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Old is new, recycled is key in this season's bridal wear
By Cheree Franco
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- It seems “something old” is really something new in bridal wear trends.
“This year’s wedding season is all about vintage and upcycled dresses,” said Phyllis Bell Miller, associate professor of human sciences at Mississippi State University.
Wearing vintage or remaking a preowned dress can be an affordable and earth-friendly option, but it comes with particular challenges.
“With a vintage dress, you really have to be concerned about quality,” Miller said. “The fabric or the thread could be rotting away, and stains that have set for decades won’t always lift. You need an expert to examine the garment before you commit. Consult a dry cleaner or a costume curator at your local university. If possible, find out the history of the garment. How was it stored? Could moths and beetles get to it? No matter what and particularly if you’re internet shopping, make sure you can return the dress if it doesn’t work.”
Miller suggested considering synthetic fabrics when buying vintage.
“Polyesters and nylons are strong, but silk, cotton and rayon weaken with age,” Miller said. “A good test is to tug at the lining near a seam. If the fabric rips or appears to be separating, you know that it’s not very strong.”
But the way that the fabric handles stitching should also be considered, according to Amelia Williams of Starkville, who began sewing as a first grader in 4-H and occasionally remakes secondhand wedding dresses.
“Polyester, silk and rayon hold holes from previous sewings, so you have to consider whether you can cover or cut off those holes,” she said.
Miller said, “No matter what is added or cut away, the finished product must look professional. There are so many shades of white, cream and black. When you match material, compare the dress to the new material under daylight; artificial light usually cannot pick up the nuances in color.”
According to Miller, dress from the 1940s and 1950s will be popular with brides this season.
“Dresses from the 40s are cut closer to the body for more of a slinky, movie siren look. Clothes were pared down in the war years because of rations and because of practicality. Many women worked in factories, so they were too busy for fussy clothes,” she said. “But there began to be amazing detail in things such as collars and pockets. In 1947, as the men returned home and the women became homemakers, what became known as ‘the new look’ was introduced—bouffant skirts and a more feminine figure.”
Just as fashion reveals something about the social attitudes of its era, a wedding dress reveals something about the bride’s personal attitudes.
“You can tell if the bride is romantic or practical based the dress she chooses,” said Miller.
As for upcycling--or making a new garment from recycled bits of old garments--Miller and Williams agree that the options are infinite.
“You can start with a corset--vintage or new--a slip, or a simple shift,” said Miller. “Add a skirt and sleeves, replace the straps with ribbon or lace, add beads, tucks, appliqués, sashes…have a lot of fun with it.”
For her upcycled bridal pieces, Williams buys used wedding dresses at thrift stores or asks friends to donate old dresses. She cuts the dresses apart and remakes them as totally unique pieces. Eventually she hopes to have enough upcycled dresses to start a business.
“I look for specific lace or other useful bits,” she said. “I particularly like large dresses because they give me more material to work with. A dress may end up four sizes smaller.”
Williams grew up watching her seamstress mother make wedding gowns. “One day I thought, if you can’t afford to start from scratch, why not pay $30 for an old wedding dress and make it yourself?”
Miller emphasized that every outfit should have a focal point.
“Stand in front of the mirror, close your eyes, open them and see where they go first. If that’s not where you want your focal point to be, redesign a bit. And don’t forget that repetition is an element of good design. If you introduce a second color, it needs to appear at least twice.”
According to Miller, the trend of wearing a wedding dress more than once is also making a comeback.
“In the 1800s, women wore their wedding dresses for every fancy occasion for at least a year,” she said. “So if you’re doing all of this beautiful work on a gown, I would encourage you to keep wearing it. Maybe add a little pink or green accent somewhere, so that it looks less like a wedding dress, but don’t let a gorgeous piece hang in a closet.”
Contact: Dr. Phyllis Miller (662) 325-8783