Reclaimed Vintage Wedding Dress

From mother to daughter: A fresh, contemporary take on a classic gown, infused with sentiment

Custom couture bridal client: Patti

Retaining the magic of playing childhood dress-up while infusing Patti’s vintage + modern style were key to transforming her mother’s wedding gown into the dress of Patti’s dreams. The fun new silhouette was cut to showcase Patti’s best features, while preserving the sweet, delicate feel of the original. Re-purposed lace and pleated chiffon were revamped into an elegant, playful, and easy-to-wear dress perfect for a beautiful outdoor wedding.

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“Just like many little girls, I began dreaming of my perfect wedding dress very early on–I have memories of sneaking into the guestroom closet, pulling out my mother’s wedding dress, and trying it on. I always thought that her dress was so beautiful!

Flash forward 25 years, and the real search for the perfect wedding dress was finally a reality. I made appointments at a few dress shops, but nothing that I tried on made me feel as special as I had felt as a little girl standing in my mom’s dress. I knew the only answer was to ask Nicole if she could use my mom’s wedding gown as the inspiration and foundation for my dream wedding dress!”

- Patti, Custom Bridal Client

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Design Considerations

The first step in transforming her mother's gown into Patti's dream wedding dress was to assess what she loved about it, what she could live without, and what fit adjustments and design considerations we could make to best suit her. She loved the re-embroidered lace, the sweetness of the collar, and the covered buttons up the back. But we decided to forego the long train and sleeves, and revise the fit and style lines of the bodice. During our first fitting we pinned the bodice and collar to fit Patti, and marked where our new cap sleeve length, neckline, and style lines would fall. Then came the disassembly of the gown.

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Taking Apart the Gown

All markings and pinnings were replaced with hand basting, carefully stitched only through the appropriate layers to allow for completely taking apart. The disassembly began by undoing all the original hand-tacking and machine seams that were attaching the lace through to the lining, bodice to the skirt, and skirt to the zipper. The sleeves were removed from the bodice and taken apart, in order to re-use their lace, mesh, and buttons.

Sculpting the Bodice

To replace the original bodice lining, we opted for a silk crepe, exposing the matte side of the fabric behind the lace, and the smooth, shiny side against the skin. We created a new pattern piece with our fit revisions, extending the bodice length from empire to natural waist, reshaping the front neckline, and dropping the armhole and back for sexier styling, and to show off more of the lace.

A mesh underlining was used as backing for the lace that was directly over the skin (rather than over the lining). Since we had decided to expose more of the lace, the original mesh would no longer extend far enough. We carefully clipped away the original mesh underlining, making sure not to cut any threads securing the beading on the front neckline. We then cut a new underlining pattern using mesh from the sleeves.

Re-embroidered lace is usually not seamed in visible areas like the front bodice, but rather hand-pieced to accommodate the curves of the bust. Therefore we would need to make the fit adjustments to the lace layer of the bodice while directly on the client. We hand-assembled the lace to the mesh and lining for the fitting. 

The new style lines and fit of the bodice lining were perfect, so I was able to proceed with strategically cutting, overlapping, and piecing new lace to sculpt the bodice, pinning and hand-tacking everything meticulously in place on Patti while she patiently observed.  

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From Chapel Train to Asymmetrical Hemline

We established from the beginning that the traditional skirt of the gown was too fussy and overwhelming for Patti, but needed to assess the length, hemline shape, and fullness of the sweep in conjunction with the bodice to ensure the right proportion and balance. After first taking apart the dress, we removed one layer of pleated chiffon, and then cropped the skirt to floor-length to get our first visual. 

In the fitting we played around with length, deciding on a tea-length with a soft asymmetrical hemline continually grading around to finish slightly longer in the back. Patti also preferred to take out some of the skirt fullness for a cleaner, more flattering silhouette.

Translating the intention of an asymmetrical hemline to a pre-pleated skirt was no walk in the park, however! The lining layers were easier to accomplish, so once we had a clear hem for those, they served as a guideline from which the chiffon would extend a specific amount below. 

The inversion of the pleats, variations in grain from cross to bias along the edge, as well as the differences in undulation of the gathers based on where they fall on the body, all had to be taken into account to obtain a smooth, even hem line (not to mention considering what the fabric does when in movement). The work must be done on a dress form to take into account the force of gravity on all of these factors, marking with pins and hand-stitches and trimming around the base, iterating as many times as needed until the line is just right. 

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Sleeves and Waistband

We deconstructed the long sleeves, and created new cap sleeves out of the lace, contouring the shape on Patti during the fitting.

For the waist, we used a similar technique as the original dress of applying lace over the seam connecting the bodice and skirt to provide a soft transition. Because we had lengthened the bodice and had gaps in coverage through that area, we filled in with extra lace from the long sleeves.  

All raw lace edges (there were many: along the lace waistband top and bottom, and the sleeve edges) were hand-bound to secure the re-embroidered piping on the lace, and clean finish the trimmed netting.

 

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Final Touches

Several buttons down the center back bodice were discolored so we replaced them with ones from the sleeves that were in better condition. Often buttons in a line were sewn with one continuous thread, meaning you must be careful not to cause a domino effect when removing buttons, making sure that each individual one is secured. To cleanly cover the back zipper at the waistband, we extend the lace as an overlap, using invisible snaps and a hook and bar, gently reinforced to prevent tearing the lace.

In a couture piece, the inside of the garment must be as cleanly finished as the outside, so the seams in the skirt were all French-seamed (sewn inside out, clipped, and then sewn right-side out to hide the seam allowance), which proved trickier than expected with a pleated chiffon! The bodice lining, line, and mesh were all turned back and hand-sewn into place.

Finally, we sewed in the Nicole Lenzen designer label as well as the original designer label from her mother's dress. 

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Birdcage Veil & Headpiece

For Patti's headpiece, she wanted something simple and vintage-feeling that would go with the dress. We draped a minimal birdcage out of netting, and created a separate clip that could be worn alone without the birdcage for after the ceremony, using lace, pearls, and beads salvaged from her mother's veil. 

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Before & After

Patti's mom, Jennifer, spotted her Evan Piccone gown in Modern Bride catalog. She drove an hour from where she was living in North Carolina to purchase the made-in-America gown off the rack. Patti flew to New York for her custom fittings. See below for photos from Jennifer & Steve's wedding in 1980, and Patti & Luke's wedding in 2013, and how each bride makes her version of the dress her own. We shall see if the dress has yet another transformation in store!

“Nicole’s attention to detail was impeccable.  She was able to create a new custom dress for me while saving the charm and vintage feel of the original gown.  I still get emotional thinking back to the way I felt walking down the aisle in my heirloom wedding dress.  Although I was only a bride for a day, the memories and the way I felt in my dress will last a lifetime, and that is truly the greatest gift!  Thanks again, Nicole!”

- Patti, Custom Bridal Client

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