My Mother’s Wedding Dress

It skulked in a high cupboard for decades, in a cream and black-striped box that used to hold a nice women’s coat, from back in the day when women’s coats used to come in nice big boxes. Mom had first brought it out to show me when I was six or seven, then reverently packed it away again. I forgot about it – marriage was in the far mists of my future.

I saw it again after I got engaged, and Mom and I talked about my wedding dress. I tried hers on, to make her feel useful (I was such a brat). It was pretty, but at the time a bit too old fashioned for me – stiff satin with a square neck and 3/4 length sleeves. In my defense, I was a very young bride-to-be – only 19, and with no concept of fashion outside of my pointe shoes and tights. In retrospect, I’d have looked killer in that dress after a fitting or two.

Time marched on. I had my wedding (during that awkward year, 1980 – slap between the hippy beach weddings of the 70’s and just prior to the huge, lavish, DYNASTY-type affairs of the mid-80’s) and a lovely brief honeymoon, but I didn’t wear Mom’s dress. Instead, it languished in its cupboard. The delicate headdress for the veil slowly turned yellow with age, and the heavy linen underskirt grew just a tiny bit brittle. They were in their own box, one that used to hold a blanket. The dress, like the boxes, was from the early 1950’s.

Decades passed. I had two children and many different careers, and only thought of Mom’s wedding dress when I saw my parents’ wedding picture. Then Mom died in 2007. After some time, we boxed up her clothes, divided up her jewelry, tossed out her makeup. But the wedding dress still waited in the high cupboard in the hallway, forgotten and much too high up for an old man and  woman to worry about what was actually in that cupboard.

I didn’t think about my Mom’s dress again until one day this spring, when I visited my Dad. His roommate and caregiver had been doing an unusually thorough spring cleaning, and had found the boxes in their place in the hallway cupboard. Dad proudly gave them to me. I was at a loss. I had two young men at home, and not a daughter (or prospective daughter-in-law) in sight. But it was important for him to give them to me.

So I took the boxes home, thinking perhaps a successful costumer I know would like the dress. But somehow, the boxes stayed with me. First in the back of my car for weeks. Then they moved into the house, and in the heat of summer took up residence in front of my cold fireplace. Magazines and guitar picks and sheet music eventually got piled up on the boxes, and they were obscured – we became unsure about what was sitting there on the hearth.

Time passed and autumn approached. This past week, a fire was asked for, which meant the dress was unearthed from its resting place on the hearth – this time, to be moved to the end of the couch. As the hubby prepped the fireplace, I took the dress out, admired the length of the train, the stiffness of the satin, the cut of the neckline. I didn’t bother to hold it against me, as the waist was impossibly tiny for my now-middle-aged figure; and I knew finally a deep reluctance to part with it.

“Perhaps my niece Sara would appreciate it. She has two girls,” I offered. My husband gave a noncommittal grunt. Perhaps Sara would want it. It would at least stay in the family that way.

But I didn’t contact her. I know the dress deserves better. I know there are places that will clean and then preserve the dress in a vacuum-sealed bag (which is how my wedding dress is packed – it hides under my bed). I know some costumer would probably drool over this dress.

As the last bit of my mother’s youth, though, and as I look at my own long-gone youth in the rear-view mirror, my mother’s wedding dress has become a symbol of all her love, hopes, dreams, wishes and desires.

I am never sentimental about my mother; but I find I just can’t part with it. So for now, and my guess is until it becomes imperative at Christmas, the boxes containing my mother’s wedding dress, underskirt and veil will remain on the edge of my couch, making her once again a part of my life.

Love you, Mom. Always.

 

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20 Responses to My Mother’s Wedding Dress

  1. Lovely. My mom had the most beautiful 1949 ivory satin and lace dress. I can’t part with it either. She passed in 2007 also. Funny how something can become such a symbol–IS such a symbol.

    Niki Chanel tells me there is a trend to wear your wedding dress whilst photographing it in odd/ wild/dirty/dangerous places. Amazing pictures, but no dress for our daughters to sigh over. Not sure how I feel about that…

    Thanks you for this lump-in-my-throat post. *sigh*

    Christine London
    http://www.christinelondon.com

    • Maybe the trend is because they don’t intend on staying married long? I don’t know…but I haven’t worn mine since my wedding day. And I plan on keeping it that way – there’s no way I’ll ever get back down to my dancing weight of 110!

  2. Really enjoyed this, could relate, although my mother wore a blue suit that wasn’t preserved anywhere. I always used to wish she’d had a marvelous dress for me to inherit and wear. I wore a white mini dress to my wedding that cracks my daughters UP so they won’t be wearing it. The veil maybe…but we’re keeping the dress in the cedar chest – some things just have to be kept!

    • Christine says:

      Ah, the cedar chest. Mine is crammed full of stuff…there’s no room for the wedding dress. But what a great idea. Thanks for stopping by, Veronica!

  3. Julie Glover says:

    What a beautiful memory of your mother! I wore my mother’s dress in my own wedding because I always loved the look of it. It was originally made in the 1950’s, and my wedding was in the 1990’s. Thanks for sharing your sentimental moment.

  4. Robena Grant says:

    What a lovely post.
    I kept my wedding dress for years, then when I moved from L.A. I donated it along with a bunch of coats and other clothing I no longer wanted. But then again, I was divorced so the dress no longer held great memories. And it was too small for my 5 feet ten daughter. However, I do love tradition. And there is something so sentimental about a wedding dress. You never know, one of your sons might end up with a young woman who would love to wear it.

    • Christine says:

      Roben, I agree. So I think eventually I’ll take it to a cleaner’s who’ll “preserve” the dress, after giving it a good cleaning. Mom always meant to take care of her dress but she never got around to doing it.

  5. What a lovely blog!

    I don’t think my mother had a ‘wedding dress’. My parents were very poor and it was a second marriage for each of them. But there are a ton of boxes and a couple of trunks in the garage, so who knows what I might find!

    It’s obvious by the way you wrote about your mother’s dress that it means a lot to you. Maybe you should just keep it.

  6. Christine says:

    Kathy – damn it, you’re right. I’ll have to keep it. I think I knew that going in…

    • Christine says:

      Kathy, your post reminds me of the “Little House” books, when Laura Ingalls got married in a simple brown poplin gown (I think…that’s a long-ago memory). I’m not sure my grandparents had a formal wedding…life was different then.

  7. What a beautiful post! There was never any chance of me wearing my mom’s dress. I’m 6’0″ and my mom is only 5’7″. She was probably a size 6 when she got married. I passed that in 3rd grade I think. LOL My sister got married and the dress was altered down to her size 4 (5’3″ frame) for her. Yep same two parents. Genetics are strange, huh?

  8. Anne Kemp says:

    Wow – what a sweet story. I think most of us have this, don’t we? We have a dress that floats around in our family that no one can remember now if it was my mom’s or my aunt’s. They just know that they both wore as did their oldest girls. I was the next in line to get it. I’ve never been married so it sits in a box back in Maryland, waiting… 😉

    Thank you – great blog!

    • Anne, how wonderful that you have the dress – even if it is back east. There aren’t enough women in my family on either side to have dresses floating around – my mom was an only child.

      So glad you dropped in!

  9. Wow, what a trip down memory lane! I don’t think you’ll be able to give up that dress. If it was me, I wouldn’t be able to. 🙂 I’m blessed to still have my mom, and I have no idea if she still has her wedding dress, but I do have the dress my grandma wore to my parents’ wedding (which she made)! Grandma was about the same height as me, but much bigger-chested. Funny thing is, my daughter (also short!) tried the dress on and it fit her perfectly! Even better? It’s a lace-covered satin A-line dress that my daughter says is in style now. Or at least her style – she loves retro. Hasn’t had a chance to wear it yet. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Jeanette – thank you for sharing your story! How lovely that your daughter can wear your Grandmother’s dress. I think there’s something very special about sharing clothes through the generations.

  10. Catie Rhodes says:

    Sorry I didn’t get to this any earlier. I wanted to, but what do they say about the best laid plans?

    You won’t be able to part with the dress. Take it to the cleaners and see what they can do about preserving it. Put it away and see if one of your future daughter-in-laws might want to wear it. If not, save it for a granddaughter. 😀

    I wanted to wear my mom’s wedding dress. We are near the same size, and it would have fit well with a little altering. Mom’s parent’s didn’t have much money, though, and Mom borrowed a dress to save costs.

    I still have my wedding dress. It was so pretty. I didn’t have children, though, and have no one to pass it along to. I realized last week that I also don’t have anyone to teach to cook like I do. Life works out in funny ways, doesn’t it?

    • Aw, Catie. Hugs, darlin’! You just need to go out and volunteer somewhere (amidst all your copious free time, lol) to teach kids to cook.

      I’m going to look up wedding dress cleaners soon, I promise…

  11. Debora Dale says:

    There’s a thump in my throat now, thankyouverymuch.

    😉

    My grandmother passed away just over a year ago and there are still some of her precious belongings packet in her closet. When someone loves something so much, it’s hard for us to see it as a give-away and yet we want someone to appreciate it as our loved one did. It’s a difficult do-or-don’t-do scenario.

    I agree with Catie. I think you should have it cleaned and preserved, then put it away for that someone special who will show up one day unexpected. But… I also think you should print out this post, laminate it or seal it in plastic, and pack it in with your mother’s dress. It will add emotional depth that time too often erodes, and the person who ultimately discovers and appreciates the beauty of this dress will know its entire story of love.

    Beautiful post, Christine. So moving and vivid.

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