Given the opportunity to wear her mom's heirloom bridal gown, one bride may opt for the sentimentality while another may choose something that will be uniquely her own. The bridal gown choice is personal for each bride.
To wear her mother's dress, a bride needs a good, no, great seamstress and Mom's willingness to let her daughter decide how the dress will be modernized. Sometimes Mom's dress is not only vintage (aka old-fashioned) but yellowed or moth-eaten and beyond repair. A good seamstress will be able to tell if there is any hope in salvaging the cherished gown.
Daughter may be a different size or figure shape than Mom on her wedding day. If she is smaller than her mom, alterations should be easier, as dresses can always be taken in. If the young bride is larger than her mom was when she walked down the aisle, the seamstress may have to find matching material to supplement the body of the dress. Other options include using a piece of the vintage dress to accessorize a more modern gown or even taking a salvageable piece to make a ring pillow, purse or handkerchief to carry down the aisle.
Before any work is done, find out what the approximate cost for alterations and restoration, if necessary, will be. If additional fabric will be needed, make sure it is available. If wearing your mom's wedding gown is important to you, make sure that you allow sufficient time for alterations and enough time to find a new gown if for some reason you cannot wear Mom's dress; remember that once the scissors touch the vintage gown, there is no going back, so be sure that your concept is clear. Take before-and-after pictures as well as a few steps along the way. These pictures can go into your bridal memories book (include a photo of your mom in her dress on her wedding day) for extra sweet and special memories.
Wedding dress alterations cost, and many who have gone through the process seem to agree that this is not the time to look for a bargain. Ask family and friends for references. Ask to see some of the work the seamstress has done, and meet with the seamstress before hand to find out if she can recommend alterations and respect your vision. Some fabrics are easier to work with than others, so make sure that the professional you choose has experience working with the type of fabric you have.
Even though you have already selected Mom's high-necked and long-sleeved gown, take a look (in catalogues or in person) and see what modern styling you like. What aspects of your mom's dress are desirable even after any needed alterations? If the bodice, beading, flare skirt, etc. appeals to you, then find out if the other alterations will go with it. Discuss these alterations with your seamstress to make sure these are possible. It is probably a good idea to share your alteration ideas with Mom as well so that there are no last-minute regrets and tears when the new-old dress is finished.
Make sure you are wearing the right foundation garments when you try the dress on. Even if you've been in love with your mom's wedding picture and adore the dress, you may react differently when you actually see it on your person. If possible during the initial alterations, have the dress sized just a little bit bigger than you actually need to allow for harried eating habits in the months leading up to your wedding. Final alterations for your dress should begin approximately three months before the big day (that is the same for new or vintage gowns); this is after the major modifications to make the dress your own.
Unless you are also lucky enough to inherit your mom's veil, be prepared to get a new one. Bring along a photo of the gown so you can find a veil that will show off the dress features. Pearls and Swarovski crystals are good choices to show off vintage wedding gown styles.