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Mother Knows Best

The wedding dress is one of the most important elements of any wedding day, after the husband-to-be of course, so it must be perfect. This article was first published in B Magazine, Autumn 2011. By Amy Croffey.

There are so many choices to make when choosing a wedding gown - designer, off-the-rack, custom, vintage - the list is endless. Then there’s the question of where to buy it - New York, Paris, London, Galway. But before you start making all of these decisions you might want to consider an option that is right under your nose, or maybe in a box in the attic to be more exact.

A bride-to-be might look at her mother’s dress now and think the style is out-of-date or it won’t fit, but do not dismiss the idea so quickly. Growing up, most girls loved looking at pictures of their mother’s wedding and dreaming about their own big day. Some mothers keep their gowns intact and preserve them for their daughter’s wedding day to give as a gift. If she does not suggest it, you should ask your mother for her approval before you alter her gown.

It is unlikely that your mother’s wedding dress will fit straight away, as women today have typically wider shoulders and are more athletic than they were 30 years ago. Nowadays, it is possible to radically alter or remake a new dress. The most important parts to measure are the arms, shoulders, waist and hips. If it is too small, you can borrow fabric from the gown’s train or skirt to fit. However, it does depend on the type of dress and material. For instance, if a dress is too narrow and it is made with an unusual fabric or has a side zip, you may be limited in the amount of adjustments you can make.


Some earlier vintage dresses can be quite demure and covered up. To make the gown more contemporary, you can shorten or remove the sleeves, lower the neckline, lower the back or turn it into a strapless gown. A lot of modern brides are choosing tea-length dresses, which would give you the opportunity to keep the sleeves and opt for a pair of killer heels. Examine the overall look of the dress and remove anything that you do not like, including extra ruffle, netting, lace or beading.

Add embellishments such as small white pearl beads on the upper bodice and lower part of the gown. Echoing Vera Wang’s signature trait, use a colourful ribbon or sash around the waist. If the gown is pure white, champagne, ivory and black are elegant contrasts. Do not add too many embellishments - think less is always more.

Once you have re-styled the dress, you can choose your accessories. Create a long or short veil from a gauze white fabric or alter your mother’s veil if it is still in good condition. Add a headband or a bridal headpiece to finish off the look. Also include chunky jewellery, classic pearls, or a little clutch to give it a more personal touch.

Credits clockwise from top left: Vera Wang, Pearls, Psalm117 at Etsy;; Jesse James Jake at Etsy.


Make sure to price the alterations and restoration of the dress beforehand. If the gown is stained, bring it to a wedding gown restoration specialist, not a local dry-cleaner. If the costs are too high, it might be better to buy a new gown. If wearing your mother’s dress is not possible, be open to other ways to incorporate a piece of her wedding into your special day, such as using some lace from her dress, wearing your mother’s veil, garter or wedding shoes.

Kellie Dalton from Redress, an Irish organisation dedicated to promoting better fashion practice, says: “The trend for re-working a pre-worn or vintage wedding dress is really starting to take off inIrelandand it’s truly great to see.”

Kellie advises people to look through charity shops or on eBay for second-hand wedding dresses as there are so many beautiful vintage styles around. She says people need to keep an open mind about what can be added or taken away from the dress to make it personal. Redress also runs fashion classes and courses that teach people how to sew and ultimately up-cycle a garment, instead of throwing it out.


“A great place to start is to learn basic hand-stitching and go from there. The best thing about second-hand dresses, rather than starting from scratch yourself, is that the seams will already be in place so you can add or take away as much as you want once you’re happy with the way the dress fits you,” says Kellie. “Vintage patterns can also be great for inspiration.”

“Wearing vintage for your wedding is becoming extremely popular as women are more confident in doing something different that reflects their own personality and style,” says Kathy Sherry, from Dirty Fabulous, a vintage fashion shop in Dublin specialising in wedding dresses and occasion wear from the 1930s to 1960s.

“With a vintage wedding dress you can choose from decades of fashion trends instead of just the dresses that are currently in trend,” adds Kathy. “There is a fabulous vintage gown out there for everyone. The important thing is to find which era suits your shape. Do not be afraid to try on lots of different dresses.”


“Choosing a vintage dress either from a family member or a boutique is an eco-friendly option. These dresses are an invaluable piece of history,” says Kathy. “The things we buy should never be thrown away. They should always be donated, used for something else or passed on to someone else. The environment will adore you for it!”

Every year, over 200,000 tonnes of textile waste are disposed of inIreland, only 4% of that figure is recycled, with everything else going to landfill. If the rest was recycled it would be the equivalent of taking 30,000 cars off the road. Also, the average wedding is calculated to produce 14.5 tons of CO2, which is more than the 12 tons a person emits in one whole year.

“One dress may seem like only a small part of that but it really can make a difference,” Kellie says. “Anything that we can do to lower our carbon footprint is a good thing, especially if we can do it stylishly.”

Wearing your mother’s bridal gown is very sentimental and will add significant meaning to your event. The dress will also become a treasured family heirloom that you can pass on in the future.

Photography for Dirty Fabulous by Paul Marconi and Dennigan Photography.


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