TikToker Who Turned Vintage Gown Into Birthday Dress Defends Decision

Kelley Heyer’s birthday dress went viral on TikTok this month. Kelley Heyer/TikTok

  • TikToker Kelley Heyer altered a 1970s gown she bought on eBay into her birthday dress. 
  • Some users said Heyer turned “beautiful vintage work of art” into “something you’d find at Shein.”
  • Heyer defended her decision, sparking a debate about whether vintage clothes should be preserved or recycled. 

A woman’s decision to upcycle a 1970s gown into her birthday dress sent the internet into a tizzy, sparking a debate about whether preserving or repurposing vintage clothes is better.  

This month, Kelley Heyer invited her 157,000 TikTok followers to see her transform a light blue gown into a Pisces-themed birthday dress in two videos. She told Insider she bought the $55 gown on eBay before determining that it was likely an old prom gown or theater costume. 

The first video, shared on March 2, showed her cutting, re-stitching, and beading the fabric. 

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“Attempting to turn this already special vintage 70s dress into something even more special,” Heyer, who lives in New York City, wrote in the caption.

One day later, she uploaded a second video showing the finished design, but the caption addressed brewing opinions criticizing her dress. 

“​​Please remember that this is my birthday dress and I’m really happy with the results,” Heyer wrote. 

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Heyer told Insider she worked on the dress from February 20 to March 3, drawing inspiration from a few different aesthetics.

“I was really inspired by the dress in Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella movie ‘Ever After,’ as well as Italian Renaissance era dress,” Heyer said. “I also wanted a look that was reminiscent of the 60s and 70s disco era.” 

Some users suggested Heyer “ruined” the dress with her adjustments

As the videos gained traction, even being shared on Twitter without Heyer’s knowledge, some users suggested she “ruined” the dress and should have left it alone. 

“Humans really have the audacity to take something that’s been ushered through time and destroy it,” one person wrote.

Another person wrote that the dress went from “beautiful vintage work or art to something you’d find at Shein.” 

But for every negative comment, many applauded Heyer’s birthday dress and praised her for showing sustainable fashion. 

“The original dress was pretty, but I’m so happy it is getting a new life,” one user wrote. “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” 

Heyer addressed the debate in two videos shared on TikTok 

The TikToker shared two videos last week as the debate surged. 

“Some of y’all are acting like I personally went into your home and burned your grandmother’s wedding dress,” Heyer said in one of her responses. “Or I took the original Betsy Ross flag and turned it into a Y2K crop top for Coachella.”

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She added: “All of you are getting worked up over a dress that you didn’t know existed until 24 hours ago.”

In a separate video, Heyer clarified her opinion on reworking vintage gowns by saying it’s on a case-by-case basis. 

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“When it comes to altering vintage, look at how it was made, the fabric that was used, and when it was made,” Heyer said. “And then the answers to those questions will determine whether it’s okay to entirely rework a vintage garment or not.”

Heyer told Insider that she found the response “hilarious” but also a bit “scary” 

While she loves her dress – noting that the billowy skirt and hand-sewn beads are stand-out features – Heyer said the response was both “hilarious” and “scary.” 

“There comes a point though when something goes so viral that it fully leaves the hands of the creator and that felt scary,” Heyer said, adding, “the small digital footprint I had made suddenly became so much bigger and that really hit me.” 

Side-by-side screenshots showing how Kelley Heyer’s dress changed. Kelley Heyer/TikTok

Heyer told Insider that online users were quick to judge without recognizing her passion for sustainable fashion. 

“People online will never know the nuance behind every story. That’s just the nature of the internet. Only so much can fit into a one-minute video,” she said. “Vintage and sustainable fashion is a huge passion of mine, but the commenters don’t know that.” 

Ultimately, Heyer is proud of her work and doesn’t let the critics bother her. 

“It’s okay if you don’t like it because, thankfully, it’s in my closet, not yours,” she said. 

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