It’s pretty commonplace nowadays for brides to opt for a vintage wedding dress over a brand new gown. There’s something just a little bit magical about stepping into a piece of clothing that has a whole other history of its own. Not to mention it’s usually a hell of a lot cheaper. But would you ever consider recycling your grandmother’s wedding dress for your own day? Let’s face it, fashion’s completely changed since our grandparents were young. Plus – is it just me, or have you noticed how freakin’ tiny women’s waists seemed to be back in those days?!
All things considered, choosing to make part of your wedding day less about what you want and more about honouring a treasured family member, be it your grandma or your mum, could end up meaning so much more than any new dress.
The relationships we have with the women in our family are unlike any other we experience in our lives. These strong women were our very first idols, teaching us about life and love, and doing anything they could to protect us, physically and emotionally, as we made our way from children to adults. Wearing something to signify how much you love and care about your family’s matriarch, on one of the most important days of your life, will make you feel a hundred times more incredible than any brand new, super sparkly designer dress ever could.
Here, seven women tell us why they chose to wear their grandmother's or mother’s wedding dress on their big day and what it meant to them…
"Originally, I didn’t want to wear white because of the patriarchal connotations of that colour with a woman’s virginity. I’m queer and my partner is trans; we’re feminists, punks and artists, so we really didn’t want to adhere to the many problematic aspects of wedding traditions. I was going crazy trying to find the right dress – pink, gold, glittery… I was searching vintage stores, online, everywhere… I couldn’t find anything and I was really starting to lose heart.
We were at my nonna’s house one night and she suggested I try her dress from when she got married in Sicily in 1960. She looked lovely, but the dress was old-fashioned and a little frumpy – but it was the perfect 1950s silhouette. She explained that while she was working in a factory, her cousins had chipped in their own savings and commissioned a local Sicilian seamstress to make the gown. So although it was cream, I just knew that with its history, it was the one for me.
I felt so excited to wear her dress the day of. I felt so glamorous and, of course, so grateful and proud. I loved the vintage cut – the scalloped neckline with tiny hand-sewn beads, the delicate lace, the long voluminous skirt. I mostly loved the tiny red spots on the skirt. It was so easy to imagine my grandparents celebrating with their families in Sicily on their own wedding day.
Nonna was so excited and proud that I wanted to wear her dress and that I loved it so much. She bragged to all her friends and our family still living in Italy, chatting on the phone about how her first granddaughter was going to wear her dress. As soon as she saw me walk down the aisle, she bawled, grabbed me, and hugged and kissed me. It's one of my happiest, most emotional memories.
I felt so lucky to wear my nonna's dress. Especially because I’d never even seen it as a child and had no real knowledge of what it looked like in detail, or that she still had it and what condition it was in. The fact that the opportunity to wear it was presented to me months into our wedding planning was totally random, but ended up being the best surprise. I thought of my nonna and her struggles as an immigrant from post-WW2 poverty. I thought of her cousins, also struggling but banding together to make this dress a reality, to make sure my nonna had something special for her wedding day. I felt so beautiful, but also strong like the amazing Sicilian women who came before me."
"My grandmother has three children; my dad and two daughters. I remember when I was 15 years old and we were going through some of her belongings, and the dress was just sitting there in a pillowcase. I tried it on for fun and she told me she had held onto it in case one day, one of her daughters wanted to wear it. Neither of my aunts ever married.
When my husband and I got engaged, I thought it might be really special for my grandmother if she finally got to see someone she loved wearing the dress.
I had to change the bodice because it was way too small. It also had a hideous (sorry Grandma!) collar that I removed. Other than a few other additions of lace, I kept most of the original details and style. I never wanted a traditional dress, but there was so much meaning attached to this one that it just made sense to wear it.
My grandfather was very sick in hospital at the time of my wedding and wasn’t able to be there, so to have something like my grandmother’s wedding dress as a centre point of my day was so special. I felt like I was honouring the strong and loving relationship that my grandparents had and hoped it would bring me the same luck."
"I spent over a year trying on designer dresses and nothing felt quite right. It wasn’t until I got chatting to a local seamstress about reworking my grandmother’s dress that everything started to feel right. The bust of the dress was removed and rebuilt entirely, as well as the underlining of the gown from a worn ivory colour to a more modern blush/champagne colour. The internal part was altered quite a bit, but the outer layer of the dress was kept almost identical to the original.
I had no idea the immense significance of this dress and how much it imprinted my heart until my grandmother saw it for the first time! You never completely recover from losing your high school sweetheart, so she was so proud to see me carrying on that legacy with my own sweetheart. My family was overwhelmed with emotions because of the legacy my (now widowed) grandmother and my grandfather created... which all began in this gown!"
"My grandmother sadly passed away before my wedding. We were very close and spent a lot of time together when I was a child, so it was important to me to incorporate her into the day, so that it felt like she was there. Wearing her dress seemed like the perfect way to do that.
I took it to be altered, but when I tried it on, it fit like a glove. It was exactly the same as when my nana wore it, plus it was my something 'old' and 'borrowed'. It really felt like my nana was there. Wearing her dress made me feel so close to her… it was lovely.
The day was very emotional. I think it felt, for all of us, like a fitting tribute and a really special way to remember her. It meant the world to me, it really did. Not only did the dress have huge sentimental significance, it was also absolutely beautiful and I felt wonderful wearing it."
"Initially I was planning to purchase a vintage 1950s wedding dress, but one day my mum asked if I’d like to see hers, and that changed everything. The bodice was my favourite part of the dress – it was lacy, with an interesting high neckline and had buttons going down the back, so I knew I wanted to keep it. I asked a designer to remove the long sleeves, and to shorten the skirt. My mum originally had a long skirt and train, and I preferred something shorter so I could show off my shoes. I felt most comfortable in short sleeves and something knee-length (nothing to trip over!), so I got to wear a dress that had elements I specifically wanted while also wearing something sentimental. It felt really special to say, 'It was my mum's!' every time someone complimented my dress.
I’m an American living in the UK and I got married here. As a result, most of the planning took place here, which meant my mum wasn’t as involved in the process as we both would have liked. Wearing her dress was a nice way to include her in the process – I think it was very special for both of us, and I’m so glad she asked me if I’d like to see it. It was a special way to bond during the wedding-planning process."
"We were having our legal vows at Kendal registry offices the day before our 'big day' and I knew I wanted to wear something special. I already had my dress for the following day, but I needed to find something for me to officially get married in. I asked my mum if it would be okay to wear her wedding dress to the registry office and she laughed (not the reaction I was expecting but okay!). I went on to tell her that I’d like to cut it up – luckily, she wasn’t too attached and was happy to see what we could come up with.
We pinned the dress in place – it didn’t need much taking in, but we cut the whole bottom of the dress off to turn it to knee-length. We then took the beautiful bell sleeves off, which was a shame, but as it was going to be July we thought (hoped!) it would be too warm. The last step was to remove the high neckline and replace the old zip.
Wearing my mum’s wedding dress on my special day had to be one of the best parts about it. I felt so honoured to be able to wear it, knowing that she had her special day in this dress too – I honestly didn’t want to take it off!
On the morning, my mum also gave me a small clutch bag she’d had made from the material from my late grandmother’s wedding dress – silk sent over to her from a relative fighting abroad in the war. This was also one of my most memorable moments.
I think my mum was a little emotional to see me marry in her dress – she kept wondering how she’d ever fitted into it. I can only hope that one day I can do something this special with my dress, and it will be worn again."
"I’d visited a few wedding dress shops and was struggling to find anything I liked. My mother’s wedding dress was handmade, with a really original design – I’d never quite seen anything like it, so deciding to wear it was actually a really easy decision.
The skirt of the dress was perfect the way it was, so it was really just the bodice that needed updating. We used material from other parts of the dress – the ribbons of lace were used to create little straps and the bodice was recreated using material from the train.
I’m big on sentiment. Among other things, I have a lot of my great-grandmother’s crochet blankets, beautifully knitted baby clothes, fob chains from my great-grandfather – they're all precious to me, just like the gown. I loved the dress that it was, and the dress it became. It now holds two memories… maybe one day it will hold a third."