How to Wear Your Family’s Heirloom Gown

Gown designer Janice Martin fills us in on how you can wear a family heirloom for your own Big Day.

I’m seriously considering wearing my grandmother’s gown for my own wedding. It’s gorgeous, and while I love the vintage look of it, in order to wear it, I’d want to fix it up a little — make a few changes to update it, get it fitted, and repair what needs to be repaired. But what does that process entail? And how much does that sort of thing cost?

The privilege of walking down the aisle in the same gown your grandmother wore two generations before is amazing, no doubt — but to get there, it does take a little bit more than simply pulling it out of the cedar closet.

Janice Martin, owner of Janice Martin Couture in Ardmore, says that for any type of gown restoration or redesign, the process first begins with a consultation with the client. There, you’d discuss your wants and options as far as the scale of alterations and/or a redesign. (Some clients want changes that can simply be made using excess fabric — such as the train — from the original dress, while others only want to use bits and pieces from the original gown to create an entirely new piece.) Martin would also help you prioritize the changes you want to make to the dress, concerning your budget. “Sometimes, we work within a budget and do the job ‘piecemeal’ so that we can then adjust the less — or more — important design changes as we go along,” she says. And of course, “Each gown needs to be individually evaluated and an estimate offered prior to any work being started so that all involved are on the same page.”

When the appointment is finished, the client should come away with new ideas and sketches, as well as a written estimate of the time it’ll take and the cost, which can range anywhere from several hundred to several thousand depending on the extent of work being done. (Martin charges $75 for the consultation meeting.)

It takes a little more effort than selecting a gown in a bridal salon, but in Martin’s experience, it’s always worth it. “In some ways, it can be actually easier to design a gown from scratch than it is to make extensive changes,” she says, “but using a family gown is a great way to honor a relative — and be part of the process.”

— Chelsea Solitrin

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