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Heirloom Wedding Gown: 93 Years of Marriage

Jan 27th
Allison wears her grandmother's original Chantilly lace wedding gown, redesigned by Janice Martin Couture.
Allison also wore her mother's original veil, repurposed to be worn with hairpins.

Guest Post by Allison: When my grandparents got married in 1953, my grandmother wore a Chantilly lace gown with long-sleeves and a hoop skirt. Thirty years later, my mom wore the same gown on her wedding day with a few alterations (i.e., no more hoop skirt or long-sleeves!). After getting engaged, one of the first things I did was try on their dress. My grandmother and mom took one look at me in their gown and were convinced that I had to wear it. I was a bit more skeptical. Part of me wanted that Say Yes to the Dress moment in a bridal salon, but another part of me, the part that appreciates history and sentimentality, decided to give the gown a chance.

Allison poses with her mother and grandmother in their family's heirloom wedding dress.

My mom and I met with two dressmakers, and after both meetings, I left feeling uninspired.  Our third appointment was with Janice. The moment we stepped into her warmly lit studio, decorated with past and in-progress designs, I could feel the creative energy. Janice had me try on the gown, and immediately began talking us through her many ideas. Halfway through the appointment, I looked at my mom and said, “She’s the one.” It was my own Say Yes to the Dress (designer) moment!

My mom and I always looked forward to our monthly meetings with Janice.  We had over a year to my wedding, so there was plenty of time to make everything perfect.  We decided to completely strip apart my heirloom gown and use the material to create a new, more modern wedding dress.  The process began with me standing in the middle of Janice’s studio in a muslin sack.  She began pinning and cutting the fabric, and by the end of the first session, I was wearing something that actually resembled a bodice!  It felt very Project Runway, and as someone who cannot sew, I found it fascinating.  Over the year, the design of my dress changed.  It was an organic process, new decisions made at every appointment.

A detail view of the back of Allison's wedding dress.
The base of Allison's wedding dress is a new, pale peach silk organza.

The end result was fabulous.  The base of my dress is constructed out of a new, very pale peach silk organza.  The bodice is lined with my grandmother’s original Chantilly lace.  As this lace was the oldest and most fragile, Janice covered it with sheer tulle for an extra layer of protection.  The neckline is trimmed with lace that was added when my mom redesigned the gown in the eighties.  For a finishing touch, the entire bodice is sprinkled with Swarovski crystals.

The entire bodice of the gown was sprinkled with Swarovski crystals for added glitz.
For many brides, wearing a family heirloom is a dream come true!
The mix of new and vintage fabrics in Allison's final look is beautiful and modern while still retaining its sentimental qualities.

A ribbon of small daisy florettes, originally added when my mom wore the gown, joins the bodice and skirt.  The skirt consists of three alternating layers of white and peach silk organza.  The back features a deep V that opens into lace-lined pleats, showing off the unexpected color.  Janice also repurposed my mom’s veil, making the beaded cap into a chic handbag and refinishing the veil so it could be worn with hairpins.  She used scraps of the original lace to create a garter belt (complete with a blue bow that accounted for my “something blue”).  Janice also contacted a jewelry designer to create a gorgeous Swarovski crystal hairpiece and matching Swarovski crystal earrings.

Janice Martin also created a garter belt for the bride created from scraps of lace from the original dress.

As Janice always said, it is often the simplest looking pieces that require the most amount of work.  The hard work of Janice and her team is evident in my wedding gown’s exceptional fit and attention to detail.  There was something so special about wearing a reinvented family heirloom—perhaps the 93+ years of successful marriage it represents!  Working with Janice was one of the most enjoyable and unique experiences of my wedding planning process.  It isn’t every day that you have a dress designed and tailored for your body!  My mom and I are looking forward to the next special occasion that offers the excuse to employ Janice’s help in creating another stunning look.

The bride shines in her one-of-a-kind family heirloom wedding gown.
Allison and her husband pose at the end of their wonderful wedding day.

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