The Sentiment Behind Wearing Your Mother-In-Law's Wedding Dress

The Sentiment Behind Wearing Your Mother-In-Law's Wedding Dress
Table Of Content

The Sentiment and Symbolism Behind Wearing Your Mother-In-Law's Wedding Dress

For many brides, choosing a wedding dress is one of the most exciting parts of planning a wedding. While some know exactly what they envision walking down the aisle in, others find inspiration from family heirlooms passed down - including a mother-in-law's wedding dress.

Honoring Family and Tradition

Wearing your mother-in-law's wedding dress is a symbolic gesture and meaningful way to participate in a long-standing tradition. It creates a special familial bond and lets you quite literally fill the shoes of the matriarchs who have come before you.

It also is a touching way to honor your mother-in-law. Your wedding day is a time when families come together, so by wearing such a sentimental family heirloom, you are showing your respect and appreciation for your husband's mother.

The Gift of a Pre-Loved Wedding Dress

If your mother-in-law offers you her wedding dress, consider it a high compliment and expression of her excitement to welcome you into the family. While not all brides have this privilege, being gifted such a personal and cherished item is a real treat.

Often, women keep their wedding dresses for decades after they wear it; holding onto the nostalgia and memories it carries. So, when a mother-in-law offers up her wedding dress, it shows how much she values you as the new woman at her son’s side.

Alterations and Upgrades for the Modern Bride

The tradition of wearing “something old” is one of the most iconic wedding traditions. However, just because the dress is old, doesn’t mean you can’t still make it your own.

Most wedding dresses (especially those 20+ years old) will need some alterations to make it suit your body type and personal style. Simple changes like taking in the sides, removing sleeves, or adding a bustle can give a second life to your mother-in-law’s dress.

You may also want to modernize an aging dress by adding beading, lace appliques, or other embellishments. Affixing personal touches can help make the heirloom dress feel like your own for your special day.

The Evolution of Wedding Dresses Through the Decades

Your mother-in-law likely got married anywhere between the 1950s and early 2000s. Looking at the evolution of wedding dresses over recent decades shows just how much bridal fashion has changed.

Iconic 1950s Wedding Dresses

The 1950s were a booming time for elaborate weddings and impractical dresses. Big skirts, long trains, and lots of lace were trademarks of this era. Iconic 1950s dresses were usually floor-length, with long pointed sleeves, high necks, and cinched waists.

Bohemian 1960s Wedding Style

Contrasting with the previous era, 1960s bohemian brides aimed for fuss-free dresses. Flowing A-line shapes, loose sleeves, and empire waists were flattering and comfortable alternatives to stiff dresses. Lace overlay, beaded trim, and floral embellishments added hippie inspired touches.

Disco Drama in the 1970s

The 1970s hosted a wide array of bridal looks, leaning into trendy disco style. Both floaty chiffon maxi dresses and structured princess cut gowns with high collars were popular. Distinctive design features like bell sleeves, beading, bright colors, and appliques amped up the drama.

Romanticism Reigns in the 1980s

Big, puffy sleeves defined 1980s wedding aesthetics. Bows, ruffles, floofy skirts, and off-the-shoulder necklines added playful, princess-like touches. The sweetheart cut also emerged during this time as the most sought-after style.

Minimalism in the 1990s and Early 2000s

By the 1990s, simplicity was in. Clean lines, sleek fabrics, and minimal accents let brides’ natural beauty shine. Slip dresses, bias-cut gowns, and form-fitting silhouettes replaced the extravagance of previous decades. These finer styles have persisted into modern weddings today.

Preserving Your Mother-In-Law’s Legacy For Future Brides

The tradition of passing down wedding dresses is time-honored one. When worn again, these heirlooms create an unbroken circle symbolizing comfort, protection and eternity. If you wear your mother-in-law’s dress, you’ll also pass down this legacy to future generations.

Proper Storage for Off-Season Preservation

To maintain a wedding dress for decades, proper preservation is key. After your own wedding, have the dress professionally cleaned before storing. Then wrap it in archival tissue paper and pack in an acid-free box to prevent yellowing.

Ideally, store the box in a cool, dark place with low humidity. Avoid attics or basements with extreme temperature and moisture fluctuations. If done right, an heirloom dress can outlive us all.

Repurposing Pieces into Heirlooms

If wearing the full gown doesn’t appeal to you or future daughters-in-law, consider repurposing it instead. The skirt fabric could make a christening gown. The lace bodice may become a bonnet or decorative pillow. Flowers could adorn a ring bearer’s pillow or get preserved in resin jewelry.

With some creativity, elements of that old dress can bless babies yet to be born and newlyweds for generations. Even small textile scraps hold memories and make touching future keepsakes.

Donating to Preservation Charities

Of course, not all families have daughters or daughters-in-law to pass heirlooms onto. Occasionally, no one is interested in preserving grandma’s iconic wedding dress.

Rather than letting such pieces get lost to time, consider donating them to charities like Brides Across America or Brides for a Cause. Here, dresses get cleaned and donated to military brides, first responders, and others in need.

This pays the tradition forward, helping those who otherwise couldn’t afford wedding finery. What better way to honor your mother-in-law’s legacy?


Why would a bride want to wear her mother-in-law's wedding dress?

There are several meaningful reasons, including: honoring family tradition, showing appreciation for your mother-in-law, incorporating “something old” into your wedding, and sometimes saving money if gowns are gifted or loaned rather than purchased new.

What kinds of alterations are typically needed when re-wearing an heirloom dress?

Common updates include taking in or letting out the sides and bust to fit your measurements, hemming the skirt to an appropriate floor-length, removing outdated sleeves, and adding a bustle option. More dramatic changes like removing necklines, applique additions, dyeing, and more extensive reconstructions are also options.

How can you preserve a wedding dress for future brides?

Best practices for preservation include having the dress professionally cleaned, then wrapping it in acid-free archival tissue paper before packing it into an acid-free box. Store this box somewhere climate controlled, dark, and with low humidity like a back closet. Some also pay for vacuum-sealed storage containers or specialized wedding gown storage units.

What are some creative ways to repurpose heirloom wedding gowns?

If future generations don’t want to re-wear an outdated style, elements of grandmother’s dress can be refashioned into new family keepsakes. The lace may trim a ring pillow or bonnet, the fabric can become a christening gown, and floral appliques could decorate picture frames and jewelry.

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