As she exchanged vows with Clayton Elder at St. Joseph Old Cathedral on June 30, Katy Elder wore a creamy white gown of silk and handmade lace that was worn first by her grandmother, Yolanda Holliger, in 1960, then by her mother, Rose Costello, in 1983.
The gown is her “something borrowed.”
Haloing her youthful face and flowing the length of the impossibly full peau de soie skirt, Elder wore a hand-woven lace veil that seemed made for the dress, though it was first worn by her father's great grandmother, Jeanette Beattie, at her wedding 60 years earlier on April 10, 1900.
The veil is Elder's “something old.”
“I always knew that I wanted to wear this dress,” Elder said. She and her sisters used to fight over who would wear the dress, but Elder's wedding came first.
“I love the style. It's not like what everybody else is wearing. And the meaning behind it means much more than anything else.”
When the Elders became engaged July 2, 2011, the bride's family got busy restoring the gown and veil, unsure of whether either would be in good enough shape for Elder's wedding.
Elder's maternal grandmother mailed the gown from New York — both its previous weddings were held in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The original veil had not aged to the same color as the gown; they didn't match.
Elder's paternal grandmother mailed her veil, which had also been worn in New York by Beattie. It was a perfect match to the gown.
The gown may have originally been sent from God — its purchase was facilitated by Fulton Sheen, the well-known Roman Catholic Archbishop who recently took one step closer to sainthood, having been deemed venerable by the pope. Sheen, who died in 1979, was a cousin of the bridegroom and performed the Holligers' wedding. He helped Yolanda Holliger choose the gown that her daughter and granddaughter would eventually wear in their weddings.
“She had really good taste because it held up for a long time. I loved it. Obviously my daughter loves it 52 years later,” Costello said. The tiny stature the grandmother, mother and daughter share is what allowed them to all wear the petite dress.
When the dress arrived in Oklahoma, it was clear that some repairs would need to be made. Parkway Cleaners in Edmond recommended the family take the gown to Claire Kennedy in Nichols Hills. Kennedy has been designing, restoring and reimaging wedding gowns and debutante gowns for 30 years.
“You can't buy this kind of thing,” Kennedy said, admiring the fine quality of the gown. “The line, the cut, the beautiful quality of the lace ...”
If you were to buy the dress or have it made today, Kennedy said it would cost anywhere from about $7,000 from a ready-to-wear line, to $120,000 from a designer like Vera Wang.
“Economy on the bolt of fabric is not what they were considering when they made this dress,” she said.
Restoring gowns is something Kennedy loves doing.
Upcycling a wedding dress is Earth-friendly, but Kennedy especially appreciates the tradition involved with passing a dress or veil down through the family.
“There's an extra special feeling of tradition, responsibility,” Kennedy said. “You're entering into kind of a club of the family where you now have to live up to your mom, your grandmother, your aunts. It's a lovely tradition.”
Kennedy often restyles dresses, both wedding gowns and other formals. For example, she'll use the original skirt and alter the bodice. Sometimes she will embroider the names of all the brides who have worn it on a family veil.
She's even designed debutante gowns and ordered extra fabric with the plan of restyling the dress into a wedding dress later.
On Elder's gown, Kennedy meticulously replaced disintegrated netting behind the intricate layered Alencon lace that makes up the dress's bodice. She repaired the numerous ties under the skirts of the gown, used to cinch the skirt into a French bustle after the ceremony so the bride can dance.
Kennedy installed a zipper, concealed beneath the row of silk-covered buttons lining the back of the bodice, to take the strain off the aged buttons. She repaired tears and holes in the lining.
The result was picture-perfect for the June 30 wedding. But Kennedy insisted the family return the gown and veil to her as soon as possible after the wedding, so she could ensure it is professionally cleaned and stored so it can be worn by many more generations of the family.
There's an extra special feeling of tradition, responsibility. You're entering into kind of a club of the family where you now have to live up to your mom, your grandmother, your aunts.”