Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I already had a wedding dress.
My grandmother Maria Carmen Lavieri married my grandfather Frank Nathaniel Sollitto on June 26th, 1954 in the town of Winsted, Connecticut.
That year, Mimi purchased her wedding dress in New Haven, Connecticut (she still has the original bill!). Little did she know 62 years ago that her special dress would bless not only her beautiful marriage, but 4 more after that. My mother married my father wearing the dress in 1983, my Aunt Vanessa married my Uncle Bob wearing the dress in 1987, my Aunt Marissa married my Uncle Michael wearing the dress in 1992, and I married Dan wearing the dress in 2016. This dress is timeless in its regal style, and it has quite the legacy.
The Alteration Process
When Dan proposed to me on Christmas Day of 2014 at his sister’s house in Los Angeles, CA (you can read that story here if you didn’t catch it when we launched the blog), my immediate and extended family was all in Connecticut at my grandparent’s house, as they are every Christmas holiday. By the time Dan and I arrived to meet everyone and celebrate our engagement with my side of the family three days later, Mama and my Aunts had already fetched “the dress” from the attic, and had laid it out for me to try on. This was, of course, a special event for all of the female family members, because the dress is an heirloom and it had not been out of its box since 1992.
I wish I still had the picture of when I first put this dress on. Unfortunately, our puppy Pudge knocked my cell phone in the bath tub back in November of 2015 and I lost all of those pictures… 🙁 Fortunately, that means I can’t share the photo here, because although it was a very special moment, the dress looked terrible on me. The torso was several inches too short, I was much more…let’s call it ‘inflamed’ at the time, and the dress was in dire need of a deep cleaning. I still knew I was going through with wearing this dress, however, because it was a timeless classic and I wanted everyone who wore it before me to be able to see it take a walk down the aisle once more.
Mom and I both knew that we were going to turn to local designer Angelina Mata to refurbish and re-fit this dress. The process ended up taking over one year. Knowing that I was going to be sharing this on the blog after the wedding, I did my best to document the alterations process through most all of my fittings.
Phase 1: Cleaning the Dress
Once we brought the dress to Angelina, she washed it with soap and laid it out in the sun to dry. I believe she did this a few times to get the dress as close to white again as possible. This was also the most natural and gentle way to clean the original lace and tulle fabrics while not damaging the pearl detailing on the bodice. When the cleaning process was finished, the color ended up a bit off-white, and the pearls on the bodice tarnished to a faint nude/light pink color.
Angelina guessed that if we were to have bought this dress today, made by a couture designer with all of its original bead work, lace, and tulle, it would be worth many tens of thousands of dollars. It ended up costing us much less than the average price of a wedding dress today (that are often made with synthetic materials), to refurbish it and fit it perfectly to me. To Mom and me, this was a total win.
Phase 2: Torso and Sleeves
Angelina really had her work cut out for her to properly fit the torso of this dress to me. Aunt Marissa was the last bride to wear the dress. She is several inches shorter than I am and has a more petite build. Somehow, Angelina slit the seams at the hips while still preserving the materials, and had to lower the waist several inches. Since my torso is short and my legs are long, we had to lower the seam considerably, below my actual hips, to give me enough length in the torso between my chest and my waistline to create the perfect silhouette. This took a few fittings to get right…it wasn’t easy!
As we were lowering the waistline and extending the length of the bodice, we also realized that the style of the chest, shoulders, and sleeves of the dress was going to need to be redesigned to best fit my body. This was enough of a deviation from the original dress that Mom wanted to get approval from both of her sisters and Mimi for us to change it.
We explained our collective vision of a V neckline that extended up and out from the original fabric, allowing it to remain untouched, and the integrity of the dress to be preserved. The original lace sleeves on the dress were also fragile enough in their antiquity that I was afraid I would rip them if I lifted my arms. Angelina’s idea was to re-engineer the sleeves with more contemporary lace, tying in the “old meets new” theme of our wedding. She sliced off the original sleeves so that they could be preserved and unharmed. She then made new lace long sleeves and attached them to the V-neck lace extension that was sewn to the original bodice.
Phase 3: Final Sizing Adjustments, Accessories
As the wedding drew nearer, my commitment to a healthier lifestyle meant the dress needed to be taken in a few more times. All of the final touches needed to be done by the first week in January so that I could take my bridal portraits the following week. The day of my final fitting was the first day I felt butterflies. The dress was me now. It was still in need of ironing and new tulle for the veiling, but other than that we were finished.
Angelina also did an incredible job reconstructing Mim’s tiara. It was squished after 62 years in a box; neither my mother nor her sisters wore the crown because it was damaged. Angelina delicately rebuilt it with some tender love and care, and wow. It was the final Royal touch to the ensemble.
After sending these photos to Mimi from my final fitting, she wished the dress was made with a V neckline when she wore it. Refurb success!
Components to the Dress:
These are all of the pieces that made up the dress.
-Hoop skirt, tied around my waist
-Petticoat, fastened at my waist and fell over the hoop skirt
-The dress-it went over my head and had a corset built into it that Angelina made from scratch
The Finished Product:
Wearing this dress meant more than I will probably ever be able to express in words. Not only did this dress outfit the original princesses and dearest treasures to me on their special days: Mimi, Mama, and my Aunties, but in it I felt like a Queen. Never was the importance of family and legacy felt more than on our wedding day, and these are memories that I will cherish forever.
*My heartfelt gratitude is extended to Angelina Mata for her efforts, her talents, and her friendship throughout this incredible and unforgettable process.
Thanks for reading–more wedding coverage to come!