‘Something old’: the growing popularity of the personal wedding dress – Sydney Morning Herald

It’s a universal feeling that extends to the rigid world of royalty.

Princess Beatrice wears her grandmother’s Norman Hartnell couture gown on her wedding day. Credit:Instagram/TheRoyalFamily

Princess Beatrice’s vintage wedding dress, first worn by the Queen in the ’60s, struck a chord at a time when global unemployment surges and the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc around the world. It was reminiscent of the Queen’s wedding gown choice, also designed by Norman Hartnell, which was paid for with ration coupons in post-war Britain.

While not everyone has an archive of couture gowns in the family, the desire to recognise history when choosing a wedding dress has been gaining popularity for some time, says Paul Vasileff, founder and head designer at Paolo Sebastian.

“We’ve had people asking us to sew little trinkets or parts of their grandmother or mother’s dress into their dress,” says Vasileff. “I had someone bring in a handkerchief from their grandmother and we actually took the artwork from the flowers that were used and created their embroidery from there.”

Edwina Bartholomew chose to wear her late grandmother’s wedding dress for her wedding in April 2018.

“It’s a delicate Belgium lace 1920s drop-waist style,” says Bartholomew. “The combination of the dress and veil has been worn by more than 20 women in my family. My grandmother was one of five sisters.

Edwina Bartholomew wore her grandmother’s wedding gown for her 2018 nuptials.Credit:Edwina Robertson

“Mum kept it wrapped in paper for many years, it’s in impeccable condition,” she says, adding that she worked with Melbourne bridal designer Sonia Cappellazzo to alter it to size.

“It was a really special thing for me,” says Bartholomew. “I was very close with my grandmother; I went to boarding school in Sydney and spent a lot of time with her.”

Edwina Bartholomew’s grandmother, Millicent Halley, on her wedding day in 1944.

As for whether she hopes her own daughter, Molly, whom she welcomed with husband Neil Varcoe in December, will choose to wear it on her wedding day?

“Gosh, who knows what the fashion will be in 30 years’ time or whenever she – if she – decides to get married,” she says. “There was certainly no pressure for any of us.”

For those without access to a family keepsake but who are wanting to purchase a vintage dress, look for inspiration at Melbourne’s National Trust that has a collection of more than 5000 gowns spanning from the 1820s to the mid 20th century.

“They arrive with such fascinating stories,” says the Trust’s Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna. “Especially, after having multiple owners and adaptations.”

It is this kind of history that inspires Burkin’s work.

“My clients are not interested in purchasing the mass dresses available online that aren’t fitted to you and aren’t heirloom pieces,” she says.


At one point she was creating up to 20 custom gowns a year, but she has recently changed direction with a sustainable clothing collection, including evening wear for her bridal clients as she adapts to changing consumer demands.

Burkin is one of eight recipients of the Victorian government’s Sustaining Creative Workers program that has allocated $4.7 million to individuals and organisations to help them meet the challenges of the pandemic.

“Victoria is home to an incredible fashion community but, like others across our creative industries, fashion and design businesses have been hit hard,” says Martin Foley, Minister for Creative Industries. “Many of our local designers and labels are using this time to reframe their businesses and are showing extraordinary determination, resilience and adaptability.”

Burkin, Yeojin Bae and Brunswick-based label Strateas Carlucci all received $10,000 grants for their projects.

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