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Bride will be 11th to wear 120-year-old heirloom wedding dress
The moment Bethlehem native Abigail Kingston got engaged, she knew she wanted to wear her mother's wedding gown.
But trying it on wasn't as simple as going to her mother's closet. She had to track it down first.
The 120-year-old family heirloom dress has been worn by 10 brides on her mother's side of the family, the last in 1991. Her mother Leslie Kingston knew where to start.
"The mother-of-the-last-bride has always been the keeper of the dress," Leslie Kingston said.
Bride No. 4 Sara "Sally" Seiler Ogden, who wore the gown in 1960, happily shipped the gown to the Kingstons.
But when Abigail Kingston, 30, pulled the dress out of the box, she thought it was a lost cause.
The sleeves were disintegrating, the dress was filled with holes and the satin had turned an unattractive brown. And when the tall, thin bride tried on the dress, it was so short it was a crop top.
"I thought it's just not possible," said Abigail Kingston, who recently moved from New York City to Charlotte with fiance Jason Curtis. "I'm just not going to be able to wear it."
Thanks to 200 hours of painstaking restorations by Wilson Borough bridal designer Deborah LoPresti's salon, Kingston will don the dress on her wedding day on Oct. 17.
She will be the 11th bride in her family to wear the Victorian-era silk satin gown.
"It's not just the dress that's been handed down," Leslie Kingston said. "It's the love."
The couple plans to wed in an outdoor ceremony alongside Lake Nockamixon at the Lake House Inn in Perkasie, Bucks County.
The bride will wear a new gown for the ceremony and change into the vintage dress just for the cocktail hour.
"It is very, very fragile," Abigail Kingston said.
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Leslie Kingston is trying to persuade Ogden, who is her aunt, to make the journey for the wedding. It would bring things full circle.
She first saw the gown at Ogden's wedding. At the age of 5, she declared it the most beautiful dress she'd ever seen. And in 1977 Leslie Woodruff Kingston became bride No. 6.
Leslie Kingston's grandmother married in the 1920s. A flapper, she wanted nothing to do with the gown, Leslie Kingston said. But 50 years later her aunts began walking down the aisle in the dress, igniting the tradition. Then their daughters donned the gown for their wedding days.
When her daughter became engaged, Leslie Kingston said, she was thrilled she wanted to carry on the tradition. Finding LoPresti made it possible to restore the dress to its original condition.
It's not just the dress that's been handed down. It's the love."
"It is a magical wedding dress because she is the 11th bride to wear it," Leslie Kingston said. "Who would think anything would last that long?"
The dress has not been meticulously preserved. Over its lifetime, it has only been dry-cleaned once. Worn by brides of all shapes and sizes, lace was used to patch up wear and tear. Sometimes it was used as an unfortunate embellishment.
"Each bride could do what they wanted to do it," Abigail Kingston said.
The Kingstons knew they wanted to restore the dress to its original design worn by bride No. 1 Mary Lowry Warren when she walked down the aisle Dec. 11, 1895, in Buffalo, New York. Warren is the bride's great-great-grandmother.
"We wanted to make it the way it was," Leslie Kingston said.
LoPresti worked with Gary Harper, owner of Prestige Dry Cleaners in Lopatcong Township, to take the couture dress from a brown color to a blush shade.
LoPresti dug through hundreds of bolts of fabric in the garment district in New York City before finding the right charmeuse silk satin to match the original color.
The sleeves are the only new piece of the dress, but they've been carefully copied down to the 80 hand-sewn pleats in each sleeve, LoPresti said. Light exposure frayed the front of the sleeves to shreds of fabric but the backs remained intact.
"We needed to replace the sleeves. I was very sad about that fact," Leslie Kingston said. "But the sleeves gave up their lives for a very important purpose: to save the rest of the dress."
LoPresti was able to use the sleeve remnants to patch holes throughout the gown.
"The sleeves looked like rags," Abigail Kingston said. "It feels like the Cinderella dress."
The history and love poured into the dress will be with the Kingstons on Oct. 17 in a multitude of ways. The dress has been passed down the paternal side of Leslie Kingston's family and Oct. 17 is her late father's birthday.
Abigail Kingston will wear the locket her grandfather gave her grandmother on their 50th wedding anniversary. It is engraved with their engagement date and wedding date and holds photos of the couple. On her hand will be her great-grandmother's ring.
And every bride that's worn the dress will take part in the day through a display of their bridal portraits.
"We're just really happy and blessed we can keep the tradition going," Leslie Kingston said.
There's already a 12th bride inquiring about the dress.
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