When Kat Knudson went shopping for a wedding gown two years ago, she was looking for more than just a stunning outfit.
“I was looking for a dress with a story,” the Minneapolis woman said.
She found it, and in the process she also found a special connection to a new friend — albeit, one she will never meet.
“I feel so thankful that I found this dress,” she said. “I love telling its story.”
The story starts when Knudson walked into Andrea’s Vintage Bridal, where the mother-daughter team of Andrea Erickson and Nikolina Erickson-Gunther repurpose classic wedding gowns. But they do more than just match brides with dresses. They also offer to connect the story of the woman who wore the gown with the one who is about to wear it to walk down the aisle.
“When someone brings a dress in [to sell], part of our process is to take a history of it,” Erickson said. “We hear a lot of happy stories about long marriages.”
The information is recorded in a three-ring binder that is tucked behind the counter. “Made by grandmother in 1920,” one notation says. “Married for 60 years,” reads another. “Dad was just back from the Korean War,” a third notes.
When Knudson decided on a dress, she briefly had second thoughts about asking for its back story.
“I totally wanted to know the story, but I didn’t dare ask because I was afraid — what if there is no story?” she said. “Or what if they say, ‘We don’t remember’? Finally, Andrea asked me: ‘Do you want to know the gown’s story?’ ”
Even though there are 500 dresses in the shop, Erickson didn’t need to look up that one’s history in the binder. The gown had been worn in 1974 by her best friend, who had recently died from cancer.
After Erickson told the story, “we hugged and cried,” Knudson said.
“I was so glad that she picked that dress,” Erickson said. She knew that Knudson would be respectful of the gown’s past. “We’ve threaded one person’s history to another.”
Knudson values that connection.
“I appreciate that it’s something that somebody else loved once, somebody who also was loved,” she said. “It’s all part of the experience.”
A passion for people
Erickson’s interest in the stories connected to the gowns is somewhat of an occupational hazard. By day, she’s a psychological therapist in private practice in St. Louis Park.
A collector of vintage wedding gowns, she got into the retail end of things in a roundabout way. When she got up to 100 dresses, she realized that her basement wasn’t going to hold many more. So she started selling some of them.
The business grew steadily to the point that it became more than she could squeeze in around her therapy practice. Three years ago she talked her daughter into taking over the daily running of the shop, which is at 2414 Hennepin Av. S. in Minneapolis.
“I had no idea what sort of passion this would become for me,” Erickson-Gunther said. “I love this — especially the relationships that I make.”
Sometimes the history is attached to the dresses physically. Erickson-Gunther discovered a gown that still had rice stuck in the lace, where it had been for more than 50 years.
“I couldn’t get it all out,” she said. “I was afraid that the rice would explode when the gown was cleaned, but it didn’t — fortunately.”
Women bringing in dresses to sell have a deep emotional attachment to them. Many have had the gowns for decades and are reaching an age when they’re starting to worry about what might happen to the gown if their heirs are left to make the decision about it. “They don’t want the dress to end up in an estate sale or the trash,” Erickson said.
Their feelings parallel those of a pet owner who is giving up an animal and wants to make sure that it goes to a good home.
“I had one woman who insisted that I sit down and have a cup of tea with her before she would even tell me about her dress,” Erickson said. “She was 85, she’d had it since the early ’50s, and she wanted to know who I was personally before she gave us the dress. Once she saw that I appreciated her story, she was thrilled to hand it over to us.”
Changes are likely
Even then, sometimes there are lingering doubts.
“They’re very interested in whether the dress will be respected,” Erickson-Gunther said.
In that spirit, the shop is upfront about the fact that the dress probably will be altered, not only for fit but, often, for style.
“If it were up to me, I wouldn’t touch them,” said Erickson-Gunther, whose passion for vintage wear extends to the clothes she wears in the shop. But the dresses are era-specific, and most brides want a little updating.
“Brides today don’t want sleeves or collars,” she said. “So when we get a dress, we tell [the original owner] that we probably will have to make some changes.”
Major styling alterations are kept to a minimum. One of the reasons brides are looking at vintage gowns in the first place is that they don’t want a standard dress.
“They don’t want something that everyone else has,” Erickson said. “They want something that was made by an experienced craftsman or by someone who made their own clothes. They like the fact that no one else has it.”
The shop gets customers of all ages, but pressed to describe a typical client, Erickson-Gunther said it would be somebody in their later 20s who wants a different look than the young brides pictured in the wedding magazines.
“We get clientele who have worked on their career first or gone to grad school and then get married,” she said. The shop also sees a lot of women going into second marriages. “They want to feel elegant but also sophisticated. They don’t want to feel stuffy.”
Not every bride is interested in her gown’s story.
“Some brides want to put their own story on the dress,” Erickson said. “We always ask if they want to know it before we tell them.”
While they abide by the bride’s wishes, they do so reluctantly. They love sharing the stories behind the gowns.
“We’re terribly sentimental,” Erickson said. “That’s why we’re in this business.”