Who says you have to buy a brand new wedding gown? Vintage gowns have a timeless beauty, and there are tons of great reasons to consider a nod to styles of the past. Maybe you’re an old soul—you’ve got an affinity for vintage or hand-me-down, and you swear you were born in the wrong decade. Maybe you’re hoping to save on a wedding gown by borrowing from grandma’s attic. Maybe you still need your “something old."
But when your vintage gown first sees the light of day, don’t be surprised if it looks worse for the wear. That decades-old lace might be beautiful, but it’s probably yellowed and weathered from years of storage. And those puffy balloon shoulders have got to go.
"Sometimes when [the gowns] are older, we run into technical problems because there’s age with the fabric—sometimes it’s oxidized and yellow or sometimes we have issues where the fabric is actually starting to become weak or falling apart,” Darcy says.
But you shouldn’t let a little wear and tear get you down, Darcy says. She and the rest of the team at St. Croix Cleaners are certified by the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists to clean and restore garments damaged by age, water, or fire.
Mary Gould knows a thing or two about hand-me-down wedding gowns. She went to Darcy to have her grandmother’s gown restored for her daughter’s wedding. Three women had already worn the dress: Mary’s grandmother in 1907, her mother in 1948, and Mary in 1971. She then had it cleaned and sealed in a box, where it stayed until 2006, when her own daughter was planning her wedding. Despite the fact that her daughter opted for a new, modern gown, Mary still had it restored so that the blushing bride could take pictures in the heirloom before walking down the aisle. “We have four generations in pictures with that gown, and now I have a 2-year-old granddaughter, who I hope will at least get her photo in the gown,” she says. “My favorite part about the gown is the history of it. It’s just part of the family tradition, and the fact that it was so well-cared for and passed down is part of it.”
Mary Gould (far left) with her daughter and granddaughter.
But St. Croix Cleaners doesn’t just restore wedding gowns—they can also help you reimagine a vintage dress. Emily Engdahl, for example, approached Darcy to help her redesign her mother’s 1978 gown for her own wedding. While she liked the style of the dress, she wanted to remove a few elements, like the neck and sleeves. “Don’t overlook the old dresses just because they look old-fashioned,” she says. “I kept my mom part of the process, got her input, and helped her keep that ownership, which I think she appreciated.”
Emily Engdahl in her mother's reimagined dress.
Handing over something as precious as a wedding gown to a stranger might seem terrifying, but, in the right hands, it can really be worth it. Darcy has been working with fabrics since she was 6 years old, she says, making dresses for her dolls. She studied costume design at the University of Nebraska, and has since moved to wedding gowns and other sentimental garments.
Altering a person’s most treasured garment doesn’t faze Darcy. She pays careful attention to every detail and asks questions most people wouldn’t even think to. “Like a doctor, you only get to cut once,” she says. That’s a lot of pressure, but Darcy embraces it. “Every bride, every gown has its own story,” she says. “It has a back story, but the fact that it has a future is exciting to me.”