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I Found My Perfect Wedding Dress Without Really Trying

Updated on January 30, 2021
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Kimberly has a lifetime of sewing experience, including costumes, bridal, and alterations.

JC Penney wedding gown circa 1983
JC Penney wedding gown circa 1983 | Source

My Anti-Shopping Process

I began looking for my wedding dress when I became engaged in December of 1982 while on Christmas break from Purdue University. While many girls shop for wedding gowns by going from store to store and trying on dresses with an entourage of friends and relatives, I took a different approach. I hate to shop; in fact, one of the reasons I sew is so I can have exactly what I want without going to a department store or spending hours at malls. I shopped for ideas rather than dresses.

Shop the Bridal Magazines

The wedding was planned for May 19 of 1984. I had plenty of time, so I studied several different bridal magazines and made a mental list of the features I loved and loathed. I was of the generation that coveted Jessica McClintock's original Gunne Sax dresses and sat entranced as Lady Diana Spencer stepped out of a horse-drawn carriage in a romantic silk wedding dress with a twenty-five foot train. My own wedding gown was an opportunity to indulge myself with a dress fit for a heroine in a gothic romance novel. The features I wanted most were: a taffeta skirt (I love to make an entrance with that distinctive rustling sound) and a quantity of lace and ruffles I would have thought silly on any less important occasion. A long train went on the "no" list, because I did not want to deal with any tripping hazards other than my own two feet.

Shop the Pattern Catalogs

Mom and I then went to the fabric department at Sears (now I'm really showing my age--Sears once sold yard goods) to see which patterns came close to my ideal dress. After selecting a few, we checked the fabric requirements and did some math. Even with Mom's employee discount, we were looking at over $70 for fabric alone. We were also looking at a major time commitment. The logistics would be challenging, too, since Mom worked full time and I would be ninety minutes away at Purdue. Weekend visits for fitting and sewing would be hard to manage as I crammed my last two years of engineering school into one.

Enter J.C.Penney Catalog

With the summer of 1983 coming to a close, it was almost decision time for the dress. I would have no more time for shopping after school started. My J.C. Penney catalog showed up in the mailbox just before it was time to pack up for the fall semester at Purdue. I turned to the bridal pages and saw it—the dress! It was white taffeta, with Lady Di's full, elbow-length, ruffled sleeves. The neckline was high, the yoke was lace, and the bottom flounce had a lace ruffle. Best of all, this dress was under $100. I could not order this dress fast enough!

Lessons I Learned

There is no "perfect dress" for a wedding. You must prioritize the features you want and choose a dress that comes close enough to be acceptable. Once you find the dress, you decide that it is the perfect dress—and that decision makes it perfect for you.

My $90 dress was with me when I married the love of my life. Over a quarter of a century and six children later, it still hangs in my closet. Some of the lace became part of a graduation dress for my oldest daughter, and I'm sure the younger girls will have a piece of it for their graduations as well. My wedding dress is still perfect—for me and my family.

Details of My Wedding Gown Sleeves and Bodice

close-up of sleeve: 1980s sleeves were huge
close-up of sleeve: 1980s sleeves were huge | Source
close-up of bodice: lace and ruffles
close-up of bodice: lace and ruffles | Source

Recycling a Wedding Gown

After the wedding, there are many options for reusing the wedding gown. Please do not "trash the dress" as that is a wasteful, revolting trend that could only happen in a decadent, wasteful, ungrateful culture such as 21st century America.

Restyle the gown

In the past, when fabric was expensive and scarce, women took their best dresses apart and put them together in new styles as long as the fabric was still serviceable. Why not turn a wedding gown into a debutante dress or prom dress by bustling the train or removing the train? Add straps or cap sleeves to a strapless gown. Add lace or beads to a simple gown. If you feel really ambitious, take it apart completely and cut a new dress from the fabric.

Reuse the skirt fabric

Many wedding gowns have yards and yards of fabric in the skirt. This fabric may be enough to make a flower girl dress or a christening gown for a special little friend or relative.

Rescue a damaged dress

If a dress has been damaged in storage, there may still be parts of the gown that can be saved. Lace trim can be removed most efficiently by sliding a single-edged razor blade between the trim and the dress fabric. The lace might then be used to trim a ring pillow for a future wedding or to adorn a graduation dress for a daughter some day.

Use bits and pieces of fabric from an old gown to make heirloom pincushions or a wall quilt. Future generations may enjoy small items such as a keepsake bridal garter trimmed with lace from a grandmother's wedding dress.


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