(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)
What is the tradition?
After spending a great deal of money and emotional energy purchasing a fancy white dress, women have it cleaned, and then "preserved" (according to google, the verb can also be "heirloomed") by storing it in an acid-free storage option or otherwise protecting from the elements, probably padding the bodice and sleeves to prevent permanent creasing. The dress is then kept, in one's guest room closet or attic (or, if you're my mother, somewhere in the house with not a clue any more of where, exactly), to be kept for the ages.
What is the origin of the tradition?
It seems to be connected with extravagant, royal weddings of the past few centuries, where the dress in question might actually be worthy of being an heirloom. In many cases, the historical importance of a wedding might actually make this true.
Why do people still follow it?
In part, I'm sure, because the high cost of the dress makes it seem inherently worthy, somehow, of being preserved or otherwise treated as an investment or quality heirloom.
It's one of those things that you're "supposed" to do, not only because of the "investment" of the dress, but because you're supposed to hold the dress in great sentimental value, which according to our culture means you must hold on to the actual object, not merely reflect fondly on it through pictures.
I assume some also continue to hold delusions that they will one day have daughters, and those daughters will want to wear their dress (even though, these people saving the dress for their daughters... are probably saving a dress they bought, not their own mother's dress because they didn't want to use a heirloom themselves).
I also have a feeling that, even if the wedding dress industry hasn't had quite the same direct hand in this as the diamond industry has had in their "traditions", they certainly don't mind the lack of a solid second-hand market.
Why is that crap?
Um, I hate to break it to you, but your $99 polyester dress from David's Bridal is not, and never will be, a family heirloom. (And no shade to David's Bridal! I bought a dress there for a prior engagement (sold at a consignment shop after the engagement was broken off). If you're going to take part in consumerism, at least don't spend your life savings in the process. But, the quality really does make it the Walmart of wedding dresses.)
If you're spending enough for the dress to actually be a quality product worth saving, then odds are high that's it's also of a more trendy style. You really think that 30 years down the road, a Pnina gown studded with rhinestones and feathers is going to be even remotely in style? It will look just as silly in 2045 as the puffy sleeves of the 1980s look to us now.
Sometimes, perhaps, enough time has passed that a dress becomes retro enough to be back in style, or at least a cute nod to the past. I thought my mom's dress, even though not quite my style, was cute enough that I didn't completely hate the idea of it (especially as a reaction to the cookie cutter strapless dresses that everyone was wearing 5 - 10 years ago). But still, give your hypothetical daughter the choice of picking her own dress, rather than guilting her into using yours.
Hoarding your dress for the rest of eternity means that every other bride then goes to buy a brand new one, using up that much more of our resources, and taking up that much more space on the planet, spending that much more money. Wasting something so large and so expensive for mere sentimentality is ridiculous. Save a scrap of lace from your veil, if you must, don't save a box that will take up half the closet in your guest room.
What am I doing with this tradition?
My dress was in the first batch of stuff donated to Goodwill post-wedding. Even though I deliberately bought a style that could conceivably be used again, I really didn't plan to - I liked the style, just still a bit much for any occasion I ever need a dress for (I've also now lost enough weight I couldn't wear it anyway). No sense in keeping it in my closet while I dithered, I'd much rather know it's being used by someone else in the world.
And my dress wasn't the one my mom saved! If she'd been able to find it, I would have considered somehow working her veil or fabric from her dress into the wedding somehow, but there was no way I would even fit into her dress at the time, much less want to wear the style. (I kind of thought the idea of reworking into my style would be a fun challenge, but realistically it was not a stress that would be have beneficial to add to the already hecticness of wedding planning.)
I found this post that gives some nice ideas of alternative to keeping the dress.
How did/will you handle this tradition?
I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!
Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.