How One Bride Upcycled 8 Relatives’ Wedding Gowns for Her Own Wedding

It can be truly meaningful and lovely when a bride wears a wedding gown passed down to her from a mother or grandmother. It’s also pretty cool when she’s able to transform it into something better suited to today’s style. One bride in Corpus Christi, Texas, managed to take things one step further by incorporating the dresses of eight women in her family into her own wedding gown and accessories for her bridal party in June.

Tammy Rakowitz incorporated the dresses of eight women in her family into her own wedding gown and accessories for her bridal party. (Photo: Tiffani Jurach.)

It can be truly meaningful and lovely when a bride wears a wedding gown passed down to her from a mother or grandmother. It’s also pretty cool when she’s able to transform it into something better suited to today’s style. One bride in Corpus Christi, Texas, managed to take things one step further by incorporating the dresses of eight women in her family into her own wedding gown and accessories for her bridal party in June.

“It was so nice,” Tammy Hench Rakowitz told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times of her wedding gown mashup. “It made that day that much more sentimental for me.”

Rakowitz’s mother, Jan Hench, and aunt, Rosemary Miller, helped her sew the dress, patterned after the gown that Hench wore to her 1972 wedding.

“I’ve always liked the train that she had on her dress, and, of course the style of her dress wasn’t what I liked that much, so we had talked about using the train and making a new dress,” Rakowitz explained to Yahoo Style. “As we got talking about it and she was pulling out her dress, she had my grandmother’s dress and my great-great-grandmother’s dress. It kind of evolved from there.”

Rakowitz’s new dress used some of the lace from Hench’s gown — which Hench, a professional seamstress in the ’60s, had made herself — and she wore her mother’s train and headpiece. But that was just the beginning of this massive recycling project.

Lace from her grandmother’s 1940 gown, her mother-in-law’s 1967 gown, and her great-great-grandmother’s 1860 gown (which was black, per the custom of the era) made up Rakowitz’s garter. Lace from her godmother’s headpiece accented her bouquet.

(Photo: Crystal Williams.)

Then came the bridal party: Miller’s wedding dress and Rakowitz’s mother-in-law’s gown both happened to use identical lace, so that was ideal to use for all the bridesmaids’ shawls, which were also adorned with bows taken from the gown of another of Rakowitz’s aunts.

The littlest member of the party, the bride and groom’s 5-month-old daughter Katie, wore her great-grandmother’s 1914 baptismal gown to the wedding, which also served as her baptism. She is one of more than 30 family members to wear that particular heirloom.

(Photo: Crystal Williams.)

The Albert Lea Tribune, the newspaper from Hench’s Minnesota hometown, reported that Rakowitz’s niece was a junior bridesmaid and wore a jacket repurposed from the lace bodice of her great-grandmother’s wedding gown. The flower girls’ dresses used materials from Rakowitz’s mother, aunt, and mother-in-law as well.

“I didn’t get to see any of the finished products until a week and a half before the wedding,” she told Yahoo, explaining that her aunt and mother live in Minnesota. “It was interesting to have to do everything from afar.”

The wedding program explaining the dresses’ origins. (Photo: Courtesy Tammy Rakowitz.)

Surprisingly, no one seemed to regret seeing their dress taken apart for the project, Rakowitz said.

“Everyone seemed very willing to help and wanted to donate,” the bride told Yahoo. “My mom thought it would be harder to tear hers apart, but she said it didn’t bother her [because] it was going on to make something new. Now we can save it for my daughter, and then she can choose if she wants to use it again someday.”

It’s pretty remarkable that all of these gowns had been preserved well enough to be reused like this. Carissa Suter, who remakes old gowns at her store, the Gilded Thimble, in Bedford, Va., told Yahoo Style in 2016 that dry rot can make the material of vintage gowns impossible to work with.

“If the fabric is so old that if there’s any pressure put on the seams, the thread or the fabric rips, then it’s a no-go,” Suter said of evaluating old gowns for updating. But if the gown is carefully preserved, this kind of redesign is a beautiful way to honor the generations that came before you while still making it your own.

Rakowitz knew her process was something special, and she gave her wedding guests a booklet that described all the dresses and their reincarnations.

“We got married on June 17, which was my parents’ wedding anniversary,” she said. “We had all this history with my family involved in it, and then the day that we got married, our parents got married 45 years to that day. That was kind of special. It was sentimental to have all of that.”

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