How to Incorporate Family Heirlooms into Your Wedding

My tips for adding meaningful family pieces to your wedding 

This week, my husband Kells and I are celebrating our third wedding anniversary. I have a lot of fond memories of that beautiful June day, on a rooftop in Washington D.C, overlooking the Washington Monument and the Department of Commerce. Air Force One even did a fly-by! Incorporating family heirlooms throughout my wedding, made the day even more special and memorable. Though all of my Grandparents passed away a long time ago, bringing in special family pieces allowed me to honor their memory.

Here are some tips to incorporate family heirlooms and mementos into your wedding:

Gowns & Veils: While I wore a modern wedding gown from BHLDN, I topped it with my Grandmother’s 1940s, lace mantilla veil. I was lucky that this vintage veil survived in my parent’s attic in perfect condition, despite being packed away without the proper archival materials. (See my blog post on preserving important pieces of clothing here).  In 1946, my Grandmother and her sister, took the train from Perth Amboy New Jersey, into Manhattan, to shop at Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue. There, she found a beautiful long sleeved liquid silk wedding gown and lace mantilla veil.  Many years later, when I was living in New York City, the very same Lord & Taylor flagship store became my favorite shopping destination. 

If you’re lucky enough to have your Mother’s or Grandmother’s wedding gowns stored away, take a look to see if they are in wearable condition. Even if you weren’t planning to go “full vintage” on your wedding gown, older gowns can often be updated and completely restyled with the help of a skilled tailor or seamstress. You can also take elements of older wedding gowns, like lace or beading and add them to a new gown.

If you don’t happen to have a family veil, BHLDN has a dreamy selection on hand. I love this Chantilly Lace veil which frames the face in a lovely way:

Grooms can play along too. A bit of fabric from the groom’s mother’s wedding gown can be made into a pocket square. Grooms can also use a special family tie bar or set of cufflinks or studs.

Jewelry & Accessories: I love the idea of wearing a piece of family jewelry, whether a strand of pearls, earrings, a bracelet, or even a pin. A family broach or pin can be a nice accent to a fur stole or any bridal outerwear. I wore a pair of earrings my Mother gave to me, and one day I will see if my daughter would like to wear them.

Family Photographs: I’ve always loved looking at old family photographs, so it was natural for me to set up a table of family photographs at our reception space. I collected as many family wedding portraits as I could find, from present day to the turn of the century, and threw in more non-wedding favorites. Reach out to your relatives for copies of photos, print them out and arrange them in frames. As guests enter the reception and sign a guest book or pick up their escort cards, they can enjoy your family photo table. My brother and his fiancee will be carrying on this tradition at their wedding next year, and I will be helping to organize some of the photos. 

Linens: A family tablecloth or runner could fit perfectly on the entrance table where guests will sign a guestbook or pick up their escort cards. My mother-in-law got even more creative, by using fabric from her wedding gown to make an altar tablecloth for her daughter’s wedding. 

Bouquet Accents: Your bridal bouquet is a great place to incorporate family heirlooms. Photographs of special people can be put into tiny frames and wrapped like charms around the base of the bouquet. Pieces of jewelry like pearls or a necklace can also be wrapped around the base. I took my Mother’s rosary beads, my Grandmother’s rosary beads and my Great-Grandmother’s scapular, and wrapped them all around the base of my bouquet. 

Pin it: Some meaningful pieces aren’t always meant to be seen. A special piece of fabric, a lock of hair or something small can be pinned inside your dress or inside the groom’s suit. Just knowing that you’ve included something special to honor someone’s memory is the most important thing. 

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Alison Hetherington

For the modern girl who loves everything vintage.