A wedding dress is definitely a big part of your big day. Usually, a lot of thought goes into various characteristics about your dream dress: style, shape, silhouette, cost and comfort all included. After you’ve found the perfect dress to get hitched in, it will likely stay in a special spot for safe keeping or for reminiscing. My family had a totally different idea.
Four women in my family have worn the exact same wedding dress. Here’s a bit of background: My mom is the youngest in a family of seven siblings (only one of whom is a boy; sup Uncle Glen!), so my mom + aunts always grew up playing dress up with “The Dress,” which was the gown my grandmother was married in. The cream colored dress was a $25 (yes, wedding dresses can be affordable) princess-style gown made from slipper satin that had incredibly gorgeous and unique details: long sleeves, delicate pearl-like beads at the neckline and about 35 satin-covered loop buttons on the back of the dress that created a dreamy trail from the neck to the waist. It is, hands down, one of the most stunning dresses I’ve ever seen. Okay, I know I’m biased, but there’s just something undeniably classic about vintage wedding dresses. Here’s how four different women in my family wore it over the past 50+ years and how each of them managed to make it their own.
JEANNE HARBOR, MARRIED IN 1943
My grandmother, Jeanne Altmann, married my grandfather, Lou Harbor, in 1943 in Kent, Ohio. My grandparents were the picture of old school love and it showed in their awww-worthy wedding photos. As the first of the Harbor gals to wear the dress and the OG owner, my grandmother didn’t make any changes to the dress; it was actually a sample she bought from a store, so she wore it as is. If you ask me, though, it was absolute perfection in its unaltered form. The dress was stunning and fit her like a glove — it only got better with the white calla lilies she carried, while my grandfather’s Army uniform made them look the part of the quintessential 1940s married couple they totally were. Talk about marriage goals, y’all.
PAULA HARBOR, MARRIED IN 1981
My Aunt Paula Harbor married my Uncle Joe Aulet in 1981 in San Jose, California in my grandparents’ backyard. The dress took on a totally different vibe when Paula’s big day came though — it was the ‘80s after all, and my self-proclaimed hippie aunt and uncle were all about their motorcycles to top it off. Needless to say, this wedding showcased how a bride could put her own unique, edgy spin on a conservative, traditional gown from the ‘40s. The addition of a boho-y flower crown accentuated by partially cornrowed hair completely changed the feel of the dress. Well, that and the candid shot of my aunt hopping on the back of a Harley! BTW, Aunt Paula, you were *so* ahead of the game with your flower crown!
ANITA HARBOR, MARRIED IN 1987
My momma Anita Harbor married my dad Bob (“Wish”) Wischnia in 1987 in San Jose, California, also in my grandparents’ backyard. My mom’s traditional, classic style was juxtaposed with my dad’s mega chill vibes (immediately after the ceremony, my dad ditched his suit and put on a tank, sandles and gym shorts, LOL) so the formal dress created a nice balance. My mom wanted her wedding look to be reminiscent of the ‘40s, taking a cue from my grandmother’s initial debut of The Dress, so she re-worked the intricately beaded neckline (the only part of the gown that had become weathered over the years) and restored it to its original beauty. Always a DIYer, my mom created a vintage headpiece of netting, pearls and satin to further embody the ‘40s feel — I am still obsessed with this accessory today! She also carried calla lilles, another ode to my grandmother’s 1943 nuptials.
JANN HARBOR, MARRIED IN 1995
My Aunt Jann Harbor married my Uncle Bob in 1995 in San Jose, California at a winery. Editor’s note: This occasion was also special because it was the first time I got a manicure and wore makeup (BLUSH!) as a five-year-old who shared flower girl duties with my twin sister, Abby. Since so many years had passed since the gown’s initial debut, a lot of alterations were needed by the time Jann was ready to wear it. The gown’s color had faded and Jann became disheartened after being turned down by a seamstress who told her she should give up and just buy a new dress. After serendipitously finding an exact fabric match one day, the dress was fixed up and proudly worn by my aunt on her big day. I remember thinking how beautiful my aunt looked walking down the aisle in this dress, even though I barely understood how special it was that she was the fourth woman in my family to wear it.
The Harbor wedding dress has been and always will be one of the most cherished traditions in my family. The stories of each wedding are so fun to remember, and it’s hard not to drool over the gorgeous photos from each wedding, pointing out how each bride put her own individual spin on The Dress. While I have yet to try the gown on myself (I’m superstitious TBH), my Aunt Jann is dutifully keeping it safe as it awaits for its next Harbor bride who will have one less thing to stress about on her wedding day.