When Abigail Kingston got engaged, she almost immediately decided on her wedding attire – a 120-year-old dress that’s been worn by 10 other brides from her mother’s side of the family since the late 1800s. The ancient two-piece dress is a family heirloom, first worn by Kingston’s great-great-grandmother Mary Lowry Warren in 1895. None of Lowry’s daughters were interested in the large gown, so it was first re-worn by her granddaughter in the ’40s. Later, Kingston’s mother and aunts continued the tradition of getting married in the same dress.
Abigail herself has known about the dress since she was a little girl. “When I was younger, while I was playing piano at my parents’ house, there was a framed picture of the first six brides wearing the dress, so I would think, ‘Someday,’” she said. But when the day finally arrived, she and her mother Leslie had to track the dress down.
Leslie had first laid eyes on the dress at her aunt Selier Ogden’s wedding at age 5. She had immediately declared it the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen, and eventually wore it at her own wedding. So when her daughter Abigail expressed interest in wearing it, she was all for the idea. It was last seen in 1991, but thankfully, Leslie knew about the tradition: “The mother-of-the-last-bride has always been the keeper of the dress,” she said.
So she contacted aunt Ogden, whose daughter Ann was the last bride to wear the dress. Ogden happily shipped the gown to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the Kingstons live. But when they pulled the dress out of the box, they were disappointed to find it in a terrible state. The sleeves were disintegrating, the fabric was filled with holes, and the satin had browned with age. It was also very short for Abigail. It had apparently been through several alterations over decades – the original cathedral-length train was shortened, the 18-inch waist was let out, and lace had been added to cover damage. And it had been dry-cleaned only once in all these years. Abigail’s hopes of wearing the dress on her big day were shattered. “I thought it’s just not possible,” she said. “I’m just not going to be able to wear it.”
But she contacted Deborah LoPresti, a bridal designer from Wilson Borough, who spent 200 hours painstakingly restoring the dress to its original beauty. With the help of Gary Harper of Prestige Dry Cleaners, they managed to lighten the brown color to a champagne shade. But the sleeves had to go. “We needed to replace the sleeves,” Leslie told Lehigh Vally Live. “I was very sad about that fact. But the sleeves gave up their lives for a very important purpose: to save the rest of the dress.”