Many women start dreaming about their wedding dress from a very young age and then eventually spend a lot of time and money finding the perfect one. Most brides only get to wear that special dress once and usually for less than 24 hours. Jennifer Salvage is not most brides. This month, she put on her wedding dress for the 87th time.
No, she didn’t get married 87 times! Jennifer and her husband Jeff were married on March 19, 2008. The couple met online through a Jewish dating service. After three months of fake proposals, Jeff dropped to one knee and asked Jennifer to marry him in front of the plaque of his favorite player, Thurman Munson, at Yankee Stadium. Jeff grew up in New York and Jennifer was a Red Sox fan. He recalls saying, “Honey, I know you didn’t want a Yankee hat, but this is a special hat.” The hat had a ring on it. Jennifer accepted and the couple now has a dog named Munson.
They both love to travel and knew they wanted to have a destination wedding. They wanted to go somewhere exciting that would also be perfect for amazing pictures. They decided on Easter Island, off the coast of South America, since it’s an iconic location that neither of them had ever been. After the wedding, Jeff took several photos of Jennifer in her dress at different locations around the island.
The Idea: When they got back to their home in Medford, New Jersey, they decided it would be fun to bring the dress along for their upcoming summer travel in China and the Alps and continue taking iconic wedding dress shots. Jennifer, a 39-year-old high school guidance counselor, really liked the idea. She says Salvage is a great last name for them, because they hate wasting anything. They live in a solar home and the idea of wearing her dress once and then letting it sit in a closet did not appeal to her. Her dress has traveled thousands of miles over six continents and now has more frequent flier miles than most people.
Jeff, 43, works as a computer science professor at Drexel University and is an avid race walker and photographer. He says he was inspired by paintings he had seen of nuns in front of different iconic backgrounds. This led him to the question: how do you take a shot of the Great Wall of China that hasn’t been taken before? The answer was clear to him: put a bride in it! When asked about the premise of the project, Jeff says it’s about viewing the world through the eyes of a bride; sometimes she is the focus of the picture and sometimes the focus is on what she is seeing.
Jennifer says the project is truly a joint venture. She recalls getting in and out of the dress for days on Easter Island and the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reaction they got from people when they learned it wasn’t the actual wedding, but that they were doing another photo shoot. They had a lot of travel lined up for the summer after they got married–a month in China, a monthhiking in the Alps, etc. “We should bring the dress along and keep shooting in all these wonderful iconic places,” Jennifer said. So, that’s exactly what they did.
They shot with the dress all summer long, and again the reaction was stunning from people. People would initially believe they were witnessing a wedding, but became even more excited when they found out what the couple was doing. Jennifer says people loved the idea and would say things like, “Wow, I’ve never heard of anything like it.” A lot of people wanted photos not just of the bride, but with the bride. At this point, Jeff and Jennifer realized they were on to something. When they got home, they did some research to see if anyone else had ever done anything like it and couldn’t find anything online. They were excited and that’s when Jennifer says, “We really went into full gear, came up with a name and all that.”
The Dress Company: When Maggie Sottero, the company that designed Jennifer’s dress, learned about what Jennifer and Jeff were up to, they eagerly embraced the project and even sent the Salvages six pre-altered “backup” dresses to use for their shoots. In addition, they have since bought 1,500 copies of their book, “One Dress. One Woman. One World.” Jeff says they made it a point to show the company what they were doing and even visited them in Salt Lake City, where the owner of the company treated them like family. Jennifer says she was shocked, but very pleasantly surprised by their support.
The Dress: The original dress has been worn 62 times, and a backup dress has been worn 24 times, for a total of 86. This total changed to 87 when Jeff and Jennifer came into the Comcast Center in Philadelphia and took some cool shots in the lobby and then up on the 45th floor overlooking the city. Jennifer can’t remember the exact cost of the dress, but says it was under $400. When she went dress shopping, she told the shop owner, “I need a dress that can get stuffed in a backpack and come out looking good.” She says the owner literally ran in the back room and said, “Well, there’s one dress that can do it. I hope you like it, and I hope it fits.” The dress is fitted stretch lace over jersey and it has a train. Jennifer says the dress has held up phenomenally.
When they travel, they usually bring along three dresses, one that’s primarily used for shooting and two backups. Initially, Jennifer says they were dry cleaning it when it needed it, and at some point decided they were going to have to take a risk, because dry cleaning is expensive. So, she took it to a $1.99 dry cleaners and it came out just fine and that’s where they have taken it to get cleaned ever since. Talk about being frugal!
Jennifer says the project may have been a master manipulation on her husband’s part to make sure he has a wife who still fits in her dress forever. Some of the backup dresses have more wiggle room than others, but Jennifer is very much into walking, especially since Jeff is a walking coach. The couple’s chocolate lab Munson also keeps Jennifer on her toes.
Jennifer’s Life as a Model: According to Jeff, although Jennifer doesn’t normally wear make-up or dress up, “we can be in aswamp and in five minutes she’ll have minimal make-up on and a dress and be ready to go.” Jennifer says that as much as she loves her job, there is a lot of daily stress and sees the project as an outlet. She especially loves being outdoors and traveling–and this is a great excuse to travel, as Jeff points out. Some of the kids at Jennifer’s school ask about the project, and along with some parents, have been very supportive of it.
Some of the shoots have been grueling, either physically or temperature-wise, and occasionally they have come at the end of really long trips when both she and Jeff were exhausted. Jennifer says that and the fact that she is not completely comfortable being such a focus are the only challenging parts of being the model. She admits it may sound a little funny to people who have seen the photos, but says she really doesn’t like to be the center of attention. She’s a one-on-one counselor and feels that is when she’s at her best. On occasions when she can see large groups of people watching a shoot, she feels a bit self-conscious.
However, Jennifer loves all of the fantastic places that they’ve been able to see and all of the people they’ve met along the way. She says, “We’ve met some phenomenal strangers who’ve helped us in various countries, and that to me, in addition to getting to work with my husband, is the best part.”
What Family and Friends Think: Jeff says his friends think the project is awesome. “I work with geniuses. I consider myself the dumbest guy in my CS department, because they’re like super book smart, and they all have their own credentials, their own accomplishments,” says Jeff. “So I come in with something like this and they’re genuinely happy for me.”
Jeff says the best comment he has received via Facebook is, “Good luck. I’ve been trying to get my wife to buy only one dress for quite some time.”Another guy emailed this note to him, “I guess it was the opposite of my honeymoon, I was trying to get her out of the dress as long as possible.” Jennifer’s mother is a very enthusiastic supporter of the project, and as Jennifer puts it, what more can a mother ask for than continuous documentation of her daughter in a wedding dress?
How Strangers React: Sometimes Jennifer becomes the focus of the attention and sometime people are oblivious, Jeff says. He says he loves when he’s setting up and someone notices her and thinks they’ve found something that no one else knows about. When they were in Egypt, a woman asked why Jennifer wasn’t wearing any jewelry and Jeff told her that they honestly had forgotten to bring it. The woman said, “Here take mine, just mail it back to me when you get home.”
Jeff’s Most Memorable Shots: After four days of hiking in the pouring rain, and not being able to shoot, Jeff and Jennifer were about twenty minutes into their next trek, when they stumbled upon a rainbow in front of a waterfall. Jeff remembers thinking “please let her be in the mood.” Jennifer was thinking the same thing. After taking the shot, they sat there for an hour just taking in the view. On another shoot, Jeff was actually in a paraglider taking a shot of Jennifer in her paraglider. Despite being worldly, Jeff says he is prone to “crawling up like a baby” from motion sickness. The Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey opened up early for them, gave them a private tour and let them shoot wherever they liked. For one of the shots, Jennifer actually stood in the stingray tank and Jeff took the picture with an underwater camera.
In Paris, Jeff had planned on getting a night shot, and then all of a sudden, he remembers the sun just lit up the sky for a breathtaking sunset, and he said “Jen. Change. Now. Quick.” This turned into an amazing shot of Jennifer toasting the Eiffel Tower. Jeff also recalls a humorous moment in shooting. They were prepping for a shot in Italy, and while Jeff was setting up, a man approached Jennifer and said, “Well, while your husband is working with the pictures, I’ll take you to dinner.” Jeff laughs at the memory of this guy trying to move in on Jennifer in her wedding dress. “Yeah, it’s rough, it’s a tough world.”
Finally, Jeff says he was blown away by the fact that his wife came up with the idea and volunteered to do a snow angel in the middle of the winter.
Jennifer’s Most Memorable Shots: In a lot of ways, Jennifer says all of the photos hold some special meaning, but the shot that really stands out for Jennifer was the one at Antelope Canyon where she was draped into the sandstone. She says it was one of the shoots where “I really did feel like a model.”She lists that as one of her favorites, not only for the end result, but for the experience of it. She also remembers it clearly because of the “white-knuckle drive” in a jeep to get there. She says she thought they were going to get thrown off the back of an open-ended jeep that was literally catapulting through dunes and sand at about 60 mph.
Another shot that sticks out in Jennifer’s memory is the water wheels in China, and not necessarily for a good reason. She had just found out that morning that her great uncle had passed. She says that although she loves the shot, she always thinks of him and remembers that as a very sad day.
She remembers how they got scammed when they took the shot of her riding a camel. The manner in which the situation unfolded was rather dramatic and funny, she recalls. They whisked her and her college roommate onto a camel before Jeff had fully negotiated the price. They had told Jennifer one price and then when they had Jeff alone, they doubled it and told him they needed a private guide because of the photography. At that point, Jeff was stuck because Jennifer and her friend were already on their way into the desert. Despite that, Jennifer says riding a camel was an interesting experience, especially in the dress.
Jeff’s Desired Shots: Do you know what Zero G is? Jeff does and wants to take a photo of Jennifer in it. It’s based out of Vegas,and he says “there’s a 747 that takes off and it drops you for 30 seconds and you get to float in zero gravity.” He would love to get a picture of Jennifer floating around with a glass of champagne. Jeff also wants to get a shot of her sliding into home plate at the Philadelphia Phillies stadium and driving the Zamboni or in the goal of the hockey net for the Flyers, and a shot of her rowing with the Drexel University crew team past the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From an architectural stand point, he wants to go to Petra in Jordan, a historical and archeological city, which has a stone, red, ancient temple.
Antarctica is the only continent they haven’t hit yet (yet being the key word). Jeff also wants to take Jennifer on a couple of the treks he did for the ‘Great Treks’ book he is writing about the 10 best treks in the world. He would like to take her to Nepal and get a photo of her in front of Mount Everest. There’s a hike in Southern Patagonia with glaciers, wild flowers and a three-mile long field of daisies that he thinks would make an awesome background.
Jennifer’s Desired Shots: Greece is definitely high on the list for Jennifer and so are Cambodia, Thailand and Russia. She says, “We truly want to be able to say we have been to all the most traveled and the most exotic destinations, as well as some of the least traveled and maybe lesser known destinations, hopefully on every continent.” Jennifer notes that her husband is quite eager for her to do a bungee jumping shot, which he couldn’t quite convince her to do when they were in New Zealand. She admits to loving the adventure shots, especially when they’re in dramatic places.
The Book: After traveling the world, Jeff and Jennifer compiled their photos and memories into a keepsake, coffee table-style book, “One Dress. One Woman. One World.” The book was truly a joint project. Jennifer did most of the writing and Jeff took the photos. Jennifer says she really wanted to share her love of travel, culture and nature with others. “That is so much a part of who I am at the core, and is one of the things that really drew Jeff and I together as a couple,” says Jennifer. They want to share these places with people who can’t get there and hopefully inspire people to go somewhere that they may not have previously considered. Jennifer says she truly hopes that there is something in the book for everyone, whether it’s the travel, romance or the nostalgia in the project. “I’m just really hoping that on some level, anybody that picks up the book could really feel touched or moved in a positive way by some of the photos,” Jennifer notes.
Interesting note about the book: In most photos, there’s always something different about Jennifer’s feet–sneakers for race walking, skates, hiking boots, etc.
How the Project Has Affected Their Relationship: Both Jeff and Jennifer agree that the project has strengthened their marriage. Jennifer says it’s been a process, but overall it has really brought them closer together and “it’s just been a ton of fun.” According to Jeff, they are really good at building on each other’s ideas. Knowing their limits and sticking to them has been important. Jeff says, “with us it’s all about, ‘You brought this to the table, let me add to it,’ instead of trying to take away from it.” He also says working on a project like this helped them learn to communicate better. Friends have asked him if he plans on taking photos without Jennifer in them. Jeff says he really doesn’t plan to and is just interested in elevating their game and getting people to have an emotional reaction to their photos.
The Future: Jeff says that so much of what they’ve been able to do is “hard work meets opportunity, or what we call dumb luck.” Their goal with the overall experience, from beginning to end, is just to a have a “fun, great adventure.”
Beyond having fun and making a keepsake in the process, Jeff says they have a series of other goals. Jennifer’s wedding dress has been discontinued, so one aspiration is to generate enough interest to bring the dress out of retirement. They would also love to appear on a national show, like ‘Good Morning America,’ where their friends who played at their wedding and made the music for their dress video would play their intro song. Jeff says they captured the spirit of what they were doing with their project. (Watch the video and listen to the song).
They are going to keep going with the project and are planning another edition of the book. “If we destroy the dress, we destroy the dress,” Jeff says. “I want underwater shots. When we’re ready to completely kill a dress, we have a connection out in Shamong, the cranberry bogs, and you know the Ocean Spray commercials when they are standing waist deep? We’re going to have her farming the cranberries.”
They obviously have big dreams and plans, and we can’t wait to follow them on their journey!