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Family Heirloom

A longtime designer of glamorous pageant wear takes greatest pride in making her own granddaughter’s wedding dress.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Angela Wooten Photography

For more than 30 years, Tricia Copelin ran a successful business based in Vicksburg, designing and making all manner of fashions for pageant contestants in Mississippi and beyond. She’d majored in home economics at Ole Miss and taught it to students in Bruce before moving to Vicksburg and bursting onto the pageant scene with her love of designing and sewing.

Through hundreds of Custom Creations by Tricia and Glamoursuits (pageant swimsuits), Copelin found happiness in her work. However, it’s safe to say the greatest joy of all has come to the 72-year-old Copelin more recently when she watched her 23-year-old granddaughter Carley Cate Copelin marry Braden Moody in a Tricia Copelin creation.

The story doesn’t really start — or end — there, at Vicksburg’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Dec. 17, 2022. It began when Copelin’s two sons, Dirk and Jamie, were in their late teens.

“I told my boys I would make the wedding dresses for the girls they married if the girls did not have something else planned for their dress,” Copelin said.

Both daughters-in-law received specially made wedding dresses. After son Dirk married his wife Melissa, Copelin preserved the dress, and it stayed in an upstairs closet for 25 years. On Dec. 22, 2021, Carley and Braden became engaged, and it was decided Copelin would redesign the dress she’d made for Melissa Copelin to suit Carley.

“Carley has a different build than her mother, and she also had her own vision of what she wanted for her dress,” Copelin said. “So, I had a year to work on it.”

Copelin and Larry, her husband of 52 years, had moved to Oxford 12 years ago; Carley and Braden, who’d met in 10th grade at Warren Central High School in Vicksburg, had both gotten jobs in Mobile, Alabama, where they now make their home, so dress consultations — or as Carley called them, “talks with Granny,” were often done by phone or text.

“Carley’s so easy to work with,” said her proud grandmother. “Sometimes when I’d try to explain something about the dress over the phone, she’d say, ‘Just send me a picture.’”

She’s a lifelong admirer of her grand-mother’s sewing skills.

“I remember when my granny lived in Vicksburg and sometimes I’d stay over at her house during the daytime when school was out,” Carley said. “At the time, she was working full time on pageants. She had a whole room of fabrics and designs. I always admired the artistic ability she had and wished that I had inherited it.”

Wearing her mother’s wedding dress had always been a wish of Carley’s.

“Everyone always talked about how beautiful it was, but I had never really seen it up close until we took it out of the preservation box when I got engaged,” she said. “We had a feeling it wouldn’t quite fit me looking at the difference between my mom and me. Nonetheless, I had full faith my granny could make it into something beautiful, and it would fit my style. … My grandmother did a phenomenal job with the dress. It is truly one of a kind and is even more special not only that it is part of my mom’s dress but also because Granny handmade both of them.

“I am hoping that maybe if I someday have a daughter, she will want to follow along and use a piece for her own wedding dress.”

Copelin explained the intricate work done on the wedding dress as easily as someone telling what’s for dinner, stopping patiently to repeat and spell the French words.

“Carley wanted the dress to be Peau du Soie, which means the silk is more matte rather than shiny — it had been so long since I’d made her mother’s dress, I couldn’t remember, but I was pleasantly reminded when I saw it. She wanted it strapless with a crescent neckline, and we decided to add a jacket, off shoulder. I took the guipure lace off her mama’s dress and did hand beading on it with wheat pearls. The edges of the veil and the dress were beaded — you never leave a raw edge in couture sewing. I used the train from her mama’s dress but added beading and another layer underneath for the photographs so the church’s red carpet wouldn’t show through the dress. I added pleats to give fullness to the train of silk organza with a lace center. The jacket and train were removed for the reception.”

All beads were sewn on one at a time and when asked for the number of hours spent on beading, Copelin sat quietly before offering a response: “Months.”

Just days before the wedding, the garter Carley’s mother had worn and had been carefully saving for her daughter went missing. A call to Copelin saved the day: She made a garter that included “something blue” and also what would be her new married monogram.

The weekend of the wedding, the Copelins’ car was overloaded with a sewing machine and anything else Copelin might need to make last-minute alterations as they made the drive from Oxford to Vicksburg. None were needed — the dress, like the bride, was perfect. And though Copelin had seen her granddaughter in different stages of the dress several times in the months before the wedding, the vision of Carley in the church on her wedding day packed a wallop.

“She is my heart, and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect wedding,” Copelin said. “I really thought I would cry more than I did, but I was proud of how the dress looked on my beautiful granddaughter.”

Tricia Copelin’s gift of the wedding dress was not the only handmade gift. Grandfather Larry Copelin made a hope chest for Carley. The chest is made from Brazilian cherry and natural cherry, and it’s lined with cedar. A plaque affixed to the inside of the chest’s lid is engraved with these words: “For Carley. Hand crafted with love by Granddaddy. 2022.”

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