Three Generations of Women Have Worn This Wedding Gown

Jean (1953): After an engagement of a year, we were ready for the big day—our marriage in 1953! My mother, mother-in-law, and I travelled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to shop for the dress. It did not take long to find the dress of my dreams—white Chantilly lace over satin with illusion neckline and collar trimmed in lace, long sleeved. A cap of matching lace held a fingertip length veil. The cap, collar and bodice are all trimmed with seed pearls. In the back covered buttons reach from the neckline past the waist. The skirt back includes a chapel train.

After the wedding and honeymoon, I packed the dress, cap and veil in its original box. It was carefully wrapped in royal blue tissue paper and a layer of the Sunday comics dated 1953. The comics were to fill out the box. Finally, the box was tied with a ribbon.

One year before our thirtieth anniversary, my daughter Jennifer was making plans for her wedding. She chose to wear my dress and cap. She told me she had always wanted to wear the dress when she married. Over the years the white dress and cap had turned a soft ivory shade and a new ivory veil was attached to the cap. Amazingly, all buttons and the seed pearl trims were all present. She was a beautiful bride.

Now in 2012 the dress and cap are one year shy of sixty years. It hardly seems possible the fabric and workmanship of this now vintage dress has held up over the years. My granddaughter Jessica has chosen to wear the dress and cap for her wedding! It is still a soft ivory and she, with the help of a special seamstress, has made some changes to the dress. This is a lovely creation for a lovely bride.

Once more it’s time to wrap and box the dress and cap and add one more set of the Sunday comics (now 1953, 1982, and 2012) to the box.

Jennifer (1982): On my parent’s tenth anniversary in 1963, my mom surprised my dad by putting on her wedding dress. Even though I was only four years old, I remember thinking she looked more beautiful than anyone I had ever seen. We all got to try on the cap and veil including my two-year-old brother! As I grew older and became more fascinated with weddings and marriage I kept telling my mom I wanted to wear her dress. She would say very diplomatically that would be fine, but I needed to wait and see how I felt when I actually was getting married. I never changed my mind.

I’m not sure if I was the most beautiful woman in the world, but I felt like it especially when my three-year-old stepson looked up at me at our wedding in 1982 and said, “You look like a beautiful angel!” It meant the world to me when my daughter Jessica wanted to wear the dress for her wedding in 2012. I believe she was the most beautiful of all!

Jessica (2012): It was my grandmother’s wedding dress first. Then, thirty years later (give or take a few), my mother’s. Now it is mine, but truly it is ours. The dress’ beauty speaks for itself, but the emotional ties to it were overwhelming. Wearing the dress was a symbol of their example of lifelong partnerships, a banner I proudly hope to live up to.

We had few alterations, but even the changes turned out to be a blessing. Every inch of the dress was saved and used, thanks to a careful seamstress, a handy bridesmaid, and our combined sentiment.

Trying on the dress in its new, slightly different form for my grandmother the first time made all of us gasp and tear up, in that wonderful joyous way. On the day of the wedding, when I put on the matching lace cap that both of them had also worn, I broke down. My dad, temporarily misinterpreting my tears, said, “You don’t have to wear the cap if you don’t want to sweetheart!” I laughed and let him know I wasn’t crying because I had to, but because I got to.

My mother and grandmother made it clear to me from the beginning, that they didn’t expect me to wear the dress and would gladly buy me a new one; but when I explained the reasons I wanted to, they eagerly helped me try it on just days after I got engaged.

It was about tradition, and lifelong marriages, and honoring the beauty of both my mother and my grandmother. It was about showing everyone else that what I wore on the outside was meant to represent the intimate connection I have with both of them, the respect I have for the women they were and are, and the successful marriage I hope to have with my husband. I admire both of them so fully; wearing the dress was one way of showing that.

What we wear on our wedding day can be such a struggle for so many people, and the options are so vast that it can be overwhelming to try and choose. I didn’t have to choose. My grandmother did, sixty years ago. And my mother after her. I hope they know that I felt as beautiful as they both looked.

Author’s note: When I asked my grandmother to write about the dress, she also wrote about how she met my grandpa. I thought her words on the engagement ring were wonderful. “ We went to the movie that evening. I was so excited! During the movie my eyes saw very little on the screen—my eyes were following my ring. It was a perfect diamond, chosen by a Geologist-to-be who checked it out with his hand-lens.”

Photos from Jessica’s wedding by Sarah Warmker; photos from Jean and Jennifer’s weddings by friends and family

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  • “I wasn’t crying because I had to, but because I got to.” … I had to hold back tears!

    Such an amazing post.

  • Taylor B

    This is so beautifully written, each of the voices are distinct and still so similar. It’s lovely to read about such a warm and loving family. Congratulations!

  • Amazing story. All three of you look so beautiful and happy in the dress!

    Oddly enough, I am currently working on a photo project and asked my mom to send me some family photos, including a photo of my grandmother in her wedding dress. I hadn’t looked at it since getting engaged but, turns out, her dress is VERY similar to what I want for my dress (which my mom and grandma will be making for me). It made me start to wonder if I could just wear that dress, or use it as a starting point…this post makes me want to try it on and find out!

  • I LOVE this. I have little to no history from my family, so to even get this opportunity is so awesome…especially since all three of you look STUNNING in each picture!

    • meg

      Oh Alyssa. Of course you left a comment. You are the #1 dress appreciator of all of APW. <3


        Well, pretty REAL dresses. Screw those inspiration photo shoots, gimmee the good stuff. That’s why Wordless Weddings rock…

  • Annika

    So great! I did this too! In 2010, I wore my Grandma’s dress from 1956, which my mom and aunt (her daughters) wore in 1986 and 1993. My grandma was really poor when she got married, so she and her sister went to look at wedding dresses in the store she could see what she liked and then they could try to make one from scratch at home. But then she tried this one on, and it was a clearance sample, and she fell in love and bought it, even though it was a little above her price range. It’s so pretty! I saw it when I was a flowergirl in my aunt’s wedding, and there are pictures of me trying on the hoop skirt (well, really just standing inside it, because I was only 4 years old).

    I modified it a bit, adding a purple sash, and was so careful with it, because now it’s kind of old and fragile. But when I told my grandma I had taken it to the cleaners to get repaired and preserved after the wedding, she said, “Oh, I just stuffed it in my suitcase on my honeymoon, and then threw it in the bathtub with some borax when I got home!” :-)

    • Class of 1980

      Funny about the bathtub and borax. ;)

  • Class of 1980

    It’s so nice that THREE generations could do this! I like the alterations.

    One of my friends who got married in the late eighties has a niece who got married last October. Every time she would ask her if she’d chosen her dress yet, her niece would give her a vague answer.

    Finally, a couple of days before the wedding, her niece said she was going to show her the dress. When she walked out wearing it, my friend cried. It was her dress from the eighties with the sleeves and yoke taken off, and a piece of the lace used as a headpiece. It looked amazing.

  • Nina B.

    Beautiful story, gorgeous dress.

  • What a great story. I’ve got tears in my eyes. You all look SO beautiful in the dress, and the updates for the 2012 wedding were PERFECT! Love, love, love this story.

  • Class of 1980

    I think I’m getting mad that my mom let me pester her into playing in her wedding dress when I was little. I dragged that dress through the grass and everything. I could have worn it at my wedding! It was drop dead gorgeous lace and tulle.

    • A Single Sarah (for certain values of single)

      Hey now. Dragging a dress in the grass is another fun variation on how a dress is shared among generations. Even if it is fewer generations.

  • Gah, totally tearing up over here. What a beautiful family!

  • Airplane Rachel

    I think this is absolutely beautiful! I love the old photographs, too.

    I wanted (still do) to do this with my mom and grandma’s wedding dress too but I get nervous thinking about what it takes to make some of the alterations and on a short timeline! Thank you to the three of you for sharing!

  • I love this! That dress is stunning. Who wouldn’t be excited to wear it?

  • Amazing! That whole thing about it being about tradition is why I loved our ceremony. It is the exact same ceremony our families have participated in for generations. We need those ties in our lives.

  • Corrin

    “It was about showing everyone else that what I wore on the outside was meant to represent the intimate connection I have with both of them, the respect I have for the women they were and are, and the successful marriage I hope to have with my husband. I admire both of them so fully; wearing the dress was one way of showing that.”

    This. I’m getting married in 3 weeks, and am wearing my Mother’s wedding dress for the rehearsal. I had it altered a bit but the sentiment is still there, and it’s one more way to make all of the wedding festivities that much more meaningful. I just love the idea of honoring what has brought you to this point.

  • mimi

    Love this! My mom and I were just helping my grandparents pack up to move and came across my grandma’s dress, which she wore in 1958 and my mom wore in 1979. It’s a similar style lace dress (except with a v-neck instead of the higher neck with collar). My mom just sent it to the cleaners to get it cleaned up a little. I’m not engaged yet, but had already been thinking about whether I could do something similar when I am. I definitely am inspired by this post (and by Jessica’s alterations – love the back of the dress especially)!

    • Jen

      totally with you – LOVE the back!!

  • KW

    I love this post! Beautiful dress, beautiful women, beautiful story.

    My mom made her own dress in the 1960’s with the help of her mother. She always hoped one of us could wear it if we wanted, but she was tiny when she married and the rest of us were not. :-) Perhaps a niece of mine will wear it someday.

  • Laura

    Wahhhhhhhhhhh! This post was fabulous.

  • Kay

    This is lovely! I also dreamed of wearing my grandmother’s wedding dress on my wedding day. I can remember being a little girl and my grandmother letting me try it on, and I felt like it was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that rather than being petite and slender like my grandmother, I’d turn out to be tall and curvy, so that’s a dream I won’t be able to live out. But I’m so glad you were able to!

  • Kelly

    I know this wasn’t the main point of your piece, but I love your grandmother’s words on her engagement ring. As much as the ring may matter, the story behind how it came to be can worth be so much more.

    • jes

      I am actually wearing that ring. :-) My grandma gave it to my mom who gave it to my husband to propose with. It’s a daily reminder of all the emotions packed into my marriage AND my ties to family history. I love that story.

  • AniK

    I have my great grandmother’s wedding dress from the 30s… and desperately want to wear it! But it’s ALL lace and has some tears in it. I have no idea how to get it fixed (it’s shockingly difficult to find anyone who mends/alters antique lace! I thought that was the kind of thing you could just put in google and gett 100 results!) and I’d basically given up on it until I read this post. This entire story – all three of them actually – were lovely. It makes me want to keep trying!

    • Annika

      You could try contacting a local fashion school, they may know someone who can help. That’s how I found people to work with mine.

  • Caroline

    That’s so lovely (and the dress is gorgeous). My mom once asked me if I would want to wear one of her dresses someday, but I feel like it’s more awkward in a blended family. Do I wear the dress she bought for her first wedding to my dad but was too sick to wear? It was inno way a happy marriage, and it’s not so much my style either. The dress from her marriage to my stepdad is lovely, but while I rarely have dad/stepdad loyalty conflicts, that would feel rather uncomfortable, I think, although it is a lovely dress. Probably, I’ll buy or make my own, and perhaps one of my own daughters will wear it.

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      Maybe you could wear an accessory that your mom wore? a pair of earrings, or veil, or something. The scale is different, but the sentiments would still be lovely.

  • Jashshea

    LOVELY. You ladies are each gorgeous in that dress.

  • “It was about tradition, and lifelong marriages, and honoring the beauty of both my mother and my grandmother. It was about showing everyone else that what I wore on the outside was meant to represent the intimate connection I have with both of them, the respect I have for the women they were and are…” This made me tear up and sent chills up my arms. I love everything about this piece, the words of all three women, the photos, the dress! What an amazing story.

  • April

    Annnnnd crying at desk mid-day. Note to self: read APW at home with kleenex nearby.

    Lovely post today and gorgeous dress on all three generations!

  • Whitney

    JESS!!! OMG I love you and I had no idea you wore your mother’s/grandmother’s dress. I was just reading along and thought it was so sweet until I saw your picture! You really are a beautiful woman inside and out. I’m so happy for you and Marshall!

  • Kess

    Aw man! This is great. I am in possession of my grandmother’s wedding dress and my mom’s is around somewhere (both were handmade) Honestly, even though my mom was married in the 80s and my grandma in the 40s (I believe) they’re both really, really beautiful dresses as they both had more ‘timeless’ styles, although my mom’s does have slightly poofy sleeves!

    However, I am about 9 inches taller than each of them, and considerably more hippy than my grandma, so I can’t wear either of the dresses. Sad day.

    I figure once I get married, I’ll try to add some component of both of the dresses into my own as wearing either dress just won’t work!

  • This is amazing!!! As a bride to be and Textile design student in my final year of my degree from across the pond I am loving this from both angles! I am writing my dissertation on the emotional connection women have with lace wedding dresses, and the emotional and technical significance of the fabric. I would love it if I could get in touch with you in some way to be able to use this piece in my case study?


    Emma xx

  • Gloria

    that’s so awesome!! luckily your grandmother has good taste! i’m wearing my mom’s or either of my grandmother’s dresses….but i am lucky enough to have one grandmother’s wedding band for my own (mom’s mother), and my other grandmother’s bible to carry on my wedding day (dad’s mom), she had it on hers, and my dad’s sisters carried it on both on theirs, and my sister on her wedding day.

    they can’t be there with me, but they’ll still be with me.

  • Such a beautiful dress! All of you ladies look absolutely stunning in it.

    I was lucky enough at my wedding/elopement to wear my aunt-in-law’s veil and I had a very similar sentiment to yours. It was so special to be allowed to be included in the numerous women of the family (I think I was the fourth) who had worn that very veil at our weddings. It’s a special connection and a huge honour.

  • Leslie Fauver

    How wonderful! This is such a beautiful story. And it is so cool to see how you all resemble each other through time. I love women’s connections through generations.

  • secret reader

    as a geologist myself, I LOVE the bit about the hand lens.

  • Nicole C

    I love this story, I wish I could have a similar one, but mine is nice too.

    I love my Mommay’s (nickname for dad’s mom) dress, and I think even before I got engaged I asked my dad about it. He explained to me that she didn’t own it but borrowed it off a friend because they didn’t have enough money for a dress but they wanted to get married (my Poppay wore his dress uniform from the air force). My other Grandma eloped and her wedding pictures are her in one of her nicest dresses with my grandpa and with a TV they bought together (their first big purchase)
    I don’t get the lovely dress, but the stories are even better to me. Feels more about love and marriage than about a wedding, if that makes sense.

  • Sarah

    I love this expression of continuity and tradition through the generations. While I’m not wearing an inherited dress, when I got engaged I started asking all the women in my family about their wedding dress — what they wore and how they felt about it. I ended up with some amazing stories and sharing wonderful moments with the women in my family.
    My grandmother wore a simple lavender dress (lavender because she was living with my grandfather before the wedding, and the Rabbi wouldn’t let her marry in white; simple because it was the end of WWII and there wasn’t much money to go around.) The dress was paid for by the woman who had hidden my grandmother during the holocaust. I dearly wish that they had pictures of the day — I would have happily shared with APW if that were the case!
    As a result of “the dress” conversation with my mom, she decided to bring out her preserved wedding dress for the first time since she wore it in the eighties, and my sister and I tried it on (though neither of us could do it up all the way, because my mom had a 23 inch waist on her wedding day!).
    In this journey, I discovered that most women have a story surrounding their dress; but the story isn’t about a dress at all.

    • Heather

      “The dress was paid for by the woman who had hidden my grandmother during the holocaust.”

      And… chills. What an incredible story!

  • Kara

    Thanks for this post. I am wearing my mom’s dress too, and am surprised at how much it is bringing the women of my family together to get it altered and ready. There have been a couple to times where I realized, it would be much easier to buy a dress off the rack, but I like this idea so much more. And now I’m inspired to save the dress for my daughter, or niece or cousin, whoever is the next generation to wear it.

  • jes

    I love this community. It is so exciting to have this shared with all of you. Your kind words have made me very happy, and my grandma and mom both agree that it’s awesome to see here.

    You all got me through my wedding, I’m so honored to be a small piece of this conversation.

  • mere…

    I have had the absolute blessing of knowing each of these three women for the past decade and seeing the bond they share. On Jes’s wedding day I had the special privilege of being in the room while Jennifer buttoned Jes into her/their wedding dress. In that moment, I truly believe the love, support, and hopes of each of these women transferred from the threads and fabrics into Jes’s heart and spirit. It was an absolutely amazing moment to see her take on not just the dress (which was Gorgeous!), but also the beauty of the women in her life and the strength of their marriages.

    I am so glad she got to share their story here!

  • Sandra

    I love the *idea* of wearing my mother’s dress, so she pulled it out of the back of her closet. Oddly, it fits me perfectly. The dress is adorably vintage 1969, and it has elements I like, but I don’t feel like its “the” dress. Or maybe I should rephrase, adorable is not my style. If I change those elements, then I’ve lost the dress. If I keep them, then the dress isn’t me. So I’m in a bit of a catch-22. It may end up with me forgetting the dress altogether, or maybe I’ll try to alter it to use (as one of the other posters suggested) for a reherasal or something. I have some time to decide.

  • I’m waiting for my engagement to try on my mother’s dress again. It was also worn by my grandmother and I pray it fits!

  • What a amazing heartfelt post, really gives one something to thing about…wonder if my daughter will wear her mothers dress one day.

  • MDBethann

    My maternal grandmother married in 1948 and wore a suit, so that wasn’t an option for me. I have no idea what happened to my paternal grandmother’s gown – she died 10 years ago and I’ve only seen the gown in pictures. But my mom still has her gown, and it was super important to her that I try it on after I got engaged last year. I wasn’t as interested in it as I probably should have been because it has long sleeves and the idea of altering it didn’t even cross my mind at the time. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if it fit. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried – I’m taller and broader across the shoulders and chest than my mom was 36 years ago, and we couldn’t get the dress to zip.

    But to tie in my grandmothers and my mom, we used the ring pillow and bridal bag my mom made for her wedding and I wore my late grandmother’s anniversary ring and a pair of her earrings. I was glad I had a way to tie in the long and loving marriages from my family into the start of my own marriage.

    As a homage to our parents’ and grandparents’ weddings, we obtained pictures from all 6 wedding days and displayed them on our cake table. I think it was my favorite decoration at the reception. Interestingly, both of our maternal grandmothers married in suits and our paternal grandmothers married in white gowns, all in the late 1940s.

  • Lindsey

    Love this! I’d love to wear the dress my grandmother and mother both wore on their wedding days. I’m going to try, but I’m about 4 inches taller than my mother and 6 inches taller than my grandmother. The dress was already let out (and had lace added to it) to fit my mother, and I’m wider than she was then… So I’m keeping my fingers crossed. My idea is to wear the generational dress for the ceremony, but have a reception dress as well, since I’d hate to damage the 70-year-old dress by dancing, sweating, eating, drinking, etc., in it.

  • pixie_moxie

    Wonderful Story. Thank you for sharing!
    My grandmother passed away 2 weeks before my wedding. When the family was cleaning her apartment they found one of the bridesmaid’s dresses from my Grandparents wedding. She had saved her sisters dress. It fits me like a glove and I am so honored to have it.

    My sister and I have stones in our rings that hold a similar meaning to the longevity of your beautiful dress. Our Grandparents mined the stones together and their marriage lasted 50 years.

    I look forward to one day getting to wear that special dress and get to wear my ring with all of its love.

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