Friday, July 31, 2015

Saying Yes to Mom's/Grandma's Heirloom Dress

I promised a Part 2 to yesterday's post, so here it is.

When my dear departed mother-in-law was a college undergrad double-majoring in English and French, she was voted Rose Queen by her classmates at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY.  She was a beautiful, talented, and vivacious coed who held other titles as well, but this one was very important--because she had to purchase a bridal-style dress to wear as St. Rose royalty, and that same dress would become her wedding dress not too many years later.

The dress Mom chose is utterly magnificent.  It is made of champagne-colored satin, with a layer of soft tulle over it to soften the sheen.  It is actually very simple and unfussy, except for the illusion bodice bordered with cutwork, intricate beading, and tiny seed pearl embellishments.  The epic train on this gown is cathedral-length.

For her role as Rose Queen in the early 50's, Mom wore a crown with her glorious satin stunner, and she carried a bouquet of white roses.

For her role as bride, when she married my father-in-law in 1956, she wore a veil and carried a bouquet of calla lilies.

Mom had the foresight to have her Rose Queen/wedding dress professionally cleaned and preserved, and it was stored carefully wrapped up in blue tissue paper in a large box, under a bed in one of the upstairs bedrooms at my husband's childhood home.  When the oldest of his sisters got married in 1983, the box was opened and she wore it.  And then the three younger Pearl sisters also wore their mother's dress when they were married in 1993, 1994, and 2005.  All four Pearl daughters not only exchanged their vows in Mom's heirloom dress; they danced the night away in it at their receptions as well.  By the time the last two sisters used it, it was starting to show a little wear.  Ripped tulle and lost buttons had to be replaced, and some of the beading had to be redone.  At this point, the dress was already more than 50 years old--technically an antique.  But after each wedding, my husband's oldest sister has taken on the responsibility of making sure that it is professionally cleaned again and properly stored, ensuring that it would endure for decades to come.

The next generation of Pearl girls first used Mom's dress when one of her granddaughters (a daughter of the oldest Pearl sister) was married in it in 2010.  However, it was determined that in order to preserve the aging gown for any of Mom's other granddaughters who might also want to wear it in the future, the bride would change after the ceremony (and subsequent photo shoot) into a second bridal gown of her own choosing for the reception.  Although the satin on Mom's old beauty has held up very well, the seams are a bit fragile and a night of dancing would be a little rough on it.

A little over a week ago, Mom's dress--now more than 60 years old--was used again, by another daughter of my husband's older sister.  What amazes me about this dress fashioned way back in the 1950's is that not only it is so classically styled and tailored that it never looks tired or out-of-date, but so many different Pearls--with different coloring, heights, and body types--have worn it, and each one has looked stunningly beautiful in it.  It is a dress in which a bride truly does glow and shine.  A dress fit for a princess (or a Rose Queen).

Before my niece's recent wedding, I was tasked with closing up a pair of inch-or-so-long rips that had formed on the armhole seams of Mom's dress, one on each side, due to the disintegration of the old thread.  I did them by hand, worried that if I dragged the heavy dress over to my sewing machine and tried to maneuver it that way, I might damage it somehow.  So I hand-stitched very carefully, and when I was done, I ever-so-gently pulled on one of the newly-sewn seams to make sure it would hold...and rrriiiippp!  Ohhhhhh noooooo!  The repair job I'd just finished was fine; but suddenly there was a brand new six-inch gaping hole, where the seam had broken apart from just above the armpit down the side of the dress.
At that point, I began to shake.  This dress was more than a mere dress; it was a piece of Pearl history--a piece of Mom.  "Mom, help me out here!" I whispered desperately.  She always liked to sew--it's something we had in common--and talking to her really did make me feel confident that with her heavenly help, I wouldn't end up destroying that precious dress.  Well, thanks be to God (and to Mom, too!), I was able to repair the seam, using my machine this time to ensure that it would hold strong throughout the ceremony.
So!  Crisis averted!  But I think perhaps it's time to take Mom's dress to a professional seamstress (who wouldn't be me!) to have all the fragile seams reinforced.
Okay then, let's have some fun.  Do you have an heirloom wedding dress in your family?  Did you wear your Mom's or your grandmother's bridal gown when you got married?  I love these sorts of stories, so do share if you have one!


  1. My goodness, your mom is just glowing in those pictures. So is your niece!

    The Starving Inspired

    1. Iris, this is actually my mother-in-law, but she truly was like a second mom to me. She's been gone for six years now, and I miss her every day. She was beautiful, inside and out. (As is my niece!) <3

  2. That is a stunning dress, and so classic in style!

  3. Beautiful dress ~ lovely tradition!

    My mother made her dress ~ a simple but lovely dress with short sleeves and an empire waist for her wedding in '72. Years later she hemmed it to be tea length and my sisters and I wore it for our Confirmation.

    1. I love this idea! I've heard of wedding dresses being made into baptismal gowns, but this is the first time I've heard of one being used as a Confirmation dress. How special!

      Also, I love that your mom made her own wedding dress. Back in the day, there was a lot more of that sort of thing going on. My mom made my prom dress in the 70's---and about four other girls at my junior prom wore hand-sewn dresses as well. I'll bet very few young ladies wear homemade prom dresses these days, much less wedding gowns.

  4. What a beautiful, beautiful story!!
    Actually I wouldn't be surprised if a woman's magazine or the like would find it interesting.