Looking for a good read and a vintage wedding dress? North Jersey library has you covered (2024)

FAIR LAWN — It was a typical day at the Maurice M. Pine Free Public Library: Staff members stacked books, children browsed for their favorite titles.

There was just one thing that might seem a bit out of the ordinary: the bride in the flowing white gown strolling by the bookshelves.

Early last year, Director Adele Puccio decided her library wasn’t just going to loan out books, so it added a new collection to borrow from: wedding dresses. The decision stemmed from Puccio's deep love of vintage wedding dresses and a desire to bring new life to gowns that are typically used only once.

“Everyone who gets married buys a wedding dress, and it’s worn once and it's put away," she said. "Unless they have someone in the family who is interested, it generally just sits there.

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"You get some people who say ‘this is my mother’s wedding dress, it’s been in the attic since 1950.’ It’s sad. This is a way of recycling and saving money.”

The dresses are available free of charge − you don't even need a library card. Over 40 have found homes with new owners since the program began. The collection resides in Puccio’s office, which doubles as a fitting room for brides to try on gowns before making a choice.

On a recent afternoon, Samantha Sadkin of Harrison, who is getting married next August, came by after seeing pictures of Puccio and the dresses on Instagram.

“When I first heard about it, I thought it was amazing, especially with how expensive dresses are,” said Sadkin. "Some people don’t want to keep their dress afterward when they don’t have a place to keep it, or they know they’re not going to have kids so they don’t have anyone to pass it down to. Passing it down to other people is great.”

Cinderella in the stacks

Before heading to Fair Lawn, Sadkin hadn’t thought about what type of dress she wanted. She tried out a few during her hourlong visit, frequently coming out to the library floor to get opinions from her family and the staff.

She ended up falling in love with two different options − one sleeveless dress and one gown − and after a tough debate settled on the one that felt right.

Looking for a good read and a vintage wedding dress? North Jersey library has you covered (2)

“When I tried that one and turned around, I felt like Cinderella,” she said.

One dress she tried provided a special moment for a couple from North Bergen who happened to be visiting at the same time. Cindy Hesleitner and her husband Charles had come to donate her 46-year-old wedding dress. The couple brought along a book of wedding photos to show to the library staff.

Sadkin offered to model the white gown with a veil so the couple could see it one last time. When she walked out of Puccio’s office, Charles placed his hand on Cindy’s shoulder. "Ah, the memories," he mused. Husband and wife posed for a photo with Sadkin before parting with the dress for good.

“I think it’s time,” said Cindy. “Hopefully someone can use it.”

An encyclopedic knowledge of wedding attire

The program wouldn’t be possible without Puccio and her encyclopedic knowledge of wedding attire. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, she lived near a Kleinfeld Bridal store, where she watched brides try on all sorts of dresses.

“I used to go in there and see the girls," said Puccio, 58. "My older cousins all got their dresses there."

Looking for a good read and a vintage wedding dress? North Jersey library has you covered (3)

Puccio would eventually move out of the city and began working for the Bayonne Public Library in the early 2000s. But her interest in wedding dresses, especially vintage gowns, never waned. She began looking on eBay and Yahoo auctions, finding many were selling used dresses from across the decades. Her husband, who died in 2019, would often laugh when Puccio would “bring home some stray wedding gown” that she found.

“There were these wedding dresses that are awesome, but they were older,” said Puccio. “We would get them really cheap and I started to put together a vintage bridal show.”

The show, held in 2000 at the Bayonne library, was a hit, and Puccio began giving away the clothing, many of it going to the women who modeled during the event.

Fair Lawn wedding dresses a 'shared dream'

Puccio retired from the hobby for years as she ran out of storage in her apartment. But her interest was rekindled last year by a Facebook group called Shared Dream Dresses, where visitors posted pictures of old gowns to pass along to new brides. The new owner was then supposed to pass it on to another person.

“That way the dresses would live, since most people don’t do anything else with their wedding dress again,” said Puccio. “They just put them in preservation boxes.”

She began spreading the word on Freecycle, a nonprofit network of online “gifting” groups. Donors began asking Puccio for help passing on dresses and began dropping them at the library. Recent media coverage brought more attention and the dress exchange exploded from there, Puccio said.

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Puccio was contacted last month by a donor who wanted to send a dress from Florida. Others have come from Rhode Island and Tennessee after hearing about the collection from local relatives.

While the idea is that a bride would bring the wedding dress back so it could be used again, most people get attached, Puccio said. But she doesn’t mind.

“If they return them, great,” said Puccio. “If they don’t, I’m not going to worry about it.”

A zombie bride

Puccio’s passion for the project is evident when she speaks to browsing brides. With Sadkin, she was able to name each dress brand and year in her collection from memory − and who dropped it off.

There was the "lovely dress from ’46” which came complete with the user's old wedding photo, as well as a 1965 vintage gown and more recently made options from a local bridal store that went out of business.

“You never know what you’ll find here,” Puccio said.

Puccio even put her own wedding dress – white, chiffon, with embroidered flowers – on the rack. She was surprised when it was chosen by a bride, since it had seen some wear and tear over the years. After wearing it at her 1985 wedding, Puccio repurposed the dress for a zombie bride costume for Halloween, she said, and also wore it during a Pride parade in New York City after gay marriage was legalized in 2015.

Looking for a good read and a vintage wedding dress? North Jersey library has you covered (4)

They still need donations

There's a full-length mirror in her office, but it's common for brides to come out to get second opinions from library workers. “It’s hilarious," she said. "It’s like working with a bunch of mother hens."

The library is still gladly taking contributions. For potential donors, Puccio noted that she “really needs things bigger than a size 6,” as she already has plenty of size 2 and 4 dresses. For those interested in trying on the clothes, Puccio recommends calling ahead to set up an appointment.

The moment when a shopper finds the dress of their dreams is her favorite, she said.

“I have always loved wedding dresses but I have also always loved seeing people being happy and dressed up,” said Puccio. “Someone will come in and say they’re looking and we’ll put something from the '80s on them that they think they wouldn’t like, but then they do."

Stephanie Nodais a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community,please subscribe or activate your digital account today.



Looking for a good read and a vintage wedding dress? North Jersey library has you covered (2024)


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