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Friday, 24 September 2010

The Wedding Gown

By Nancy Leitz

Oh, yes, there was great excitement in our house in 1975, when our Carol got engaged to be married. When the date had been set and it was time for us to look for a wedding gown, we didn’t go to Kleinfeld’s in Manhattan like the brides on Say Yes To The Dress.

We also didn’t take future Mother in Law, 12 bridesmaids, Granny and her checkbook and a neighbor or two with us for their opinions. No, Carol and I went alone to a little local bridal shop on Main Street in Norristown to look for her dress.

There we met Sadie, the owner of the shop and a very nice and experienced wedding gown expert. She seemed to know exactly which dress Carol would look most beautiful in. Of course,Carol had a sense of style and fashion and always looked nice in whatever outfit she was wearing, but we let Sadie choose the dresses.

After one or two that Carol tried on and found that they were not exactly right for her, Sadie appeared with THE dress - it was gorgeous. Very different from the strapless, sexy, dresses that brides wear now.

It had a high neck and long chiffon sleeves with tight cuffs and a full skirt that ended with a ruffle around the hem. It was just the gown that a young, sweet-looking bride would wear and Carol felt she looked lovely in it.

The wedding day came and everyone thought the bride was beautiful, and she was. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and after two years they separated and were divorced. (As an aside, Carol had much better luck with her second husband to whom she was married for 28 years and had two wonderful sons.) But, back to the first time.

After the wedding, the dress was sent to a service that cleaned the dress, stuffed the sleeves and bodice with blue tissue, then sealed the gown, headpiece and veil in a golden box which they warned you never to open until you had a use for the dress again.

Years passed and the gown stayed in our basement in it’s hermetically sealed container until 1993 when our niece, Andrea, was planning her wedding to Patrick and asked if she could use the headpiece veil and some of the petticoats. Andy already had her dress ordered but loved Carol’s veil and the fullness of her dress and wanted to wear those pieces.

Of course, I said “Yes,” and we went to the basement and brought up the gold box. It took a lot of effort to cut the seals and pry open the sides, but soon there it was, the wedding gown, just as beautiful as it was when Carol had worn it 17 years before.

Andrea was a lovely bride and looked special on her wedding day. I especially liked watching her walk to the altar because I knew she was wearing parts of Carol’s gown and that gave me a warm and loving feeling.

So, then the wedding gown was put back in it’s golden box and I sealed it up as well as I could and replaced it on the shelf where it stayed for another ten years.

In 2003, I asked Carol if she would ever want that dress again and she said, ”No, Mom, I don’t think I will ever want it.”

So, what would I do with it? I decided to donate it to the Salvation Army who ran a wonderful thrift shop on Main Street.

On a beautiful April morning, I took the dress from the box and carefully arranged it on a white satin padded hanger and took it to the thrift shop. I parked in front of the store and took the dress out of the car and began walking into the store. I heard a voice call out to me. “Wait, are you giving that dress to the thrift shop?”

I turned around and was facing a tall, very well-dressed African American man. “Yes”, I said, “I am taking the dress to them.”

“It looks beautiful,” he said. “Do you know what size it is?”

“Yes it is size 10,” I answered.

He said, ”I think it would be perfect for my daughter, will you sell it to me?”

Hmm. I didn’t know what to do at first but then I said, ”No, I won’t sell it to you. I am donating it to the Salvation Army. You can buy it from them.”

So, I went into the shop and the gentleman followed me. I gave the dress to the woman at the counter and, as usual, she had me fill out a donor form that included my name and address. I then said goodbye to both and left the store.

I never really thought about the dress again. In September, right after Labor Day, I received an envelope addressed to me but with a return address I did not recognize. When I opened it there was a picture of a beautiful African American bride looking absolutely gorgeous in the wedding dress. What a thrill that was. I still get tears in my eyes just thinking about it.

My fondest hope is that the young bride I saw in that picture in 2003 is still happy with the young man she married while wearing the beautiful chiffon dress.

And, I wonder if the dress is now sealed in a golden box in her Mom and Dad’s basement just waiting for another bride to wear it and look as lovely as she and Carol did on their wedding days.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Nancy, what a beautiful story and you told it with so much love. I'm so happy that dress and its accoutrements had additional lives.

I wish there were more "handing down" of special things like wedding gowns.

My nephew's bride wore my sister's wedding gown (with adjustments). My sister - the groom's mother - died unexpectedly a few years ago at the age of 69 and I still think of her when I look at the photographs of my thoughtful niece-in-law.

What a wonderful story, Nancy. I recalled fond memories as I'm thinking that perhaps I should "unseal" my dress that's stored in the closet. Dee

Oh what a wonderful story Nancy...and what beautiful journey that dress has taken. Who knows who will enjoy it next. I've had my wedding dressed sealed in a box for 42 years. Neither of my daughters used it...their weddings were very different than my more formal one. I would love to pass my dress on to someone some day. ~Joy

What a lovely story, Nancy, and it's heartwarming to know that another bride enjoyed the dress on her special day.

My daughter's wedding dress ended up in a thrift shop and I will never know if another bride enjoyed it, but I have photos of her in it to remember it by. Her marriage did not last either and she hated the dress when she finally gave it away. It became a painful reminder of a dream gone wrong.


I agree and hope the dress goes on to another happy bride...

SusanG: You must be so happy that your NIL wore your sister's gown, and now all the beautiful photographs from the wedding remind you of her. How nice...

Dee: I hope you have someone in mind to wear your wedding dress. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Let us know what you do..


Can you just imagine Olive or Bella walking down the aisle in your wedding gown. I get tears just thinking about it.


It's a shame you never found out what became of your daughter's dress. I feel so lucky that the parents of the young lady who wore Carol's gown sent me that picture. That was so thoughtful of them...

A terrific story, Nancy and I got tears in my eyes reading it. How nice of him to let you know how happy the new bride was with your daughter's old dress.

Nancy, I love reading your stories!!

My dress is still hermetically sealed in much the same way you've described. I have two sons, so it's unlikely that my gown will ever be used, and that's fine. I once flirted with the idea of tossing it on once, for Old Times' Sake, but I don't see the use in that, really. More likely, I'll donate it to our high school drama department for use in the costume shop. (Does that sound terribly unsentimental?)


She must have loved the dress for two reasons.

One: She looked lovely in it.

Two: Her Dad bought it for her.

What more could a girl ask?

Loved your story and love special dresses or whatever being used again. I am so pleased I just found a place for my old Prom dresses. There is a costume house here that supplies costumes for the high school plays and whoever needs dresses from looooong ago. Thanks again.


I think your idea of giving your wedding dress to the Drama Department at your high school is fantastic.

But,WAIT! Before you do that, I think you would have great fun recreating your wedding day for an Anniversary.

I'll bet you can still fit in your dress so why not make an apppointment with an excellent photographer and you and your husband take your dress and wedding picture with you and strike a pose as close as possible to the original picture. THEN, donate your dress and veil to the Drama Department.

You and your family will enjoy that photo for years.

I am the Carol that was mentioned in the above story. Ironically, I am a costume designer and use donated wedding gowns in my theatrical productions all the time. Your old wedding dress might be on stage being admired by several thousand people. Once I took a dress with a gigantic tulle skirt and train, cut off the train and spray painted the underskirt bright pink and handpainted all the fabric flowers pink, as well. It was worn in a production of "Anything Goes" in a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dance number. I am glad to know my wedding dress was used again. I hope the new bride gives it to someone else to use or donates to a costume collection. In fact, I'd love to get it back, because it's considered vintage now!!

Hello Mary,

The very same Carol who is the bride in my story is a costume director for her local high school in Chicago.

She costumes three productions a year. A drama in the Fall, a Children's Theatre Production in Winter and the ever popular Spring Musical.

She would tell you that whomever costumes the productions at your local school would be thrilled to have your prom dresses to use in the plays.

And, Mary, make sure when you donate the dresses you ask for a ticket to the plays that will be presented.You will love them...

I am concerned because we have not heard from Claire Jean.

She is a loyal commenter and I miss her and hope she is all right...

Hi Nancy,
I've not been reading for awhile. What a delight to read about Carol and the wedding gown. I had tears in my eyes imagining you opening the thank you note.

It was fun to hear about Carol and her costumes.


Hi Sharry,

I am delighted to hear from you again and know you are all right.

Yes, that was an emotional time when I opened the envelope and saw the picture of that beautiful girl in Carol's dress.

I am so happy you enjoyed the story,Sharry....

Okay, that does it!
I'm outa here!

Like so many others this story brought tears to my eyes. Like all your stories, it is amazing. Your life has been packed with wonderful adventures that you tell so very well. This one definitely needs to get into more forms of publication. It's a winner Nancy, as are you.

Sorry you're leaving,James.

Is it something I've said?

Thanks, Annie, for reading the story and for your nice comments.

You are always so supportive and I really appreciate it.

Nancy, Don't worry about it--he was rude to me, too. The comment was removed.

Thanks for letting me know he was rude to you,too,Lyn.

Now I won't take it personally.

I am always a day late and a dollar short...but I loved this story, Nancy. Thank you for sharing - my daughter's wedding dress from 1996 is still in the closet with all the stuff...saving it for her daughter - now age 8...maybe?


I do hope your granddaughter chooses to wear her Mom's dress. Just think; If she marries when she is 25 that will be 17 years from now and the dress will be 31 years old.

I went to a wedding recently and the bride did wear her Mom's dress and she looked so sweet and her Mom couldn't get the smile off her face.

I wish the same for you and your daughter.

Beautiful story Nancy. I loaned my own wedding dress to my nephew's bride to be.
Came back ruined! Had it cleaned but the stains on the bottom didn't come out.
Just went through some old things and tossed it.
Thought my children would have wanted the fabric of it to make Christening dresses for my granddaughters. No such luck!

Hi Theresa,

Thanks for reading the story and for commenting.

Sorry your own wedding dress was ruined.

My wedding dress hung in a closet at our house for years but I finally had to get rid of it because Carol was scared to death of it. She always thought it was a ghost when she would wake up in the middle of the night and the closet door was open. There was that long white dress just staring at her..Scary!

Oh, you brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

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