Like Princess Beatrice, We Wore Hand-Me-Down Dresses For Our Weddings

Three women share the stories behind their gowns pre-loved by their mothers and grandmothers.

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Princess Beatrice wore an upcycled dress that belonged to her grandmother, the Queen, during her wedding to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi last weekend.

It might be an unusual wedding dress choice – after all, many brides spend hours donning gowns in shops to find The One – but we spoke to three brides who were ahead of the eco-friendly trend.

Sarah Lamsdale, 48, based in Shropshire, wore her nan’s wedding dress when she got married in 1997. Her nan, named Hilda – who died two years ago aged 101 – originally wore the dress for her wedding in 1940.

“I loved her dress from a young age and used to dress up in it saying one day I would wear it on my wedding day,” says Sarah. “We had it cleaned but it fitted as if made for me, including fitting right into my hollow back.”

Sarah and her nan in 1997.
Sarah Lamsdale
Sarah and her nan in 1997.
Hilda and Norman in 1940.
Provided by Sarah Lamsdale
Hilda and Norman in 1940.

The fabric of the dress was panelled, due to restrictions on fabric width during the war. “The embossed pattern on it shone,” Sarah recalls. “I wore a long veil to fit with the style of the dress and had a bouquet the same as hers, long and made of lilies and ivy.”

Sarah’s grandfather, Norman, made a speech at the reception and spoke of the dress and how beautiful it looked, “just like the day [Sarah’s] nan wore it 57 years previously”.

“It felt magical that day, I love vintage clothing anyway but this was special and I felt honoured to wear it and her headdress, which was made of wax stephanotis flowers,” says Sarah. “I felt elegant, regal and bursting with pride as everyone commented on it with my nan stood at my side.”

Maithili Guise Tucker, 41, based in Pirbright, Surrey, got married to her husband Hugo in 2004, while wearing an ivory and gold sari that had been in her mother’s collection for years.

Maithili’s family is Hindu, so her mother, Sulochana, wore a traditional red sari for her own wedding, but as Hugo is Christian, Maithili thought the ivory sari in her mother’s wardrobe was the perfect way to combine their two cultures.

Sadly, there are no photos of her mother wearing the sari, because the family’s possessions were largely destroyed in the Sri Lanka riots. But Sulochana got to enjoy seeing her daughter in her much-loved outfit.

Maithili and her mother, Sulochana.
Maithili Guise Tucker
Maithili and her mother, Sulochana.

The couple had a Christian wedding in the village church in Warwickshire, where Maithili grew up, followed by a Hindu blessing to nod to her Sri Lankan heritage.

“Wearing the sari was so incredibly special,” she recalls. “It was something I’d grown up looking at neatly folded and loving, but never imagined it might be what I wore to get married in!”

Maithili’s mother-in-law was even able to use some spare fabric from the sari to make a waistcoat for Hugo.

“It felt like it bonded us even more,” says Maithili, who’s an artist. “There are so many stories figuratively woven into the fabric and it felt a real privilege to be including our adventure in there.”

Maithili and her husband, Hugo.
Maithili Guise Tucker
Maithili and her husband, Hugo.

Unlike Sarah and Maithili, Amy Smedley Walker, 34, based in Bristol, hadn’t always dreamed of wearing her mother’s gown.

She bought a dress and planned to wear it for her wedding this June. But when the pandemic hit and Amy realised her wedding would need to be scaled back to five people, wearing the big frock suddenly didn’t feel right.

“I started to look for alternatives,” she says. “I happened to go home for the weekend when lockdown started to ease slightly to see my parents. My mum had been clearing out the loft and she brought out her old wedding dress. I tried it on, it fitted and I thought ‘why not?’”

Amy's mum Carole (left) and Amy with her husband David (right)
Amy Smedley Walker
Amy's mum Carole (left) and Amy with her husband David (right)

Amy’s mum, Carole, made the dress for her own wedding in 1984. She altered it for her daughter’s intimate ceremony by taking off the sleeves and turning it into a two-piece.

“I loved it on the day,” says Amy. “I’m from South Africa and so is my husband, so my gran and my aunt were watching online. They were there when the dress was worn the first time, so it felt quite special.

“It was really special for my mum as well. She definitely felt more part of the day. Fathers of the bride, traditionally, get to walk their daughters down the aisle. This way, she was represented in a way that was quite special to her.”

Amy still has the “event-style dress”, which she hopes to wear when she and her husband have a party to celebrate their marriage, once restrictions are eased further.

Of course, not everyone has the perfect dress stashed away in a loved one’s attic, but that doesn’t mean wearing a pre-loved gown isn’t an option. Searches for “vintage wedding dress” have increased by 150% in 2020, compared to this time last year, according to eBay.

If you need to look a little further afield for your dream dress, Emma Grant, head of Preloved at eBay shares some tips:

  1. Commit some time. The nature of vintage clothing is that you’ll need to have a good scroll before that one-of-a-kind gown catches your eye.

  2. Be specific with your search terms. If you’re looking for a particular cut, style or era, be specific in your search.

  3. Be flexible with sizes. The fits and cuts of vintage and pre-owned wedding dresses can differ hugely from what you’re used to seeing on the high street or in boutiques, so don’t expect your usual size to fit you perfectly.

  4. Remember the tailor is your friend. Shortening hem lines and streamlining waistlines are always a possibility, meaning you can achieve the perfect fit or put modern touches on your vintage gown.

  5. Consider its condition. Whilst a few buttons or sequins missing shouldn’t put you off investing in a great quality, pre-owned wedding dress, more significant signs of wear and tear require further thought. Don’t risk your money on items that are fraying, holed and stained as, chances are, trying to repair a gown and get a good colour match will be trickier to get away with. If the dress hasn’t been professionally cleaned by the seller, consider getting this done yourself.