Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vintage 1932

I got an email from a friend yesterday, inviting me to her "self-declaration" wedding on Sunday. (This is apparently quite legal in Pennsylvania, and the way the Quakers do it, with no judge / minister / other authority figure involved). As of yesterday afternoon, she still had nothing to wear. She loved the idea of a gown but since they're doing something relatively informal and at home, she couldn't justify it.

I, however, could. This is the bride-to-be in my great-aunt Violet's wedding dress, circa 1932. I turned myself inside out as a teenager to get her to promise to leave me that dress, and she eventually did. However, my teenage self was not thinking that I would actually fill out a bit between age 14 and whenever I might have an opportunity to wear it.

Hell, if we're being realistic, it didn't really fit me at 14, and now I'd need a month on a desert island, rib removal and possibly a stint on the Biggest Loser to get into it. And this is not me saying I'm overweight, this is simply reality; the dress is made for someone much more slender - and much less bodacious - than I am.

Though my great-aunt (who was much more bodacious than me) did get into it, but she said she was bound within an inch of her life and couldn't take a full breath until she got the dress off many hours later. Which perhaps explains the pained expression on her face, though if we're being truthful, that was her natural expression. Sourpuss or not, they were married for 50 years, so the dress has some luck built in.

And considering it's been packed in tissue in a cardboard box (not the nice preserving kind of box and tissue, just whatever was around at the time) the dress was in immaculate condition, other than horribly wrinkled. The lace over-jacket not so much - there was a little splitting around the fronts of the armholes, but nothing that couldn't be repaired once I saw that it fit her.

The dress itself is ivory satin, bias cut, with snaps up the left side. It's close-fitting, even on her, and she's about 2 sizes smaller than me. The over-jacket is lace, with long sleeves (I love the sleeve puffs), and diamond-shaped insets of the satin all the way down the back and making up most of the train. The train, by the way, has a ribbon underneath so you can hold up your train while waltzing. Too fabulous.

The dress wasn't pressed yet when the photos were taken because at that point she hadn't completely made up her mind, but before she went home last night we ironed it and I did the repairs to the lace. Knowing her wardrobe fairly well from doing theater costuming with her, I know she has a pair of ivory vintage ankle-strap shoes that will be beautiful with this.

It hurt like hell seeing that dress walk out of the house, but I'm happy, for her and for the dress. Dresses need to be worn and loved. My closet is not a museum.

And for what it's worth, the bedroom furniture in the photos came from the same aunt, and was purchased the same year as the wedding. So I have my vintage 1932 heirloom, well-loved and used every day.

I wish I'd taken a picture of her when she tried on the veil. It has a beaded headpiece which is still intact, but the netting, which had little tiny ivory bows sewn all over it, was shredded and hanging in strips. It looked fantastic on her, very Miss Havisham.

Then again, that's probably not the effect you want on your wedding day.

16 comments:

Allison said...

How generous of you to share this beautiful dress with friend and then to part with it! It looks like one of those things that get featured on the back cover of Threads.

Allison

Lori said...

How generous of you, the dress is so beautiful.

Lisette M said...

Gorgeous dress! How very generous of you! I'm keeping my wedding dress in the hope that someone will love it as much in the future.

Tracy said...

Beautiful dress, hope she wears it. Your dear aunt and handsome husband looked quite regal in their photo. She would be proud to know you held onto her dress and put it to good use.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

it is so kewl that you saved this dress and then shared it with your friend!

The Slapdash Sewist said...

That is an amazing dress! Wow, what a wonderful heirloom. Did you actually *give* it to her??? You are such a generous person.

patsijean said...

I would suggest to your friend, if this beautiful wedding dress is not coming back to you after the wedding, that donation to a clothing museum (such as Western Costume Company) or a more local clothing museum, together with a record of the wedding dress's history would be in order. The dress will not likely stand another alteration and wedding however well preserved and packed at this point. They will know how to repair and care for it, so that the dress and its rich history will be preserved for the edification of many generations.

laura said...

It seems like women were so much smaller years ago so it's nice that someone will get to wear it again. My mother has made christening gowns out of wedding dresses that were just too worn out to save. This way a grandma gets to enjoy seeing her dress being used once again only now on her new grandchildren.

Lisa Laree said...

Wow. That's a gorgeous dress...and what a great idea to put the train in the jacket.

Patsijean has a great idea to donate the dress to a museum!

Me, I'm making mental notes...wonder if one of my daughters would like a dress inspired by this one when/if their turn comes... ;)

Ann's Fashion Studio said...

What an extremely generous person you are! The dress is beautiful. I love the wedding picture :)

gwensews said...

You have wonderful treasures. So nice of you to share them with a friend. I'm sure that dress made her day so much more special, knowing how much it meant to you.

meredithp said...

I'm not sure if I could part with such a beautiful thing! I hope we'll get a few wonderful pictures of the dress in action this weekend?!

Connie Bontje said...

Hey Wow Karen! That was so nice of you. You are indeed a special person!

Kat said...

That is such a beautiful dress! Very true to that time period. I have a similar pic of my Grandmother in her dress, similar style, but I don't think it was as fancy as yours. Did your Grandmother make this? Am I wrong in thinking most brides made their wedding dresses because this was Depression-era?

Isabelle said...

This is so generous of you, Karen. I don't know that I could have done it. Your friend has a wonderful friend in you!

Loved the Miss Havisham reference - though this is indeed not something to wish any bride!

Tany said...

It's a breath taking dress! You did the right thing, this dress deserves to be worn!!