Would you wear an old dress to your wedding? It’s not that unusual. Once upon a time, resourceful women kept their wedding dresses for future uses. They often shared them with their sisters, daughters and extended family for weddings or special occasions.
This is the story of a dress that came out of the dark and sparkled again.
Newly engaged, Brit was intrigued when her fiancé’s Aunt Wendy asked her if she’d like to have a look at an old family wedding dress.
Wendy came around to see her with an ordinary looking plastic bag in her hand. In an instant, she transformed into the Fairy Godmother –
“The dress came out of the bag with a whoosh of silk organza! It was like discovering Cinderella’s gown in the dressing up box. ” Brit said.
She was enchanted, yes the silk organza was a little worn and tired in some places and there were age stains, but there was something about it. She tried it on. It didn’t quite fit like Cinderella’s shoe but she thought that it could be let out a bit here and there. Although Brit loved vintage she wasn’t aiming at a faithful re-creation. She decided she needed an expert. After searching for Instagram vintage wedding hashtags she found Dinah from Pearl Button bridal. Dinah was intrigued and they arranged to meet. Brit was in Orange, and Dinah’s Pearl Button studio was five hours away on the South Coast of NSW. Luckily for Brit, Orange is one of Dinah’s favourite places to visit, with its fabulous wineries, food and gardens. No encouragement needed Dinah hit the road. Brit and Dinah met in Orange’s famous Bynge St Store surrounded by busy chatter and the delicious smells of roasted coffee. There was an instant rapport between the two of them.
“Brit was petite with an enormous bubbly personality and her enthusiasm for this dress was infectious,” Dinah remembers
Brit showed Dinah the dress (still in the plastic bag). It was crushed, and stained in a few places, and some of the silk panels had shattered. Dinah could see it was a beauty. She held the dress up (by this stage they had a bit of an audience) its full skirts swished satisfyingly and the petalled bodice was charming.
“It was love at first sight and I wanted to know all about it” Dinah recalls. We talked for ages about its history and Brit’s ideas for it. Everything about the dress was captivating, including the label, Madeline Newport, and Jan Dolph-Jones who had worn it sixty years ago. Brit entrusted Dinah with the dress and mindful of the enormous responsibility she took it back to her studio in Milton.
Dinah sketched up some ideas using Brit’s Pinterest inspiration as a guide. Together they decided to re-work and up-date the dress to make it more contemporary. The original neckline was quite high and not very flattering on Brit. Dinah decided more decolletage was needed and to add a lace halter neck to the dress. A fifties style colorful tulle petticoat was added for fun and volume. Unpicking the bodice and re-modeling it was painstaking and exacting. A new silk organza was carefully matched to replace the damaged panels. A vintage blue tulle was found for the petticoat and Dinah made tiny silk bows and roses to decorate the border, trimming it with contrasting satin bias.
Brit’s fun approach to her wedding was everywhere in the details.
During the re-design process, Dinah spent a lot of time researching the original designer and couturier Madeline Newport, mostly ending up down the rabbit hole.
The day came for the final fitting there were lots of smiles all around. And then the dress finally travelled back to Orange for another special day in its history.
After the wedding Brit contacted Dinah.
“I was told many times that my dress was the best wedding dress they had ever seen and was so me. I could not have been prouder. Thank you from the bottom of my heart”
The dress has now been worn at two Alexander family weddings, survived three generations and because of its careful re-imagining will go onto become a treasured heirloom in the new family of Brit and Rhys. It took Brit’s vision and Dinah’s design and construction skills to realize potential of this old dress.
“ The beauty of working with a vintage dress is a way of continuing traditions and our links to the past and we can take a gentle approach to the environment by using the resources we already have,” Dinah says
“Working on the dress was a great honour and I’m now part of its history. Pearl Button’s label now sits side-by-side with Madeline’s. But the best part was meeting Brit, her lovely family, and her kelpie Shane.”
And next time I’m in Orange we’ll catch up!