1. When Abby Kingston got engaged to her fiancé, Jason Curtis, last September, she didn’t have to look far to find a wedding dress.
2. For the past 70 or so years, there’s been a tradition among the women of her family to wed in her great-great-grandmother Mary Lowry Warren’s dress from her 1895 wedding.
“When I was younger, while I was playing piano at my parents’ house, there was a framed picture of the first six brides wearing the dress, so I would think, ‘Someday,’” Kingston told BuzzFeed Life.
Once she got engaged, she told her mother Leslie she wanted to try to track it down. Leslie also wore the gown, so she was all for the idea.
3. The tradition actually took 50 years to start because Lowry’s own daughters had no interest in wearing the dress.
(Above, the second bride, Jane Woodruff, wears the dress for her Feb. 20, 1946, wedding to John Kearns.)
Lowry’s daughter got married in the ’20s and wanted a flapper-style dress, Kingston said. It was Lowry’s granddaughter who first re-wore the OG gown. There was a lull for parts of the ’50s and ’60s, but the custom got rolling again by the time Kingston’s mother got married.
4. Over the years, the two-piece dress had largely remained the same.
(The above photo is from Virginia Woodruff’s Oct. 13, 1948, wedding to Douglas MacConnell.)
Kingston estimates that 90–95% of the dress she will wear to her Oct. 17 wedding is original.
5. The biggest change is the shortening of the original cathedral-length train.
(Sarah Seiler wears the wedding dress here, in a photo from her June 15, 1960, wedding to Douglas Ogden.)
“Everyone kept cutting away and cutting away at it, especially in the ’80s,” Kingston said. “Now it’s in style in that it’s tea length, but it was never meant for that.”
6. The original dress was made to fit Lowry’s 18-inch (!) waist, so some alterations have been made to the bodice, as well.
(This photo is from Laird MacConnell’s Oct. 16, 1976, wedding to Timothy Hensler.)
Kingston, who is 5’10”, joked to her mom that she’d wear it as a crop top when she first tried it on. Instead, the seamstress added a satin panel to accommodate her 21st-century-size waist and shoulders.
7. The vintage style made all the brides look like models for classic portraits.
(Here, Leslie Kingston — Abby’s mother — wears it to her Aug. 6, 1977, wedding to Richard T. Kingston Jr.)
8. The other big change over the years has been the addition of lace to certain areas.
(This photo is from Janet Kearns’ wedding to Mark Daigle on Oct. 30, 1982.)
Kingston said that brides put lace on the sleeves and skirt to cover damage instead of getting it tailored.
9. You can really see the added lace at the bottom of the train here.
(This photo is from Virginia Kearns’ wedding to Charles Stinnett on Aug. 26, 1989.)
10. When her mother finally tracked down the dress at her great-aunt’s house in Vermont, they found a disintegrating garment that showed a half-century’s worth of alterations.
(This is Jane Ogden, wearing the dress at her June 2, 1986, wedding to James Houston.)
The dress was brown when Kingston and her mother received it. Not only had it been stashed away for 24 years, but it had only been cleaned once in its existence.
11. Kingston first saw the dress in person at her aunt Ann Ogden’s wedding in 1991.
Five-year-old Kingston called it the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen.
12. When she acquired it, Kingston and her mother agreed that they wanted to restore the dress to how it was.
(This is the dress before alterations.)
A friend of Kingston’s mother told her about Deborah LoPresti in Easton, Pennsylvania, who had experience working with vintage dresses, “but never one worn by 10 other brides,” Kingston said.
In all, it took LoPresti 200 hours to restore the dress from brown to a champagne color, rework the sleeves, fit it to Kingston’s body, and work around the wiring in the skirt. LoPresti traveled to New York City’s Garment District to find the exact type of silk charmeuse to use for the new sleeves, and took three days to sew 80 pleats into them to match it to the original design.
13. After five dress fittings over nearly six months, Kingston described stepping into the finished gown as “very surreal.”
(This is the dress after alterations!)
“At the same time, I felt like Cinderella,” she told BuzzFeed Life after her final fitting this week. “The sleeves were in rags, and I had my fairy godmother make it back into this beautiful dress. I never imagined that I would ever put that dress on, and I feel like it fits perfectly.”
14. At her wedding next month, her mother will be the only other former dress-wearer in attendance, but there will be plenty of meaningful family moments.
Her wedding date honors her late grandfather, and she plans to wear a locket her grandfather gave her grandmother on their 50th wedding anniversary, as well as her great-grandmother’s ring. They will also, of course, display photos of all of the former brides in the dress.
As for future plans? “We’re definitely going to do a cedar chest so that it’s preserved,” Kingston said. “We would love it to be in a museum or FIT, but one of my mom’s cousin’s daughters has interest, so there’s already starting to be some buzz around who will wear it next.”