About a month before her wedding last May, Estefani Soler found her dream wedding dress.
The 1970s vintage gown fit her perfectly. The silky dress had long sleeves, a sweetheart neckline lined with delicate lace and a stunning train.
But, Soler didn’t find the gown in a store or her grandmother’s attic. It was waiting to be borrowed just beyond the books in a dark, wood-paneled office at the Maurice M. Pine Free Public Library in Fair Lawn.
“I felt like it was supposed to be mine, like I was supposed to wear that dress,” Soler said.
Library director Adele Puccio loaned the dress to Soler for free, just like she’s loaned at least 30 dresses to other brides over the years. She currently has about 20 vintage dresses stored at the library and her home in Bayonne in one of New Jersey’s most unusual library-based collections.
No library card is required to borrow the dresses, which technically belong to Puccio, not the public library.
“It’s not like I’m slapping a barcode on it and checking it out,” Puccio said. “If somebody comes in and wants a wedding gown, they just have to tell me, yes they want it, and what they want it for.”
Puccio began collecting vintage wedding dresses as a hobby in 2000.
At the time, she led programming for the Bayonne Public Library. She organized a “salute to brides” and decorated the library with bridal gowns and wedding memorabilia.
“It wound up snowballing,” Puccio said. Older staff members brought in gowns and wedding items and the library held a show called “Brides of the Century” featuring more than a dozen library employees and patrons modeling gowns designed throughout the 20th century.
A 1920s flapper-style gown, a 1968 “Austin Powers” style gown with fur trim on the cuffs and tiny bows on the Empire waist, along with a 1992 dress by Canadian designer Arnold Scaasi that originally sold for $5,000, were among the modeled gowns.
Years after the event, Puccio got rid of a bunch of gowns she owned and stopped collecting. She gave many of them away to friends, neighbors and anyone who wanted one.
After taking her new job at the Fair Lawn library, Puccio unexpectedly found herself sorting through wedding dresses again.
“A couple years ago, someone told someone in town here that I collected wedding gowns. They, you know, didn’t get to the part where I had stopped,” she said. “But, people started dropping off wedding gowns here again.”
Now fully back in the world of wedding dress curation again, Puccio routinely gives away the gowns from her stockpile in her current job at the library in Fair Lawn. She also donates dresses to local brides, either through word of mouth or via social media through a Facebook group called “Shared Dream Dresses.”
Puccio often picks up dresses at second hand stores or through Freecycle, the nonprofit network that encourages the reuse of items through free donations, she said.
The dresses in the collection are free to borrow, but Puccio said she doesn’t expect them all to be returned to her or the library.
“Although I ‘lend’ I don’t always expect them back,” she said. “People become attached to their gowns.”
Puccio said she got married in 1985 when she was 19 years old. Her husband died in 2019, following a cancer diagnosis, but she’s reworn her wedding dress a few times.
One Halloween, she wore it as a costume — she went as a zombie bride — and in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Puccio wore her dress to the New York City Pride Parade.
But she doesn’t consider her dress “wearable” for a wedding. “It needs help,” she said, adding her cat has left pinpricks in the overskirt while sleeping on the dress.
Puccio’s office at the Fair Lawn library features a few mannequins gracefully wearing a small selection of the available dresses. Most are vintage, in good condition and ready to wear to a wedding.
Occasionally, Puccio receives a brand-new dress, like a recent one she added to the collection from David’s Bridal.
Some of the older dresses would work better at a costume party than a modern wedding, Puccio said. Others have strict measurements — Puccio recently gave away a “stunning” 1965 dress that is likely a size double zero by today’s standards.
People are allowed to alter the dresses. They also typically clean the gowns before returning them.
Borrowing a wedding dress may not work for every bride, but it can significantly cut the cost of a wedding. The average wedding gown sells for about $1,900, but many can go for thousands more, according to The Knot Real Weddings Study, a 2022 survey of nearly 12,000 couples by the popular wedding website. About 93% of brides said they purchased a new dress.
Soler, the bride who borrowed a 1970s gown from Puccio, held her ceremony outdoors at the New Milford Public Library in Bergen County, where she worked at the time.
Before borrowing her dress, she searched several thrift stores. Soler tried on at least 10 other dresses, but none of them felt right until she landed on the one from the Fair Lawn library.
The dress she chose required no alterations, she said.
The priciest part?
“The cleaning was the most expensive,” Soler said. “It was like $100.”
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Brianna Kudisch may be reached at email@example.com.