After Shannon McNamara’s wedding, she sealed up her matrimony gown and didn’t open it until three decades later. However, when she did, she got the shock of her life. There was certainly a wedding dress inside the box, but it was a totally different design. Despite a sinking heart, McNamara stayed hopeful that her dress was out there.
The worried mother had intended to present the dress to her daughter Caroline, for her own impending wedding. As a result, she hit social media, no doubt expecting to come up empty-handed. But another party soon offered a lead that shed some light on where the dress could be. Needless to say, McNamara pursued it.
McNamara dared to hope and her optimism paid off. She found her beloved dress just in time for her daughter’s wedding! On the other hand, the garment still bore the vintage 30-year-old style that probably first attracted the original bride. Times and fashions have changed since then, though, so what was Caroline to do?
Well, Caroline wasn’t willing to let the wedding dress go simply because it looked dated by today’s standards. Instead, she decided to give the gown the makeover it sorely needed and the transformation is incredible. When you see how modern it looks, you won’t believe it’s the same dress.
McNamara, who hails from the town of Franklin, Tennessee, actually has two daughters, both of whom are grown up now. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped her from keeping active, and she still has responsibilities. To be more specific, she works for two different nonprofit groups: GraceWorks Ministries and Williamson County Public Library System.
GraceWorks Ministries is faith-based charity that provides aid to those who struggle financially by fulfilling their basic needs. In addition, they also run a discount thrift store for people who want to further support the charity. Williamson County Public Library System’s name says it all, though. It provides reading material both electronic and traditional to its patrons.
McNamara also has a husband whom she married back in 1986. It’s an occasion she obviously holds dear to her heart, because she has fond memories of the wedding dress. She wore a traditional ivory gown beaded at the front with long sleeves, a high neckline and an open back.
In addition to the floor-length dress, McNamara also wore a headpiece of matching color and style. Designers applied a fascinator to the top, which not only served as decoration, but also held the bride’s veil. Dressed as such, the bride walked down the aisle and married her groom. But the gown was a catalyst for a future adventure.
That’s because when McNamara took her wedding dress off, she sent it to a local dry cleaning company. The business was called White Way Cleaners, although it’s long-since closed and has been replaced with a Mexican eatery. As part of the service, the company sealed the bride’s gown up for storage after laundering it.
And the dress stayed in storage for thirty years, until the day that Caroline got engaged… Or so McNamara thought. When her daughter announced the good news, she became nostalgic and brought up her own bridal dress. Indeed, the busy mom-of-two told ABC News in 2017 that she’d kept her wedding gown sealed for just such an occasion.
“We’d always said that when one of the girls got engaged, we would open up my wedding dress, take a look at it and relive old memories,” McNamara revealed. However, the dress inside the box wasn’t the one she remembered from her own nuptials. It was still ivory, but the sleeves and decorations were completely different.
McNamara continued, “[Then] I noticed the bows on the sleeves. The bows on the sleeves weren’t on my dress. The dress is [also] short-sleeved and my dress was long-sleeved. So after that moment, I knew it wasn’t my dress.” She also recounted the mixed feelings upon finding a stranger’s bridal gown in place of her own.
The mother-in-law-to-be then explained how she felt to Inside Edition in 2017. She said, “I was a little shocked, a little sad… But I wondered who’s dress I had.” It was a good question. And one that Kim Jones, originally from Nashville, T.N., also had occasion to ask. She, too, had discovered a wedding dress that didn’t belong to her.
In fact, even though the women had never met, a missing dress wasn’t the only thing Jones had in common with McNamara. She also married her husband just a month before McNamara’s wedding in 1986 and took her gown for dry cleaning afterwards. She used the same company, too, and likewise kept her dress sealed for a long time.
Where the women’s stories differ, though, is that Jones brought her wedding dress out of storage in 2012. She actually wanted to show the gown to her daughter Emily, but got the same nasty surprise as McNamara. Jones, who now lives in Acworth, Georgia, described the event to ABC News in 2017.
“[Emily] pulled [the dress] out and I saw the sleeves,” Jones said of her daughter. “That’s not my dress, I don’t have long sleeves.” But how did she feel having lost such a meaningful and sentimental item? Obviously, her initial reaction was one of both disbelief and astonishment, as she told Inside Edition in 2017.
“I just about died,” Jones elaborated. “I’m like, ‘That’s not my dress. It’s just not my dress.’ And, I just… My heart sank.” Her second thought, though, was for whoever was missing their own bridal gown. As she informed ABC News, “I felt sad that I had someone else’s dress.”
“It made me sad,” Jones continued, “because I knew one day this was going to happen to somebody else.” As she correctly assumed, the dry cleaners seem to have accidentally switched the dresses after laundering. As a result, Jones set out to try and find the gown’s original owner so they could exchange them.
Jones did her best to locate the person who had her missing dress. She tried word of mouth and even contacted a local newspaper, The Tennessean, to help find her counterpart. ABC News even covered the story back in 2012 and spoke with her at the time about the search. She began, it seems, by attempting to locate the dry cleaners.
Jones told them, “I had my bridesmaids comb the streets of Nashville to see if any of the White Ways were still open, but they’d shut down.” Actually, after 80 years of business, the dry cleaners had only just closed. Then, as the days went by, she came to realize her efforts were in vain.
“For two or three days, I couldn’t believe it,” Jones revealed. “Then we’ve just kind of laughed about it and said what’s meant to be will be.” And she didn’t hold a grudge against White Ways for the mix-up, either. She said, “I’m not mad, I just want to give [the other bride] back her dress.”
Still, Jones wondered what happened to the other bride and hoped she’d meet her one day. “Hopefully, they’ve just moved to Minnesota or something with the dress under their bed,” she said. “They may be just like me where they haven’t opened it to realize that they have the wrong dress.”
However, eventually Jones began to question whether she’d ever find her original dress and debated getting rid of its replacement. She recalled, “I looked at it and thought, ‘Well, it’s been four years.’ And then I thought, ‘No, put it back.’ I felt like eventually [finding the original owner] would happen.”
As we now know, McNamara did indeed find out about the wedding dress mix-up and began her own search. But hers was significantly less protracted than Jones’, thanks to social media. The charity worker posted a picture of the dress on Facebook with a request to find its owner and swap gowns.
McNamara’s Facebook post read, “Is this your dress? Preserved at White Way cleaners, Nashville, T.N., December, 1986. Perhaps you have mine?” Within two hours, one of her neighbors found Jones’ 2012 article about the accidental dress swap. She subsequently told the charity worker, who couldn’t believe what she was seeing: the dress was hers.
The charity worker told ABC News, “A friend of mine in the neighborhood writes me with an attachment with an article from four years ago. I told my husband, ‘That is it.’ I recognized it right away. And we had been at the same dry cleaners.” And the story doesn’t end there. Indeed, it seems the two brides shared yet more serendipitous links.
For example, both women attended the same high school, which they graduated within two years of each other. They also had a friend in common: Jones’ daughter-in-law’s mother. Thanks to that connection, in no time at all, the pair got in touch with one another. And it overjoyed them both.
Even Emily was happy to finally find the truth. “You found our dress,” she wrote on McNamara’s Facebook post. “You just made one happy mama and daughter! Thank You!” Jones herself also added a comment saying, “Words cannot express how excited I am that you opened that box.”
The women then arranged to meet at McNamara’s house for the much-anticipated dress swap, which Inside Edition caught on camera. The video shows the two meeting for the first time, and they sweep each other up in a hug. Then the women exchange expressions of gratitude for looking after their respective dresses all those years.
“This is so sweet,” McNamara says on the video, “I feel like we’re sisters!” Then the two head inside to reclaim their own wedding dresses and get acquainted. They spent some time reminiscing over their individual wedding photos and McNamara confesses to feeling a little overwhelmed. But in a good way, of course.
“It’s emotional to finally meet [Jones],” McNamara said in an interview with Inside Edition. “It’s emotional to have the dress in my hands from the most special day 30 years ago. And the dress is preserved, and [Jones] took such good care of it.” In addition, McNamara called her dress’ minder “a friend for life.”
However, if you think that’s the end of the story, there’s even more to come. After going to all that trouble to find McNamara’s dress, Caroline then decided to use it for her own wedding. It needed some alterations to make it a bit more modern, though, as the bride-to-be showcased on TV.
Indeed, Caroline, McNamara and Jones all appeared on popular daytime program the Rachael Ray Show in 2017. It seems the celebrity host arranged for a company called Bridal Reflections to make changes to the frock. But before she stepped on stage in the new dress, the bride-to-be donned the original vintage gown for comparison.
Then, the bride-to-be arrives on the show wearing the updated dress to enthusiastic applause from the audience. McNamara’s tearful expression speaks volumes about how emotional the moment is for her. In fact, she can’t hold back the flood as she takes in the gown and how beautiful her daughter looks in it.
But what did Bridal Reflections change about the dress, exactly? Caroline herself describes things in detail on the show. “Well, we really just wanted to modernize the dress,” she explains. “We obviously cut off the sleeves, which really cleaned it up a little bit. We cleaned up the lace and made it more straight across.”
The change that impresses Ray the most, though, is Caroline’s addition of pockets. It even gets a high five from the host! And McNamara and Jones look equally pleased with the practical decision. Bridal Reflections also made some changes to the back of the dress to further update its look.
“[The company] made the back a little different – they deepened [it],” Caroline says of Bridle Reflections. “Then they added lace to the sides and it’s just beautiful. They took off the beading, too.” Ray describes the end result as “priceless, classy and classic,” but what did McNamara and Jones think of the alterations?
“It’s just beautiful, you are gorgeous,” Jones reveals first. Then she jokingly references the decoration on her own dress saying, “I have a bow if you want one.” When McNamara’s turn comes to voice her opinions, she says,“It’s stunning,” and then struggles to find more words. Caroline actually seems to have rendered her mother speechless.
After a few seconds – and spurred on by Ray – McNamara continues, “It’s so her! It is so… it looks so much more like her. Yeah, it’s beautiful… Great.” And then came the big day when Caroline got married to her groom, Sam. They wed in November, so the bride also paired her dress with a cold-weather shawl.
“It was a wonderful day,” the mother-of-the-bride wrote on Facebook. Everyone in Caroline’s wedding photo certainly look like they’re having a great time. But no one looks happier than the bride and groom. And no doubt McNamara was delighted to see her modernized wedding dress ushering in a new chapter in her daughter’s life.