they come from, and I always contemplate what kind of life they had when new. What woman’s finger they adorned proudly, as an engagement ring while waiting for her soldier boy to come home again and place the matching wedding ring on her finger to make them one. Or to have both of them purchased and worn at the same time, bought quickly to celebrate their joining before she had to give him that heartbreaking kiss goodbye as she sent him off to war. Plain bands, purchased by couples with more practical issues at heart, not needing diamonds and happy with just the ring that declared them one. Or just with little to spare at the time, and hopes of adding sparkling celebration diamonds once all the awful conflict had ended, and he came back home to her to begin their life again as a couple. So many possibilities. I even have an English wedding band, from the time, and knowing their horrible experiences makes the band all the more precious to me. The saddest option of all though is the one where her soldier never did return, but it’s so sad, most of the time I don’t think too much about that one, hoping always for the happy homecoming instead.

    Anyway, I have rambled on enough, and hope I haven’t bored you! I also wanted to know if there was a photo you could post, showing us your beautiful ring set? I would love to see it. If not, I understand, but I wanted to let you know I loved your blog, and was interested!

    Thanks so much for all you are doing here!

    • What a GREAT idea. I will try to get a picture of my set. I didn’t do traditional wedding photos, but had an artist friend take the pics. I love our wedding photo in front of the chapel, but we neglected to do all the “bride” photos. Hmmmm, I figure out how to post more!

      I love your ramble AND your perspective. Thanks for coming by and, I love the info on the ring sets. You sound amazing! I read a lot of non-fiction too, but my heart belongs to fiction. As for affordable wedding bands, antique stores have some pretty swell price ;) Best of luck on your collection.


      • Tam ~
        Thanks so much for your kind reply, and generous compliment! I’m so glad to know you enjoyed my “ring ramble!” I grew up with a jeweler for a grandfather, so jewelry has always been near and dear to my heart. He was a lapidary jeweler too, which involves the stone cutting, faceting and creative design end of the biz ~ not the retail side. I learned a great deal from him before he lost his eyesight to macular degeneration, and was forced to stop some aspects of his business. However, that didn’t ever steal away his knowlege, which he continued to learn and share with others, including me. Since his passing in 1990, and really long before that time, I did a great deal of research and learning on my own. The historical aspects of things intrigue me the most, and wedding jewelry in particular for some reason. (In case you couldn’t tell!)

        A couple of things I forgot to mention about the vintage wedding sets ~ the concept of the double ring ceremony did not take up a very large percentage of wedding ceremonies at all UNTIL WWII. There were a few here and there, but prior to that War, men just didn’t wear wedding bands as a rule. For some reason WWI didn’t bring about the same effect in as many cases, although there certainly were some. They certainly were available, and some of the older designers made wonderful heavy, masculine plain and even beautifully carved wedding bands for men in the early part of the century, especially during the 1920’s, like JR Woods.

        During the years of the Great Depression, there just wasn’t money for a man’s wedding ring in most cases. Sometimes even the bride went without, used a borrowed one just for the ceremony, or wore gold filled bands, sterling silver bands, or other less-than-real-gold wedding bands. The local “Five and Dime” stores were a popular place to buy a first wedding ring for under a hard-earned dollar, if that’s all that could be had.

        Catalogs from Sears and Montgomery Wards sold gold filled bands, that served nicely for about 10 to 20% of the cost of a real solid gold band, and even some very inexpensive 10Kt gold rings with clear zircons (not to be confused with cubic zirconia, which is man-made. Zircons are natural stones) and “simulated” diamonds as April birthstone rings in styles that were obviously usable as engagement and/or wedding rings. Real, well-done gold filled bands (not gold plated) stood up to long periods of wear, and looked just as nice. Pawn shops were a popular place to shop for a real gold band at a bargain, since unfortunately many women had to part with their wedding bands to pay the light bill, or buy milk and food for the children. That thought always makes me sad ~ I cannot imagine being forced to part with my own original band under similar circumstances, but if push came to shove, I surely would for my children’s sake. Fortunately, the booming war economy provided many opportunities to replace that cherished symbol of their love and bond.

        But it took the heavy percentage of the male population of the country marching off to war to popularize the double ring ceremony. The percentage of double-ring ceremonies approached 70-80% by the end of the first year or so of our involvement after Pearl Harbor! Men then had that little bit of home, and a keepsake from their wives to wear on their way to far off places, frequently for very long periods of time.

        So, it’s more likely to find men’s vintage wedding bands available from that era than before it. And in smaller sizes than men currently wear, because people in general were smaller then. Same with women’s rings, for the same reason. A size 7 or 8 is more rare than 5’s and 6’s. I’ve seen more 4’s than I thought I would too. The percentage of double-ring ceremonies reached 70-80% by the end of the first year or so of our involvement after Pearl Harbor! Men then had that little bit of home, and a keepsake from their wives to wear on their way to far off places, for frequently very long periods of time.

        The Baby Boom of the Post-War years obviously was accompanied by a continuation of the 40’s marriage boom, and the jewelry business became many times more lucrative than ever before! Definitive new designs came about in the middle to late 60’s, along with the cultural and design revolutions that accompanied them.

        Diamonds are frequently considered “frivolous” things, and I’ve heard some wonder how the production of diamond wedding ring sets and engagement rings could have continued being produced during a time of such utilitarian needs. It’s true also that many jewelers and watchmakers were needed and used for work of fine electronics production during the war. Their finely honed skills at working with such small delicate components was very important in producing the beginnings of what would become an entire new industry in the post war world, and was so important in winning the war to begin with. Jewelers and watchmakers who were not suited to war work for whatever reason ~ age, physical infirmity, and so on ~ kept the jewelry industry going, and old watches repaired since new ones were not being made during the war.

        Back to diamonds, though. Jewel quality diamonds are an extremely small percentage of those mined from the big seams and pits of South Africa. The largest percentage, while not usable for jewelry, are quite valuable in their own way in machinery. Saw blades, drill bits, other drilling, cutting, boring and smoothing equipment, use industrial quality diamonds on their edges, blades and drill tips. In huge quantities. Since these were so important to the War industries, diamond mining continued, and still produced the same small percentage of gem quality stones. The use of small carat weights was very popular, since the invention of the “new” round brilliant cut, replacing the older styles, like the European cut. The newest cut made the stones more expensive, since it takes more rough to produce a finished stone than the older cuts. So, smaller stones, in the newest cut, set in finely designed mountings of white gold to reflect light around and through, making the largest stone in center look larger than it is, called an “illusion” mount, then became highly popular. Your Keepsake ad posted here shows precisely what I mean. This style of setting diamonds continued on as a popular style through the 1960’s, and can still be purchased new today!

        • WOW, Shari, you’ve got yourself a blog post there. Have you thought about guest blogging? You certainly know a lot about rings! Thanks for all the wonderful information!

  2. Some good advice here. My partner and I are planning to get married… some time. Setting a date was stressing me out! But in the next two years for sure. We don’t want an entirely vintage themed wedding but I do want a vintage or vintage style gown. I’m fairly short and curvy so I suspect I’ll get a dress made.

    I tried to click on the link to see your dress but I was told it can’t be found! : (

    • Thanks, and thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I’ll check the links. Thanks for a heads-ups Let me know if you have any questions when you get closer to your wedding date, maybe I can help. I really knocked it out without a lot of money.


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