"It meant everything to me. It meant the world,” says Kathleen Durant of her decision to wear her mother’s circa 1969 wedding gown. “Honestly, it was a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I want to wear it? I never even gave it a second thought about looking for another vintage prom dresses.”
Durant isn’t alone. More brides are opting to don dresses that their mothers or grandmothers wore, rather than purchasing new. “I think people are really starting to realize the value of meaningful things and relationships,” says Aimee Lauren, owner of Aimee Lauren Atelier in Richmond. “I hope that the trend is to be more thoughtful, and by being more thoughtful, things matter more and you have things that mean more to you.”
Durant chose Lauren to redesign her mother’s dress after learning about her through a friend. Lauren turned the 1969 gown that Durant compares to Princess Diana’s wedding dress into a more modern version, while keeping elements intact. Lace was saved from parts of the train and from the collar. An important aspect of her mother’s ensemble was the long sequence of buttons that went down the back. Lauren made sure to keep those on the redesigned dress.
Mary Durant's wedding in 1969 (Photo courtesy Mary Durant)Lauren has been restoring and redesigning dresses for nearly 15 years. She says that she has always been a creative with a love of art. Her mother, Aisayisha Silbursch, owned an antique shop in Marin County, California, and passed on her appreciation for older, well-made items to her daughter.
Lauren earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Fashion. She landed in New York City after college, where she worked as a clothing designer and fashion stylist, along with several odd jobs. She honed her redesign skills after her sewing services were requested by a few local drag queens.
That led to her bridal work. A couple of photographers she was working with at the time became engaged and told Lauren they were having trouble finding something they really liked. They requested Lauren’s services and at first she was hesitant, nervous about whether she could make something they would be pleased with. “I was very scared, but it all just kind of happened very organically,” she says.
To Restore or Not to Restore?
Durant was lucky. Her mother’s dress hadn’t been properly preserved, but it was still in good enough condition that it could be restored. Not all dresses fare as well. Lauren says they should be stored in a dark, climate-controlled environment — no sweltering attics or musty basements. Sometimes, preservation treatments weren't done well, and chemicals weren’t completely rinsed out. “There’s all sorts of things that can change the half-life over time: fibers break down, silk is a protein, wool is delicious to moths … there are so many things that can go wrong, but there are tons of things that can go right, too,” Lauren says. She notes that sometimes she’s pleasantly surprised when a gown has been stored in less than desirable conditions, but remains in fairly decent shape. “The dress can have wine on it and it can have tears and the beads can be coming off, but if it was protected to the degree that I can work with it … you’re good to go,” Lauren says.
Lauren has worked with gowns where the material literally fell apart in her hands. Sometimes, nothing can be saved, as the vintage evening dresses is too far gone. In other cases, she can use elements such as lace, beads and buttons, and transfer them to a new gown. She often creates veils using the organza and lace from heirloom gowns.
“I would say about 80 percent of the time, the heirloom itself is more often than not the major contributor to the redesign,” Lauren says. “It is not as often that the heirloom itself is what the bride wears.”