She wore it for one day in 1919, and it looked as if it was sewn with this in mind.
My grandma’s wedding dress was more than a little worse for wear. It had been folded up in a small box and kept safe by my cousin, Jill. (How Jill ended up with it, I do not know.)
I’m guessing the dress was sewn by a relative of my grandma’s, maybe a sister or one of her many cousins. There was no lining, no reinforcement of any seam. There were raw edges inside. Much of the dress was held together with snaps and there were places that must have been basted together or pinned. I’ve done enough sewing to know that this was not a dress made to last.
“Goodness!” I can imagine whoever sewed it saying, just over 100 years ago, “No one is going to see the inside of the dress. It only has to last for a few hours.”
And it did last. It lasted for the ceremony in the small country church and for the pictures taken that day of my grandpa, recently returned from WWI, grinning broadly with the young woman he called his “dear girl,” and Grandma – with a heart-shaped face and an unusual little ruffled cap, with veil attached, set low on her serious brow.
Now we were going to celebrate the 100th anniversary of my grandparents’ marriage at a family reunion with four of my mother’s remaining five siblings and a good percentage of my remaining 32 first cousins, and someone decided (my Uncle Les, the youngest of the 11 children) it would be a great idea for the dress to be worn. (I’m sure you know how much trouble these youngest children can be.)
My mother was drafted to prepare the dress (also by her younger brother, Les) and my 16-year-old niece, Isabelle, was chosen to wear it as she appeared to be the same size my grandma was at the time.
I’m guessing Les doesn’t know a whole lot about 100-year-old clothing.
Clothing that lasts for 100 years is sewn with the idea that it will be worn again. It is lined and reinforced and sewn with great attention to detail and made with the best fabrics. My grandmother’s wedding dress was none of the above.
As my mother and I worked to prepare the dress for the big event, it soon became apparent that this might not be a great idea after all. The dress was terribly fragile. When Isabelle tried it on, the lace in the front – in the most visible location – started to rip right in half.
This was understandably upsetting to my mother.
But Mom and I worked together to repair the parts we could repair and replace the parts we couldn’t. The veil was long past wearing, so we constructed a new one with similar fabric that (if I say so myself) was a good imitation of the quirky original.
Everyone assembled in the Eagles Lodge, which my cousin Gretchen had festooned with yards of tulle and twinkle lights to make it look like a wedding reception. Isabelle entered the lodge and smiled good-naturedly for the dozens of photos taken (some by the local newspaper), and I know my mother breathed a sigh of relief.
As I looked at my smiling niece, I imagined my grandma in her hastily sewn dress, just 20 years old and about to start a life and a family she could never have imagined.
“How do I look?” She must have asked.
“Oh. You look beautiful.”
Till next time,