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Something Old, Something New: Breathing New Life into Mom’s Wedding Dress

Every bride dreams of the perfect dress on her big day, one that is personal and their own. But sometimes that perfect dress might be one that was already worn… by your mother. Upcycling mom’s wedding dress has become a popular trend, creating a dress that feels both unique and sentimental. This process takes parts of the original and alters them to fit the bride while keeping its familial feeling. 


“That’s one of my favorite things, upcycling, because it’s really cool to see a dress and then conceptualize how to make it modern, but also still make it timeless because it becomes an heirloom,” said Sheila Frank, a custom wedding dress designer and maker who runs her studio SHEILA FRANK Bridal in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. 

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The Process

Frank creates custom wedding dresses and upcycles dresses for brides, a process that takes about a year’s time. To begin, she has her clients create a Pinterest board with inspiration photos of wedding dress necklines and silhouettes. Next, Frank encourages the bride to try on different dresses at other boutiques to ensure they know they like the fit that they are asking for. 


After that, she draws a couple sketches of the dress and eventually chooses the final sketch before a muslin or another fabric sample that will be similar to the actual dress fabric. She does about one to three samples, to initially see how the shape looks on the body of the bride and where it might need alterations. After marking the sample with her own notes in Sharpie, then she begins on the actual dress making. 

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For upcycled dresses, Frank tries to use as much of the fabric from the original dress as possible, to keep the sentimental value of the dress. But, she also uses new fabrics in different areas to keep with the new design and fit. For the final dress fittings, Frank said often there are multiple fittings, even sometimes 10 fittings, depending on the silhouette of the dress. 


“I try to make it as fun and easy as possible because having something upcycled or custom is a very different experience than just trying on a dress and having it taken in to fit you,” she said. “It’s very personal.”


While Frank enjoys the personal experience between her and the brides she makes dresses for, she also loves projects that are out of the ordinary and give her a challenge. 

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Diverse Options

Other than upcycling moms’ dresses into new wedding dresses, Frank sees some brides who wish to reuse their mom’s wedding dress in a multitude of ways, including transforming it into a reception dress. This way, brides are able to have their own unique dress on their wedding day while also having a piece of mom after the ceremony. 


“The one that I am working on right now is a reception dress that is [a wedding dress] from the 1940s,” she said. “This one, we are making cap sleeves and then we’re basically just shortening the dress, giving it a fuller skirt with pockets.”


Some clients were even more creative with how to pass down their own dress.  


“This one client, her dress was massive because it’s from the 80s. We took her dress and made three little girl dresses and three little boy outfits for christenings and then she gifted those to her kids,” said Frank. 


Whether you decide to upcycle mom’s dress for your wedding day or decide to change it up, any of these options can help keep your mom close when on your big day and even after. This revival of mom’s dress even gives the bride something old as well as something new. Upcycling mom’s old wedding dress allows clients to keep the dress’s feeling of comfort and “home,” while adding their own flavor to its new life.

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For more information about SHEILA FRANK Bridal, go to her site, her storefront at 50 W Main Street, Suite A Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania or check out Frank’s collection displayed in The Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia.

All Photography By: Sheila Frank

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