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Thrifted and Thrifty Bridal Couture
Unique, budget-friendly style with a custom or altered dress
by Vanessa Salvia
Eugenean Nancy Hines is both a seamstress and a Lane County Master Recycler, and you can be sure that her philosophy of reuse extends to wedding dresses. Hines has been sewing since the age of 8, and in the past couple of years since she began her alterations business (www.hineshandiwork.com), she has created stunning wedding dresses for brides who desired something other than off-the-rack white silk poufiness.
|Sara Weintraub in a custom dress by Debrah Demirza|
Hines recently worked with a bride, Holly Stanley, who had her mother’s too-small wedding dress from the ’60s (pictured at right). “I had a vague idea of what I wanted,” says Stanley, “but kind of left it up to Nancy.” The delicate 40-year-old organza fabric became a pencil skirt for Stanley and the top of a dress for her 6-month-old daughter, Ruby. Hines completed the ensembles using separate burgundy velvet fabric: a jacket for Stanley and skirt for Ruby’s dress, a perfect color scheme for the day-after-Christmas 2009 wedding. “We’re not very traditional, but we did think about ‘something old, something new,’ and that was a nice way to honor that tradition,” Stanley says.
Hines was able to give new life to the dress for two more generations of women in Stanley’s family, plus recall the past in a special way. “My mom said that during the wedding she started thinking about her grandmother, who had purchased the dress for her,” says Stanley. “So that was a nostalgic moment for her.”
Mitra Chester, co-owner of Eugene resale stores Deluxe and Kitsch, first experimented with wedding dress redesign for her own 1999 wedding. She took the bottom of a 1950s vintage Sax Fifth Avenue dress, spliced it with the bodice of a Jessica McClintock evening gown and constructed sleeves from the pieces she removed.
While Chester prefers the “more outrageous, zany redesign projects,” her mother, Debrah DeMirza, is Deluxe’s custom wedding gown guru. For brides-to-be considering a custom dress or a redesign, Chester says it’s helpful to look at pictures or inspiration pieces to be able to communicate what you like, but if you have no idea, come in anyway. “It’s a collaborative effort,” she says. “We can arrange a consultation and figure out which one of us is best for the job.” Generally speaking, a custom wedding dress can cost $400 to $700 plus fabric, but a redesign would be much less. Both options are more affordable than buying a new dress for hundreds or thousands of dollars, followed by spending even more on alterations to achieve the perfect fit.
Hines recalls a client of hers who paid $12.50 for a bridal store’s display model dress. Hines then hemmed the dress and created a bustle and train. “There are wedding dresses galore in all the thrift stores throughout the area,” Hines says. “And they probably start out at $50 on up, but it’s a significant savings from buying brand new.”
Claudia Cooper, one of five designers at Redoux Parlour, has both created a custom wedding dress and altered them a time or two. Redoux has a monthly Super Stitches party, where people can bring in sewing projects, anything from broken zippers to pants that need to be hemmed. “We would definitely be available to help” if someone had questions about their wedding dress plans, she says.
Up-cycling a thrift store dress or bargain buy not only spares your budget, but gives you a dress like no other in the world. “If you’re willing to put money into something,” Cooper says, “having a dress made especially for you is a great idea. It will be fitted just for you and you’re going to get exactly what you want.” You may even end up with a dress so great you’ll want to wear it more than once!
Is That Dress A Good Candidate For Redesign?
You’re shopping and see what looks like the perfect dress … if only it was slightly different. Is it a wise buy? Nancy Hines offers her expert advice.
• Never buy anything that’s too small. Most dresses are made with a serged seam and there’s no excess to let the seam out.
• Duplicating beadwork or sequins is difficult, so make sure all of the embellishments are intact before you buy.
• Matching colors is tough, so think it through if you buy something strapless and want a jacket or something else made to closely match it. Using a complementary fabric in a different color is usually no problem.
• With old dresses, there are sometimes discolorations due to age that can become noticeable when moving fabric around for a redesign.
• Think about your body shape compared to what the dress model might look like. How much cleavage do you really want to show on your wedding day?
• If the beading or pattern of the fabric is repetitive, taking 3 or 4 inches off may totally change the visual flow of the dress.
• Have a good idea of what you like and what looks good on you before you start shopping.