Wedding dresses passed onto the next generation

By Jennifer Scott & Alex Regan
BBC News

image copyrightKate Ridgway
image captionKate and her Nanny Chat's wedding photos more than 60 years apart

Social media was captivated by a 150-year-old wedding dress that had been lost after a dry cleaners went bust.

Tess Newall, who had worn her great-great grandmother's dress at her wedding in June, posted a plea on Facebook to help find it, which was shared more than 300,000 times.

Luckily her dress was found but what is the appeal for brides of choosing a dress once worn by a relative? Three women explained why they had ditched trawling the bridal shops for the perfect dress in favour of a borrowed gown.

'Different and special'

Kate Ridgway, from Stockport, made the decision to wear her grandmother's wedding dress in 2014.

"I remember it from when I was a child," said the 27-year-old. "I always knew nan had kept it and I tried it on for dressing up, but back then I thought it was a horrid lacy thing."

However, when she got engaged to her now-husband Stu, Joan Chatfield, known as "Nanny Chat", asked if she would like to wear it on her big day.

"I was heavily pregnant at the time, so I couldn't try it on," said Kate. "But she had always wanted me to wear it."

Then, three days after Kate's eldest son was born, her nan passed away.

When she travelled down to Sussex for the funeral, her mother handed her the box with the vintage wedding dress from 1951, and everything fell into place.

"When I tried it on, it fitted perfectly," she said. "I had it cleaned but I didn't have to do anything else to it.

"I had tried on brand new wedding dresses and I had fallen in love with one, but this felt different and so special.

"It meant so much to us as a family for me to wear it and, as you can imagine, it made for a very emotional day."

'One of a kind'

image copyrightEmily Clark
image captionEmily Clark's dress was first worn by her mother Marilyn

London-based digital designer Emily Clark also hopes to start a tradition of her own by using her mother's frock for her wedding this October.

The 33-year-old said her mother's dress, which was first worn in 1980, had played a big part in her childhood.

"I used to dress in my mum's wedding dress from the age of five or six to - if I'm truthful - until I was 15.

"It's one of a kind, it's a dress you wouldn't be able to find now and you wouldn't be able to replicate."

The dress was bought by her grandfather, who died last year. She said the dress would act as a way of commemorating him at her wedding to fiance Andrew Stewart.

image copyrightEmily Clark
image captionEmily and Andrew are due to get married in October

The dress is currently being altered, and when she heard that Mrs Newall's had gone missing at the dry cleaners she says she "did panic".

She added: "I just think it's wonderful that they've had it returned."

'Close relationship'

For Rachel Cohen, from Edinburgh, the discovery of her grandmother's dress in the loft spurred on the idea to go retro.

"I knew there were dresses up there amongst a lot of random stuff," she said.

"I even found one dress which much have been from a previous generation, but it just couldn't have been worn."

However, the one Granny Marie Waterston wore in the 1930s was in superb condition and perfect for Rachel's special day.

image copyrightDerek Christie Photography
image captionMarie Waterston in the 1930s (L) and Rachel Cohen in 2009 (R)

"I had never been the type of person to dream of a big white dress, so when I found it, packed away all neat and tidy in a box, I had the idea to wear it," she said.

"I had to cut the sleeves off as she had such tiny hands, but otherwise it was the same."

Having her grandmother's dress meant a lot to Rachel when she married in 2009.

"My mother died when I was young and I looked after my grandmother when she was old, so we had a close relationship," said Rachel.

"It was special to have her dress there, even when she couldn't be."

'Piece of history'

While those three brides opted for the personal touch with their dresses, they join growing numbers of people choosing vintage items more generally.

Louise Croft, ethical fashion blogger at - who will be wearing a 1940s gown for her wedding later this year - said going vintage had many benefits, from following fashion cycles to stopping garments ending up in landfills.

She said the growth of online sharing had also led to brides wanting to stand out even more, and going down the classic route often means the dress is one of a kind.

"It feels like giving a precious piece of history a moment in the limelight rather than it being in a museum or attic," added Louise.

"Of course, you always wonder what tales and secrets it holds and if it's from a family member then you are lucky enough to also have all these answers."

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionSome brides choose to customise a handed down dress

Kat Williams, editor of Rock 'n Roll Bride, said although dresses have been passed down for many years, a lot more people were putting their own touches to them.

"We had one woman in the magazine who wore her grandmother's dress and customised it all to make it more modern," she said. "She shortened it, added a big petticoat and made it more fitted.

"It looked great but offered that little bit of family history too.

"Even if you buy a dress from a vintage shop, it means you won't see lots of other brides wearing the same thing and a bride wants to feel unique."

Related Topics

More on this story