Tips on How To Restore a Vintage Wedding Dress

See how TV personality Jamie Stelter restored her mother’s 1975 wedding dress then gave it an exquisite, modern update.
By: Jamie Stelter

Related To:

  1. Weddings
  2. Fabric
  3. Restoring

©Daniel Krieger

©Daniel Krieger

©Daniel Krieger

The Dress Today

Wearing my mom's wedding dress made my most-special day that much more personal and beautiful and honestly, it was so much easier than I expected to make it my own. All you need is a bit of optimism — and a few thousand dollars.

The Dress in 1975

My parents (Neil and Helen) were married on May 17, 1975 — almost 39 years ago. After I got engaged in October I came home to Philadelphia, and my mom and I dug out the box with the dress inside. When we pulled it out for examination, it was a wrinkly yellow mess with purply-brown wine stains on one of the sleeves and torso.

Before Alterations

Luckily my best friend Jess works in fashion and is intimately familiar with the proper care and cleaning of couture. She recommended I take the dress to Madame Paulette, "the only people we trust at work with our gowns." I immediately called and made an appointment. There, the woman told me that it would go through a month-long cleaning and whitening process. She couldn't promise me anything except that "it will definitely be whiter than it is now." She also told me that since the fabric is a strong one, it would most likely hold up well during the process. There was hope! Still, I was a bit nervous that it would only become ivory when I wanted white. If I hated it, I'd be out $750 and I wouldn't have much time — only three months — to find a wedding dress. (Did I mention we were planning a wedding in four months?)

Step 1: Cleaning

When I returned in December, I was ecstatic: The dress was sparkling white and the wine residue was gone. If Madame Paulette isn’t viable for you, I’d look for a cleaner that specializes in couture and/or wedding gowns. This is important so they understand the proper care for the fabric. I was lucky that my mom's dress was thick and sturdy; other delicate lace dresses don't hold up as well.

Step 2: Alterations

But our work wasn't done yet; the dress still needed to be altered. Enter Jess, once again, who recommended I take it to Lars Nord, a tailor to the stars. His work isn’t cheap -- we wound up paying him over $3,000 — but damn if it isn't the best. He told me we could do whatever I wanted to make it my own — but suggested slicing off the arms and adding tiny lace cap sleeves to make it more modern. He pulled in the bodice to make it slimmer all the way down and added a small train in the back for more drama.

Rockin' That Dress

There are tailors who will do it for less, but I didn't have the luxury of time to shop around... plus I knew Lars would do the best job. Again, make sure you are clear about your wants and expectations for the dress and that this tailor has altered wedding gowns before.

Mine turned out even better than I ever could have imagined; it transformed from 1975 beauty to 2014 perfection.

Jamie Shupak Stelter and Brian Stelter know TV: She's the traffic reporter for NY1 in New York City and he's CNN's senior media correspondent. Now the two are bringing their talent to ulive with two original series: TV Dinner with Friends and TV Weddings .