Regina graduate wearing grandmother's decades-old dress to high school prom

"There's so much sentiment with it. It was really special.”

Lauren Hodgins enlisted local designer Dean Renwick to alter the vintage dress

Lauren Hodgins and Dean Renwick. Hodgins and Renwick worked together to redesign a vintage gown that belonged to Lauren's grandmother. (Pam Schwann)

Lauren Hodgins first remembers seeing the green brocade gown she will wear to her high school prom this Saturday when she was a little girl, living on a farm outside of Craven, Sask.

The full-length formal gown was kept inside a garment bag tucked away in a closet at her parent's home. It hadn't been worn for decades, not since her grandmother Phyllis Schwann donned it in the 1960s for one of the many formal events she attended alongside her husband, Dr. Paul Schwann, a pioneer in sports medicine in Saskatchewan who died in 1974.

Hodgins said the dress was one of many that her grandfather had custom-made for her grandmother during the 1950s and 60s.

In fact, the more than 50-year-old gown still has the label "Original ElizabethAnn Gowns" stitched neatly into one of the seams.

Phyllis and Paul Schwann on their wedding day. (Pam Schwann)

Hodgins said she was about 12 years old the first time her mother, Pam, took the dress out and let her try it on. Hodgins was instantly smitten and immediately thought it would make a perfect graduation dress.

"When I first saw it something kind of clicked. It was so stunning I knew I wanted to wear it," said Hodgins, now 18 years old and a Grade 12 student at Dr. Martin Leboldus High School in Regina. 

"There's so much sentiment with it. It was really special."

Hodgins is heading to the University of Regina in the fall to study pre-veterinary medicine and play for the Cougars women's basketball team. 

Phyllis Schwann died in 2018, but knew of her granddaughter's plans to alter the gown and wear it to graduation.

Lauren Hodgins trying on her grandmother's dress years ago. (Pam Schwann)

The dress embodies the elegant simplicity of its time. 

Sleeveless and with a slightly scooped neckline, its figure-hugging fit flares at the bottom ending in a flounce of chiffon. 

Gold appliqued lace cascades from the neckline, overlaying a seafoam green brocade.

Last year, with the pandemic in full swing and plans for any sort of graduation ceremony uncertain, Hodgins started sketching out how she would like the dress to look, if and when she got the chance to wear it to prom.

Lauren's sketch for her dress. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

The dress was perfectly preserved over the years and showed little sign of wear.

However, Hodgins faced a few significant obstacles to using the dress for prom. She is 5'11'' tall (more than six feet in heels). Her grandmother was about 5'4''. The dress came to about her mid-calf instead of the floor-length it was meant to be.

WATCH | Regina teen wears grandmother's custom made dress from the 1960s 

Dress up dreams: Regina teen wears grandmother's custom made dress from the 1960s

1 year ago
Duration 3:16
Lauren Hodgins remembers trying on the gown in her childhood years and has been dreaming about it since

Local designer enlisted to re-make dress

With sketchbook in hand, Hodgins contacted Regina-based designer Dean Renwick to help alter the dress to fit both her sketch and stature.

"We got a phone call from a young lady who said she had her grandmother's dress … and she brought in this beautiful, beautiful 1960s style brocade. And it's in a beautiful seafoam green," Renwick said.

"The minute we saw it, we're like, 'I don't know how we're going to do it, but let's do it.'"

We had to lengthen the hem a good 20 to 30 inches.- Dean Renwick

Renwick said he often gets commissions from people wanting to reimagine a vintage dress. In this case, the challenge was to keep the look and design of the dress, but adapt it to fit a completely different frame. 

"We had to lengthen the hem a good 20 to 30 inches," Renwick said.

"It was a very small dress made more for a petite woman. Whereas Lauren's a bit taller and a more athletic build."

Both Renwick and Hodgins wanted to keep the dress true to its original design, but they needed to significantly alter the piece so that it was proportionate. That meant trying to find material to match the decades-old fabric during a pandemic.

"The first time I went shopping for fabric to match I couldn't find anything. It wasn't until about two months later when I went shopping again that I found one locally," Renwick said.

Renwick had to let out the hips, add about two inches of netting on the shoulders and lengthen the chiffon bottom of the dress. He also sewed a custom-made mask to complement the dress.

"We had to lower the shoulders because it was pretty much choking me out," Hodgins said.

Renwick camouflaged the netting and some of the other adjustments by adding the gold lace applique. He also discreetly sewed his own label onto the inside of the dress, opposite of the original ElizabethAnn label, reflecting the collaboration of two designers spanning six decades. 

Dean Renwick sewed his designer label into the altered dress to reflect the collaboration between designers. (Colleen Silverthorn/CBC)

Renwick said the alterations took several fittings and a week of eight-hour days to complete.

"I love it. I love it. I love how it looks on her. I like the fact that she carries herself beautifully in it. She's styling her hair and her jewellery exactly how it should be," he said.

"I think from top to bottom it looks exquisite."

Hodgins said the completed dress is perfect.

"It feels almost regal. It reminds me a lot of my grandma. She held herself in a very regal way and was always quite lady-like."

The finished dress. (Pam Schwann)

While the pandemic has changed plans for a traditional prom this year, Hodgins' graduating class is attending a celebration at the RCMP Heritage Centre on Saturday, June 26.

Students will participate in a grand march, view virtual toasts and slideshows, take photos and mingle in their formal wear before heading to a local restaurant for dinner.

For Hodgins, the day caps a challenging year and will hold extra meaning as she walks in wearing her grandmother's gown.

"It's just going to be so special, to have that part with me."


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