How To Glam Up Your Heirloom Gown

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Brides can spend months looking for their dream wedding dress, but have you considered that it may be in your mother’s house? Heirloom wedding dresses are a popular trend, and we look at how you can glam up your granny’s gown for your own wedding.

Your vintage dress is possibly decades old, and unless it was professionally cleaned and properly stored, it can be damaged. First prize, of course, is that it’s in pristine condition, but wearing the exact same dress that your mother or grandmother wore can make you look outdated. The easiest way to modernise it is by making a few changes.

This will work if you like the cut and fit of the gown, and your alterations won’t compromise the integrity of the dress. You don’t want to alter it beyond recognition, but you do want to get rid of those bits that make you look frumpy. This is also the best option if you the dress is intended to be passed onto other family members, or possibly future generations.

Whatever alterations you make, ensure that you use a good seamstress. Not only is the material hard to work with (it could be decades old!) but the dress has a special meaning to you and the original wearer. A good seamstress is worth every cent.


One of the simplest ways to glam up your heirloom gown is by incorporating details like a strategically placed sash, ribbon or belt, or you can add a touch of glamour by using beading or rhinestones.


Vintage wedding dresses will usually have a high neckline, update it by converting it to a scoop, sweetheart or V-neck. Depending on the original dress, changing this will simply and quickly transform the overall look.

There’s little denying that sleeves are a hugely popular trend, but we’re talking dainty, lace ones, not bulbous, polyester ones. Short sleeves can be lengthened, long ones can be shortened, and those that remind you of a bad 80s outfit can be removed to create a strapless dress.


Plus size wedding dresses can be made smaller, but it’s a tougher challenge to make a small outfit larger. One option is to take out the zipper and create a corset back with ties. Pretty, feminine, and practical.


Older dresses tend to have more fabric, so streamline your look by narrowing a wide skirt.


Changing the length of your dress is a quick way to revitalise it, but this does depend on the structure of the original. You may not be able to convert a floor-length into a knee-length dress, so work with your seamstress to see what’s viable.


Over time, a white dress will age and turn a vintage yellow, and you can keep this patina, or send it to a company that will professionally clean it and restore it to its former glory. The shade of your dress is completely up to you, and that means anything on the colour spectrum, from alabaster to zaffre (blue, in case you were wondering!).

You love the idea of wearing your vintage dress, and usually- if you’re really honest - there are only certain parts of it that you want to keep. Stop right there. Before your take scissors to the frock, you need to speak to the owner, and make sure she’s okay with you deconstructing her old dress. If you get a yes, then keep the best elements, the ones that work for you, and incorporate those into a new dress. It’s likely to be an emotional decision, so broach the topic tactfully and carefully.

You may adore the bodice, but know the skirt just doesn’t flatter you, so take it apart and attach it to a different skirt. This can work vice versa, or for other elements of the dress that you really like, and want to use. Just keep in mind that it takes time and money to alter a wedding dress, and this is compounded by working with vintage fabrics.

With all the intentions in the world, it’s possible that your gran’s dress is too damaged, and you can’t wear it, but this doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate parts of it on your wedding day. Sections that don’t have holes, or where the fabric isn’t discoloured, can be used creatively. Here are a few ideas:
- Bridal veil
- Garters
- Wrapping for the stem of your bouquet
- Pocket squares
- Pillow for the rings
- Decorate your shoes
- Use the buttons for vintage earrings
- Cover your wedding album

Vintage-inspired gowns are beautiful, but they can look similar, while an authentic dress is going to be a one-of-a-kind. You’re incredibly fortunate if your heirloom dress is still wearable and, on top of that, if it actually fits you, but there are other benefits too. It’s a welcome answer to a tight budget, it’s a green choice, and it takes the stress out of finding a wedding outfit.

But by far the biggest reason to wear her dress is that it has a history. There’s something quite magical about wearing a gown that’s been worn before, and it’s made even more special if the original owner- be it your mother, grandmother, or even great- grandmother- are still married. This wedding dress becomes your “something borrowed” and there’s nothing wrong with also borrowing the secrets to a long and successful marriage.