Something old: why six brides picked a second-hand wedding dress – The Guardian

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Clothing connects us to the past, memories woven into every stitch and stain. Wedding dresses are especially precious, passed down through the generations. Their unique designs tell a story, and every puffed sleeve or dramatic drop-waist reveals the era they came from.

In an industry that leans towards overconsumption, second-hand wedding dresses can be a meaningful, personal and sustainable choice.

“As a society, we are raising our consciousness of where we get our clothes and where our clothes go when we are done with them,” says Alexis Novak, owner of Tab Vintage in Los Angeles. “A vintage bridal piece comes with wisdom – it is made with quality and has stability because it has withstood the test of time.”

Novak has seen the clamor for vintage wedding looks first hand, both as a bride herself (she bought a gown from the 1930s at a second-hand shop for $600) and as the mastermind behind Tab Vintage’s bridal collection. She stocks 1990s Vera Wang as well as one-off, handmade dresses, perusing sources like French flea markets and eBay. “People are thinking more and more about what they are going to leave to future generations,” says Novak.

Below, a collection of brides talk about how they found “the one” without buying anything new.

Maura Gaudio

Source: Grandmother

Price: $0 + $350 in rework

Designer: Original unknown, rework by Maya Gunnell

The wedding dress Maura Gaudio wore to her New York City courthouse wedding had been lost for nearly 25 years. First worn by her grandmother and then her mother, it was misplaced sometime after her mother’s ceremony – but reappeared one day in her aunt’s apartment. “It looked ghastly on me,” says Gaudio. “I took it to 10 different seamstresses and two dressmakers to see what I could do.” A few $10,000 quotes later, reworking it seemed out of the question. “I was devastated,” she says.

Then Gaudio stumbled upon the independent designer Maya Gunnell on Instagram, and asked if she would be open to reimagining the dress as one of her signature corset skirt sets. The result was a delicate, corseted mini. “I feel lucky that I got to wear my grandma’s dress,” says Gaudio. “She was always dressed to the nines.”

Ashley Herbert, neé Lynch

Source: Vintage store

Price: $3,500 + $500 in alternations

Designer: Catherine Rayner

After her sister found a 1947 Christian Dior wedding dress at the vintage bridal shop Happy Isles, Ashley Herbert fell in love with the idea of wearing her own one-of-a-kind look for her San Diego wedding. (Fun fact: their mother had bookmarked that exact Dior dress in a vintage fashion book 13 years earlier for her daughter’s faraway wedding.)

Herbert says a vintage dress “provides its own love story, even mystery”, raising questions of who it belonged to and where it has been. “Whether or not it was worn before by another bride or had an entirely different purpose, it connects you to other people or places in the world,” she says. At Happy Isles, she fell in love with a blush pink dress by Catherine Rayner, a British designer who was extremely popular in the 1990s, known for her intricate bodices and boning work (one is in the collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum).

The full-skirted dress was a few sizes too big. While the alterations were not easy, she says they were worth it.

“When I tried it on, I immediately received the reaction from my sisters and mother that every bride craves – the big shimmering eyes, open-mouthed smiles and awe that comes with ‘the one’.”

Janelle Ketcher

Source: Mother

Price: $100 (minor alterations and cleaning)

Designer: Custom-made

After her mother’s death, Janelle Ketcher wanted to find a way to include her on the big day. When Ketcher first tried on her mother’s wedding dress, she was shocked – it fit perfectly. “That was very special, to feel that connected and close with her,” she says.

The dress was custom-made for her mother’s 1978 wedding in Wisconsin. Ketcher’s grandmother had helped pick the fabric and lace-trimmed design. “The dress was a balance of both of their personalities,” says Ketcher. “My mom was rebellious and my grandma was always trying to keep up with her.”

On the day of Ketcher’s Iowa wedding, her sisters helped her get ready. “They zipped up my dress like my mom would have done,” says Ketcher, who works as a death doula. “[At some weddings] people will carve out a chair to recognize people lost. At our wedding, we leaned into celebrating the ways they are with us now.”

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Judith Guy

Source: Mother-in-law’s grandmother

Price: $0

Designer: Unknown

In 1990, Judith Guy was in art school. She had sported a spiked mullet most of her life and the idea of subscribing to all the traditional wedding norms felt rather out of character. “I felt I was a little too cool to go try on wedding dresses,” Guy says with a laugh. That, and she and her fiance were both in school with no money to blow on a lavish ceremony.

“I was very close to my mother-in-law,” says Guy. “She offered me her dress and I loved it.” The 1930s gown was long-sleeved, bias cut and satiny. The regal gown paired with a Juliet cap veil and some grocery store flowers made her Virginia nuptials an occasion to remember.

Rachael Finley Wright

Source: Mother

Price: $0

Designer: David’s Bridal

Wright found her wedding dress in a trash bag. It had been her mother’s, discovered after her death. It was definitely very 80s – it had huge ruffles and a little matching hat – but Wright held on to it for years.

When Wright got engaged, she had the dress taken in to fit her. But then, a surprise: “On my engagement trip, I got pregnant,” says Wright. “I started showing, so I let out the dress to accommodate the baby bump.” One of her foster moms helped sew her veil and she was ready to be a bride. “I didn’t dream of being pregnant at my wedding in a goofy 80s dress. I’m really happy I did it, even if it was outside of the box,” she says.

Sarah Maugaotega

Source: Mother

Price: $0

Designer: Unknown

White fabric is notoriously hard to keep white and, left to its own devices, will develop a patina over time. However, Sarah Maugaotega’s mother wasn’t all too concerned; she kept her dress in the closet without even a garment bag to protect it.

Maugaotega had spent her whole childhood trying the dress on for fun, so when the time came to choose her own wedding dress, there was no question. She didn’t even try any other dress on.

“I didn’t want to go to try on dresses and feel huge and have them not have my size in stock,” says Maugaotega. “And I love my mom’s dress – I’ve loved it for my whole life.”

Her mom insisted that she should feel no pressure to wear it but to Maugaotega, it felt both sentimental and sustainable. “I was not going to spend a million dollars on a dress,” she says. All she had to do was give it a quick dry clean and voilà – it was ready.

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