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Instead of Shopping for a Dress, This Bride Wore Her Mother and Grandmother’s Wedding Gowns

By Patricia Garcia | Photography by 

Olivia Suriano of Nancy Ray Photography

Crawford and John Torell first met during their freshman year at Washington & Lee University when they were both attending a NASCAR themed party. “This random guy kept photobombing and sticking his head in the background of all my photos,” she remembers. “We were finally introduced by a mutual friend after several more photobombs.” A few weeks later, the two crossed paths again at their college’s annual homecoming date function, and even though Crawford and John both had other dates, they ended up spending much of the weekend together.

Six years later, the two had recently missed an alumni weekend in Lexington and were itching to go back to their campus town. “An adorable little hotel called the Georges had opened there and we were determined to go down for a weekend and just enjoy the town,” Crawford says. On Saturday morning, the two woke up and decided to walk around campus. As they reached the center of the colonnade, John said he had a question to ask and got down on one knee. “From there, neither of us remember anything that was said. I know I was definitely hyperventilating and ugly crying! It was the perfect day in the place we met.”

Even though the couple is now based in New York (they both work in the financial sector), they agreed to get married somewhere in the South. “I grew up in North Carolina and wanted a wedding that truly reflected my roots,” she says. Crawford quickly decided on Stowe Manor in Belmont, which used to be her great-great-grandfather’s home and is now used as a venue for weddings and other events. “My grandparents got married there in the foyer of my grandmother’s grandfathers house,” she says. “My grandmother was over the moon to have us celebrate in the same place she did in 1953.”

As for the wedding’s aesthetic, Crawford wanted to honor old-Southern history, but add a modern twist to it. “My two Southern mamas (my mom is from North Carolina; John’s is from Alabama) joined forces to help me pull off just that!” she says. Also on board to help was planner Brianne McMullan. “She kept me sane throughout the long-distance planning process,” she adds.

Instead of searching for a dress, Crawford knew she wanted to wear the same dress her mother wore to her wedding in 1980. “That was an easy call!” she admits. “When I took it out to try on, there was only one tiny stain and it fit me perfectly, no alterations needed.” She paired it with Manolo Blahnik sling backs that were her “something borrowed” from her mother-in-law, a sapphire bracelet from her mom (her “something blue”), and pearl studs.

However, since Crawford was concerned about spilling something on her mother’s dress throughout the night, she decided to switch into a Calvin Klein dress for the second half of the reception. For a pop of color, she paired her reception dress with midnight blue suede Stuart Weitzman sandals and Lele Sadoughi Crystal Lily earrings.

And not only did the bride wear her mother’s wedding dress for her own ceremony, but for her rehearsal dinner, she chose to wear a reconstructed version of her grandmother’s wedding dress, too. “My sister sketched out a one shoulder tea-length version and a family friend re-constructed the dress out of the pieces of beautiful silk and lace that were still in great shape!” she explains.

The groom meanwhile wore a custom Loro Piana dinner jacket made at Mr. Ned’s in New York, custom gold Hermes cufflinks shaped like golfballs (a gift from his future wife), and patent black Belgian loafers. Bridesmaids were all outfitted in Alfred Sung gowns and matching earrings from Bella U.

One summer day in June, friends and family gathered at Belmont’s First Presbyterian Church for Crawford and John’s wedding ceremony. The groom’s uncle, a concert trumpeter, accompanied all the music, and the couple exchanged the same vows Crawford’s parents said to each other when they were married almost 40 years ago.

A dinner reception at the bride’s great-great grandfather’s old home followed, where stations offered Southern food staples like shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes, while Paloma cocktails were served as a refreshment for guests. Music was provided by the Voltage Brothers, who played for hours in the foyer of the house. “My grandmother said she knew her grandfather never imagined a band party in his foyer, but that she knows he would have loved it!”

But the bride’s favorite part of the evening was actually when she managed to escape for some alone time with her husband during the whirlwind of their wedding. “I had a private dinner with John before we joined in the party,” she says. “After all that led up to this crazy day, that quiet moment alone was much needed and much appreciated. It also ensured that we got to eat something and taste all the delicious food!”

After the party wrapped up, a limo whisked the newlyweds away to the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, where Champagne and boxes of cake and other desserts had been packed by their caterers. The next day, the two continued celebrating with a two week honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast, with stays at Le Sirenuse in Positano and J.K. Place in Capri. As the bride put it: “It was pure heaven.”