Instead of shopping around for new wedding dresses, these brides looked in their families’ closets to find their gorgeous gowns.
With some alterations here and there, these women were able to walk down the aisle in the same exquisite family heirlooms that their mothers or grandmothers once wore.
Below, 12 brides share what it meant to them to say “I do” while wearing something with such rich family history.
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Dilys Ann in 1949 and granddaughter Augusta in 2019
“The idea to wear my grandmother’s wedding dress came from my mother, who had held on to the gown for decades. My mother, who used to be a wedding photographer, has always admired the dress for its uniqueness, saying she has never seen any other like it.
“The dress did not fit at first, as my grandmother must have been tiny, and some of the fabric was stained and had holes in it. After all, Grandma wore the gown in 1949 and here I was, trying it on 70 years later for a 2019 wedding. My mother was able to find identical fabric to replace the damaged skirt. A friend of mine, who is a seamstress, cut out the back panel to better accommodate my shoulders and we decided to add lace to incorporate a hint of my personal style. I was thrilled with the result.
“From the beginning, we had decided to keep it a secret from our entire extended family in order to surprise everyone when I walked down the aisle. We also decided that my sister would wear my mother’s handmade blue satin wedding dress as my maid of honor. I don’t know how we managed to keep the secret for over a year, but my aunts’ and uncle’s reactions made it all worth it. My wedding day was by far the greatest day of my life, and being to able to honor my family and my late grandmother by wearing her dress was the cherry on top.” — Augusta Friendsmith
Vonessa in 1992 and daughter Madelyn in 2018
“My mom got her dress for $800 dollars at a high-end thrift shop in the ’90s. She always kept it in her closet, and I would stare at it and wonder if I’d get married in it someday.
“When I became engaged, I considered looking for a dress. But when I slipped into Mom’s dress one day — just to see — that was it for me. I couldn’t see myself wearing anything else at my wedding. The gown’s Victorian form, with its cathedral train and intricate antique beading, sang my heart’s song, the memories and meaningfulness only amplifying the melody.
“Little alteration was needed, as the fit was near-identical. However, there was a large champagne stain that had to be repaired. We removed the puffs from the sleeves and giant, outdated bow to make it my own and tone down the ’90s vibes.” — Madelyn Christian Peterson
Helen in 1961, daughter Donna in 1986 and granddaughter Emily in 2019
“My grandma picked the dress because she liked the lace, the neckline, and the price of $82! She was a frugal bride. After her wedding, she kept it at the top of her closet. She never in a million years thought that my mom would want to wear it. After my mom’s wedding, they packed it back up in a box and it sat until 2019.
“Growing up, our fireplace mantle was covered in pictures. Right in the middle sat a picture of my mom and dad on their wedding day, with my mom in my grandma’s dress. To me, it was the quintessential wedding dress. It was big and poufy, with lace hearts on the front, the delicate lace sleeves with the little buttons, and this beautiful off-the-shoulder neckline. As a little girl, I knew that the dress was what I wanted to wear. It looked like a bride on the top of the wedding cake!
“The dress hadn’t been preserved in 1986, so when we pulled it out, it was stiff, crunchy, holey and yellow. I was really regretting my decision. Our restorer basically had me try it on and make a decision. He didn’t want to try to restore it unless I was absolutely certain. I’m not going to lie, I really almost said no at that point. It fit almost perfectly, but my hands were going through the holes in the sleeves and we were nervous about zipping it up all the way due to how delicate it was. Once it was restored, the only alterations I made were to have the back cut to a V-shape to make it a little more modern, and to hem the dress. Our wonderful seamstress was able to rescue the lace appliques and rebuild the sleeves. When the dress was back to ivory and they put a veil on me, I started tearing up, because that was the moment that I really felt like a bride.
“When I decided to wear the dress, I knew that I wanted a picture of my mom and grandma, with each of us in the dress. I wanted to highlight that this dress had been a part of three beautiful weddings and marriages. Wearing the dress and trying it on throughout the process made me feel closer to my grandma and mom. Seeing my grandma’s face, and how she started crying when she saw me on my wedding day in the dress, was one of the highlights. She got to share her memories of her wedding day and what she was feeling with me. She enjoyed looking over the dress and remembering! Even my grandpa and dad got a little choked up, and I’d like to think that they were also remembering their wedding days and brides in that dress.
“Our little wedding dress continues on. I would love to have a daughter one day wear it! We got it preserved and are waiting again for the next bride. It may not look the same as it did in 1961, but the love and memories in it have gotten stronger.” — Emily Sutton
Betty in 1960 and granddaughter Erica in 2017
“While planning my wedding, my now-husband and I decided on my grandparents’ anniversary (December 31), and I started dress shopping. Nothing felt right about any of the dresses I tried on.
“I had previously seen my grandma’s dress, but when my grandma pulled it out on December 24, I fell in love and my then-fiancé saw me swooning over it. The dress isn’t your normal wedding dress, but it was very much my simple, elegant style. Then my mom went to work altering my grandma’s dress. My grandma was smaller than me when she got married, but amazingly there was just enough fabric in the seams for it to be let out to fit me!
“My wedding was so incredibly special to me, not only because I got to wear my grandma’s dress and got married on her anniversary, but also because both of us had small weddings (she got married in her sister’s house, and I got married in my sister’s house), my grandpa walked me to my husband, and my husband’s father married us.” — Erica Baker
Rose in 1960, daughter Susan in 1988 and granddaughter Tessa Rose in 2019
“I never was interested in planning my wedding, so I had not daydreamed much about what it would be like until I got engaged, except for one detail: I was going to wear my Mamamama’s [grandma’s] dress. I had been sure of that since I was about 6 years old. The problem was, however, I have a different body type than both my mom and my grandma ― I am much shorter and curvier ― so making the dress fit me was going to be a very difficult task.
“Luckily, I found an incredible seamstress named Shamsi Imani of Original Alterations in Dublin, Ohio. She was truly a miracle worker and was able to make the dress fit my body so beautifully. In order to do so, we took out the seams that my mom had taken in in the ’80s, took the sleeves off, added darts to the bodice and added a corset in the back to not only make the dress close, but also to better complement my natural shape.
“When I slipped it on for the first time, the wind was knocked out of me ― I had never felt more beautifully me in my life. I was stunned, and wearing that dress was truly one of my favorite things that I have ever done.
“Mamamama died in September of 2011 and my grandfather, Dot, died the following April. I miss them every day. Wearing that dress, something that both of them had touched with so much love, while marrying my husband David was overwhelming. I felt like they walked by my side the entire time I was wearing it.” — Tessa Rose Grindle-de Graaf
Jeannie in 1971 and daughter Erica in 2015
“We changed our wedding date and my dress had been delayed and was not going to arrive in time. I decided I would wear the dress I had bought for my reception instead. Then a couple weeks before the wedding, I was at my mom’s house putting together some of the last details, and we started to talk about her wedding. I mentioned how much I loved her dress and asked where it was. I wasn’t even thinking about wearing it at this point because I did not think it would fit me. We have very different body types. I went digging under the house and found her dress and it fit! So I asked my mom if it would be OK if I wore it. She said that she would be honored. It matched all of my wedding decorations perfectly for our backyard wedding.
“The dress fit perfectly except in the shoulders, where I am broader than my mom, so my seamstress took out the two stitches in the shoulders. We like to joke that the dress is somehow like the ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ dress.
“It meant everything to wear the same dress as my mom. I mean, how do you put into words getting to honor the most important woman in your life on your most important day? I know that the older I get, the more and more I will appreciate having that memory with my mom. I am so glad that my original dress did not arrive on time. Now this dress is in a shadow box inside my home with my bouquet, hair crown and a picture of both of our wedding photos. It’s my most prized possession.” — Erica Anderson
Cookie in 1947 and granddaughter Olivia in 2016
“My grandmother and I were always very close, and I was always obsessed with looking through her wedding album as a kid. I first saw her dress stowed away in a closet when I was about 15. She said she was going to just donate it. I told her, ‘Please don’t, I want to wear it someday.’ I always loved vintage fashion, so it was just natural. She was pretty surprised but kept it for me.
“After she passed, I was able to find the wedding dress in a plastic bag that sheet sets come in. The quality of the fabric, the cut and the story are something you just don’t get with new wedding dresses. My grandmother’s father was a men’s tailor and I believe the dress was made especially for her. Wearing it felt like a piece of her was with me on my special day — there is nothing that can compare to that. I know she would have been beaming.
“In terms of alterations, I was lucky with the bias-cut of the dress and being all satin, it was very forgiving. I fit into it perfectly despite being a bit shorter than my grandmother (and 10 years older than she was when she got married). I had it professionally cleaned by a cleaner who specialized in restoring vintage fabrics. The cleaners were able to get out a good number of the stains from being stored in plastic for so long, but there were still some spots. They suggested a seamstress who could do work on the dress to distract from the staining. The seamstress hand-beaded a patterned heart on the skirt portion, which worked great. They also reinforced the collar and opened up the back to make the dress more modern.” — Olivia Cohen-Prue
Sheryll in 1981 and daughter Brittany in 2018
“When starting to look for a dress, I had all these ideas of what I wanted it to be. I was telling my mom what I was looking for ― something in an antique white with long sleeves, and I wanted some three-dimensional floral elements. She immediately thought of her own dress from 1981.
“While the idea of a dress from the ’80s is generally terrifying to me, hers was classic. It was a custom-made dress she and her mother had designed together from a dressmaker in Miami. To add a 3D floral element, I actually took the lace off of the bottom of the dress, cut out the flower shapes and had them sewn onto the bodice.
“Because she was smaller than me when she got married, we did have to find the perfect tailor to add some paneling to the sides and let out the arms. But with the use of the lace we took off of the bottom and the 3D flowers, we were able to hide it perfectly. It meant a lot for me to be able to celebrate my parents’ marriage and bring it into my own. Having a remodeled version of my mom’s dress was just the perfect choice for me.” — Brittany Baker
Margaret in 1966 and granddaughter Connie in 2015
“My grandma had been cleaning her loft and came across her wedding dress just weeks before I was due to get married. I jokingly tried it on and we were shocked at how it fit so well. We decided it would be an amazing idea for me to try to have the dress altered to wear for my wedding, as it needed to be made longer. My grandma is tiny and I’m 5’11.
“Apart from the length, the dress fit amazingly. We had a replica of the skirt made and added it on to fit to my height.
“It felt so special to wear the same dress as her, and I am so thankful that I was able to. It made everybody emotional — especially my grandma. We have always been very close, so it was perfect.” — Connie Bell
Shirley in 1956 and granddaughter Christina in 2019
“I was interested in using a family dress (and avoiding dress shopping), so I planned a little get-together with my mom, future mother-in-law, future sister-in-law, maids of honor and maternal grandma to try on dresses. My mom’s and mother-in-law’s were nice but not for me — they were very ’80s. My grandma’s dress was perfect! It was just what I wanted and I twirled around a lot when I first had it on.
“The only alteration was letting out the waist a bit — since I did not want to wear a corset like she did — and replacing the hoop skirt with an underskirt. Then we steam-cleaned it and it was ready to go! I was so thrilled to wear her dress and felt it was a great way to honor their 58 years of marriage. I know she teared up at the wedding too and that she has been so excited about all the attention it got.” — Christina Moffett
Susann in 1962 and granddaughter Paige in 2019
“I had been looking for a vintage wedding dress, and my grandma found out and offered to let me try on her old dress (which my mother had also worn when she got married). I was imagining something short and simple, like what Elaine May wore in my favorite movie, ‘A New Leaf.’ But when I put on my grandma’s dress, it was immediately clear that I had to wear it — partly because she was crying but also because somehow it fit me perfectly.
“As an extremely lazy person, I was excited to not have to make any alterations, but a talented seamstress did reconstruct the torn sleeves. Even though I hadn’t always imagined I would get married in my grandma’s dress, it made so much sense when I did.” — Paige Pearl
Robbin in 1974 and daughter Christina in 2019
“My grandma made the dress for my mom’s wedding in 1974. After my grandma passed in the ’90s, I decided I wanted to wear it when I got married.
The summer before the wedding, I spent a week at my mom’s house with her doing alterations. We were the same size, so it fit pretty well — I am about two inches taller than her and planned to wear heels, so we made the overlay a little longer.
“It originally had long sleeves and a high neck. We removed those and added some lace sleeves and beads. We opened up the back and added some hanging beads as well. I went shopping with my mother-in-law and picked up a few more appliques for details. None of my grandparents are living, so it was really special to have something to make it feel like she was a part of the event.” — Christina Litke