She arrived at the shop carrying a large, battered box which she carefully placed on the countertop. Fearfully…hopefully…she opened the box and tenderly drew out a once beautiful wedding gown.
“It was my grandmother’s dress…she was married in 1951. We found this box in the attic when we were getting her house ready for the estate sale. We had no idea she still had her wedding dress. Do you think it can be repaired?”
Looking at the plain, almost homely, young woman and the badly stained gown, the shop owner asked, “What do you want to do with the dress?”
“I’d like to wear it for my own wedding one day,” was the shy, almost embarrassed response. Then, as if she couldn’t keep it a secret any longer, she proclaimed “I don’t have a boyfriend yet, but the right one will come along and when he does, I want to be ready!”
That simple exchange was the beginning of an enterprise that would engage the young woman and the shop owner for many months.
“Do you have any photographs of your grandmother’s wedding?”
“Are you about the same size as your grandmother? Oh, you’re a bit taller than she was…we’ll have to lengthen the bodice a bit.”
“Do you want to change the style of the dress in any way? The neckline, shorter sleeves or sleeveless, the train?”
“What accessories will you wear with the gown?”
The young woman responded to each question in a thoughtful and wistful manner so that the shop owner was soon able to envision the finished dress and develop a plan for its renovation. First was a thorough but careful cleaning to remove as much dirt and stain as possible, followed by an assessment to determine what fabric and embellishment needed to be repaired or replaced to stabilize the dress, and then the new fabric and trim was painstakingly tea-dyed to match the patina the dress had developed over the years. Finally, the fittings and alterations to remake the dress for its new owner began.
As work on the gown progressed, the shop owner began to notice changes in the young woman too. She smiled more, had her hair styled and colored, and started wearing more complimentary outfits, almost as if she was making herself over at the same time the dress was being restored and restyled.
Months after it began, work on the dress was finally finished, and the young woman came into the shop for a final fitting. She had prepared for the occasion with full makeup, an up-do, and the shoes and jewelry she expected to wear on her wedding day. After helping the young woman into the gown and getting her situated on the pedestal in front of the full length mirrors, the shop owner thought she detected a new air of excitement and then, as she was fixing the drape of the skirt, she spotted it—an engagement ring!
“What? You’re engaged? Have you set a date? Tell me all about it!”
It didn’t take long before the shop owner learned the full story. Shortly after bringing the damaged gown in for repair, the young woman did meet the man of her dreams. Over the months it took to restore the gown, the two of them fell in love, and, eventually, the young man proposed, presenting his own grandmother’s ring as the promise of his love for his future bride.
This post is inspired by the current “Red Writing Hood” prompt at The Red Dress Club. Though this is entirely a work of fiction, I did use as background my long ago experience working for Evelyn at Sewtique in Groton, CT. As secretary for the firm, I wasn’t directly involved in the heirloom renovation process that is so precious to Evelyn, but I did observe many brides during my tenure at Sewtique. In the right hands, it really is amazing what can be done to repair and restore an heirloom garment.