How to Incorporate Family Heirlooms in Your Bridal Look

Jackie Mantey
Lizzie Cooper's veil also was worn by several of her family members.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published June 2019.

On Sept. 8, 2018, Lizzie Cooper’s veil was on its fourth wedding.

Her grandma wore it in 1957, her mother in 1980, and her cousin in 2017.

“It meant so much to me to wear the veil on my wedding day,” Cooper says. “My parents’ and grandparents’ marriages are something I have admired my whole life. To have a piece of their wedding included in mine meant the world to me.”

Giving a loved one’s wedding attire a modern refresh can take many forms. Though Cooper simply styled her veil differently (pinning it underneath her bun rather than wearing it at the hairline), other brides have altered and combined veils to make them their own.

For Amy Waugh’s Oct. 13, 2018, wedding, she wore a veil crafted by her aunt. It included the Chantilly lace from one grandmother’s dress; the pearls, beading and flowers from her mother’s dress and her mother’s veil base; and the lace and appliqué flowers from her other grandmother’s dress.

“When I first saw my veil, I got goosebumps and tears welled up in my eyes,” Waugh says. “When I finally put it on the morning of my wedding day … all of the nerves faded away, knowing that I had a piece of the most empowering women I’ve ever known with me that day and always.”

But don’t assume that you can dig up a family member’s attire and get to work on it immediately. Using a vintage piece should include some prep work before the seamstress starts to snip and sew. Margaret Butler, co-owner of Dublin Cleaners, suggests finding a pro to remove any stains or discoloration first.

A certified gown cleaner at Dublin Cleaners will consult with a bride to advise what would be best for the piece and whether it can withstand restoration. In addition to their expertise handling finicky fabrics such as satin, silk, lace and organza, professionals use methods and cleaning solutions unavailable in stores. They also have experience working with items with such irreplaceable value.

“We cleaned and preserved a veil that had made its way through 14 weddings,” Butler says. “As you can imagine, it’s a treasured family heirloom.”

Repurposing an older dress is an option, too. Renee Falter’s parents were high school sweethearts, and her mother saved her wedding gown.

“I saw my mom and dad’s eyes light up when I tried it on for the first time,” Falter says. “The gown is gorgeous, and it fit perfectly.”

To get the dress ready for her ceremony on Sept. 15, 2018, Falter had the 1980s-era sleeves removed and added crisscrossing spaghetti straps in their place, giving the gown a romantic, contemporary feel.

“My mom and dad have been married for 33 years,” she says. “To know that they started their marriage with the same dress that I [started mine with] was comforting and an honor.”

Keeping a dress in pristine condition for the next generation should start as soon as your own wedding day, says Margaret Butler, co-owner of Dublin Cleaners. She offers the following tips:

  • Take care when walking across asphalt or concrete. Parking lots may have surface dirt or spilled motor oil, and the surface can be abrasive to the delicate fabrics of the gown.
  • Don’t let black mulch, found in landscaping and around trees, brush against the gown. It can transfer a stubborn black dye to the fabric.
  • Be aware of any French tulle or layers of stretchy lace in your gown’s skirt. These fabrics are easily snagged and pick up twigs, leaves and debris.
  • Don’t use club soda to clean a spill on your gown. Blot the area with a cloth and resist using stain sticks or other remedies, to avoid setting the stain.
  • The sooner you bring in a gown after your wedding, the more likely it is that stains can be removed.
  • If you aren’t ready to preserve your gown yet, it’s best to at least bring it in for a cleaning to make future preservation easier.
  • Consider a veil preservation as well. Dublin Cleaners offers a separate veil chest if a customer wants to preserve it separately from the gown.

Tips for Gown Preservation