Our Redheaded Bride (a loyal customer of AlexSandra's Vintage Emporium since she was in high school) was married in March of 2014. She'd been engaged for sometime and knew she wanted to wear her Grandma Jean's dress. Megan was introduced to me by her Aunt and I had met Grandma Jean in the past. It was particularly exciting to work on a bride's family dress with the original wearer at most fittings with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.
Often, it is difficult to decide whether to wear a family gown or buy something brand new. When we met for her initial consultation. She was concerned that some family members thought she had unrealistic expectations, thinking she could fit her modern-day plus-size body into the same dress tailored for her Grandmother's 26" waist. They encouraged her to look at contemporary gowns. She found they lacked the enormous full skirt and sentiment of her Grandmother's dress. Seeing the price of modern gowns was quite a shock to her mother who had bought her own dress at a shop going out of business for $100. Even Grandma Jean only paid $150 for her gown, though in 2016 dollars that $150 has the buying power of roughly $1223, which is not an unrealistic price for a modern wedding gown.
Jean was married in 1959 in this embroidered organdy overlay gown with taffeta lining, much like the fabric used to make Mother Dear's prom dress. Jean's dress features a scalloped hem and a tremendous full sweep skirt. She originally purchased and had it altered to fit her at Lipman's here in Portland, Oregon.
Megan is such a good sport! You can't even tell how nervous she is that her wedding is less than two months away and she doesn't have a wearable dress. The first thing I do when trying to enlarge a dress is to remove the sleeves, open the side seams and let out any darts. So many wedding dresses are voluminously gathered at the waist, the trick is to get the bodice to fit and spread the skirt out to accommodate the new waist size. There were three large bows on the skirt and we removed two to potentially use elsewhere. At first I thought they would make interesting straps if we needed more room. Fortunately, our Readheaded Bride and Grandma Jean are of similar heights. The dress had rather evenly aged to a lovely candlelight and with no obvious stains we elected to forgo the steep cost of cleaning.
Side gussets were created out of the same type of embroidered organdy fabric. I cut them from a horrible 1970s dress redo of a 1950s dress that I picked up on the cheap. There is a similar scrolling branch pattern, though when the color matches nicely enough, the bride needn't worry because the under arm location is covered for the most part.
In this photo of the Father of the Bride giving her away to her groom, the gussets are visible, but do not detract from the dress. The armholes were finished with vintage bias tape stitched on by machine and then finished by hand.
I adore sentimental Megan. In an age where many brides forgo any veil at all or a fascinator/bridcage at the most, Megan found she also had Grandma Jean's veil. There was just one tiny hole in it and I suggested we press out the tulle and she wear it as is. The matching organdy bow sealed the deal for me!
We let this dress out 12" in the waist. Removing the original closure and creating a corset back was critical in achieving this. I'm fortunate that my dear friend, Britta once worked for a pageant shop where she learned many invaluable skills that would never cross my old timey vintage sewing path. As I have done in the past, we commissioned Britta to help out. Unlike the corset kits you can now purchase online, this was custom created by Britta for Megan. Individual loops sewn into a boned edge (for extra stability) laced together with a satin ribbon over a modesty panel made from the dress redo fabric. We also cut into it make our Third Generation Bride's dress fit. There's still enough left over for one or two more of these type of dresses to be altered from one poorly done, sad reconstruction. Once we decided the straps would be hand stitched to fit properly, we repurposed those bows. One resides at the bottom of the corset back, as seen above. Can you find the hole in the veil? Many small flaws aren't readily visible in the vast majority of photos.
It's very rare that the original owner of a family dress makes it to the wedding. These are the photos I delight in. Family gowns can give reason to join together and create something new out of the evidence of stories from the past. When we were finished Grandma Jean whispered to me, "You have magic in your fingers." As I reached in the pocket of my dress for a handkerchief I dabbed my dewy eyes and offered her my sincerest of thank yous.
Megan and Brad were married in Everett, Washington at the historic Monte Cristo Ballroom. Brad was stationed overseas and flew home for the wedding. The ceremony and reception were both held inside the building but some pictures were taken walking around downtown Everett near the waterfront. They celebrated their second anniversary this month.