What it Meant to Wear My Mother’s Wedding Dress
It’s so much more than a wedding dress.
Those were the words I managed to muster through tears streaming down my face the first time I tried on my wedding gown. I was being taped for TLC’s hit show, Something Borrowed, Something New and surrounded by my mother and two girlfriends.
While the premise of the reality show seemed cool, I had a few reservations. First: I was asked to be a part of the first season so I had no reference point. Secondly, I’m a pretty private person and, last but certainly not least, we all know reality television isn’t always the best look for Black women. It was my now husband who finally convinced me to do it. And I’m so glad he did!
My mother’s wedding gown wasn’t a gown at all. It was a suit (very Jackie O-esque), purchased at the now defunct department store Ohrbach’s back in 1967. She was a low-level clerical employee and my now deceased dad was a blue collar worker at the time.
Like so many southern Blacks in the 1960s, they migrated “up north” for a better way of life. After meeting through a mutual friend and eventually falling in love, my parents exchanged vows in the modest living room of their pastor, who married them. There was no sparkling engagement ring and only four other people present.
Because my mother believes in getting the most for her money, she wore her wedding suit several times to special occasions after the wedding, such as my older brother’s christening. And, although she says she never dreamt her future daughter would someday say “I do” in the ensemble, she kept the brocade two-piece suit in the back of her closet, carefully bundled in plastic for more than four decades.
When it had to be pulled out for the TLC crew to shoot and update, it was yellow. The color indicated that it was indeed vintage, but it had no holes and every zipper and button was intact.
I was concerned about the dress being transformed into something that could meet my style expectations, yet it exceeded my expectations. The Something Borrowed, Something New design team did a phenomenal job transforming the outdated suit into a modern strapless gown and even got the dress back to its original eggshell hue. I was more than pleased. As a magazine editor turned bridal blogger, I had opportunities to wear new gowns from high-end designers, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I was raised in a humble apartment of a working-class neighborhood. My parents encouraged my brother and me to dream beyond our surroundings, to ask questions and to hold our heads up high. We ate meals together at the kitchen table where our parents would share what life was like for them growing up and even (gasp!) displayed affection for each other. Their marriage, which lasted until death parted them, was my first example of romantic love and the hard work, tenacity, communication and hefty dose of humor it takes to make a union last. Despite what material things I didn’t have, I always knew I was loved.
For the record: My husband and I have no desire to mimic the marriage of my parents – thank goodness I outgrew that! We’re different people in a different time. We have to figure out what works (and doesn’t) for ourselves. But what a blessing it is to have their legacy to inspire and remind us that it is okay to fall down, help each other up, get angry, support one another and yes, laugh together. Every lesson my mother has taught me, every sage Southern saying and funny old story shared – they’re all woven into the fabric of that dress. Most brides set a budget for their gown, but I know the dress I jumped the broom in is invaluable – just like my mother’s love.
About Bridgette Bartlett-Royall
Bridgette Bartlett-Royall is founder and editor of BlackBridalBliss.com, an online wedding planning resource launched in 2010. The Fashion Institute of Technology graduate is the former Research Chief at Essence.com and has contributed to publications including Delta Sky, Essence, People and Real Simple. During her career she’s interviewed over a hundred brides and several celebrity couples including LeBron and Savannah James. Since launching BlackBridalBliss.com, Bartlett-Royall has provided bridal expertise to several media outlets such as AOL Black Voices, The Atlanta Post, BlackEnterprise.com, Huffington Post Weddings and Uptown. She wed in the fall of 2013 and enjoys traveling, beating her husband in Scrabble and watching HGTV House Hunters marathons.