Getting to walk down the aisle wearing a family heirloom was incredibly special.
In 2018, I was married to my love in the same dress that my grandmother first wore in 1948. Seventy years, thirteen children, and a myriad of grandchildren later, along comes little Ellie getting to follow in the legacy of a blessed woman.
My grandmother’s wedding dress had lain stored away in her house for many years. My Aunt Toni, the oldest of the daughters and the second of the thirteen Michnovicz’s, ended up with the dress after my grandmother (affectionately known as Mema to her twenty two grandkids) moved out of the family home to a smaller place.
From there, she gave the dress to one of her daughters, Mary of Mary Dougherty Photography, thinking she could perhaps use it in a styled photoshoot. (Shameless plug for my amazing photographer cousin! In endless awe and always inspired by you.)
Then one day, Mary contacted me and my sisters and asked for our address. I was curious, but I didn’t find out why until I opened the box. My cousin had been going through some things in her house, and decided to send us the dress. Most of us were single at the time, maybe she thought we could use it?
I still remember that day the box arrived, excitedly crowding around the box with Clara and lifting up the delicate lace with wonder. “This was Mema’s wedding dress?!?!”
It was time to play dress up, of course, I’m still a little girl at heart.
Friends, the dress fit me nearly perfectly. I just needed heels and to suck it in a little.
I found out from newspaper clippings that the dress was handmade with Chantilly lace and satin. Over the years, the lace had yellowed and the beading had discolored. The dress was still in pretty good shape for being nearly 70 years old.
Well, I thought, maybe someday when I get married I can wear this.
Fast forward to 2017, when I fell in love with a Jersey boy. Our relationship was long distance, and we were pretty serious and had started talking about marriage. So get this—before a ring was on my finger—I started looking into vintage or antique wedding dress restoration, and took the dress to Heritage Garment Preservation in Tyler, Texas. From what I had researched, the restoration process can be lengthy…
In the months leading up to my wedding, Chanda and her team did exceptional work restoring my grandmother’s wedding dress.
When I got the call that the dress was ready, made the drive out to Tyler, and first laid eyes on the dress… I was completely amazed. The yellowish lace was creamy white, the stains were gone, and the discoloration in the beading had disappeared. The seamstresses even replaced the dozens of buttons down the back (yes, I wore a dress with alllll those buttons) with new ones that matched.
(Here’s a fun fact I learned: vintage garments were often made with metal buttons. If they had put the dress through the restoration washing process WITH the buttons, it would have likely rusted and stained the dress further. The best restoration process in this case was to replace the originals with matching buttons. I couldn’t tell the difference once they were replaced.)
One of my aunts told me that several of Mema’s girlfriends wore the dress after her, too!
Here’s a little about my family:
Mary Lou Michnovicz married my grandfather, John James “Mike” Michnovicz, on November 13, 1948 after they met in Los Alamos, New Mexico during World War II. My grandfather was an Army photographer documenting the Manhattan Project. He continued his career as one of the founding members of Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union, among many other accomplishments. They had thirteen children, twenty-two grandchildren, and my latest count is twenty great grandchildren?
I miss them and will always hold their memory with love.
Some photos of these special people, and some photos of my own wedding:
My wedding planner Sara helped me scour eBay to find a cake topper that was similar to Mema’s. It was so special to recreate the cake-cutting photo.