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Girls in white dresses

By fits and starts, I'm getting there—winnowing, curating, and conserving family treasures, all washed ashore from several households into the shipwreck cove of our third floor. Today, I found myself communing with three generations of Girls in White Dresses.

Above: the christening gown worn by my Aunt Rosemary in 1912, my mother in 1913, and me in 1957. I don't know who made the gown, but that's undoubtedly Irish lace. (Note the embroidered shamrocks.) The delicate fabric has shattered in spots. My mother packed it away with the wee satin booties and lace cap that I (and my own daughter and goddaughter) wore for baptism.

The Wedding Gown! My grandmother sewed it, from ivory Skinner satin; my mother wore it, in 1949, when she finally married my dad after an epic 15-year courtship; and I wore it on the same date (October 15), 34 years later, with virtually every seam let out to the max (I was taller and broader-shouldered than Mommy). This meant my mom had to rip out her mother's stitches, a wrenching task. She also altered the neckline at my request; a French seamstress from Saks' bridal salon consulted on turning demure high-necked buttons to decolletage. Mommy's Juliet headpiece is in perfect shape, whereas my flowered one is yellowed and ratty.

And finally, the First Communion Dress, a dotted-swiss beauty made for me by my mother in 1964. (She refused to buy "a frilly lampshade.")

I was a rather spindly second-grader, and the dress was too small for my own, more robust child; at her First Communion in 2003, she wore my Confirmation dress (a mod white number with bell sleeves), sewn by my mom in 1970.

All the white dresses got shaken out, wrapped in acid-free tissue, and laid into an archival box ordered just for the purpose from these folks. My mother would have been a wonderful designer or textile conservator; she would have enjoyed the garment trade far more than her stressful decades of office work, but she never saw the chance for a different life. Later, her creative outlet was making beautiful things for me. I don't have her patience or talent, but we did work together on my daughter's christening gown; I did the easy parts and she sewed the maddening pin-tucked bodice.

That gown is in another box, with my daughter's name on it. Paring down her baby clothes is a task for another day. The hidden agenda in this third-floor project is to curate only delight for my own daughter, not melancholy. My mom hung onto a few other little outfits that my grandmother, who died six months after my birth, sewed for little me. Under a shell-pink corduroy baby coat was a note in my mother's hand, "Last thing Mommy sewed." I almost discarded it as too damn poignant, but couldn't do it.

I wrapped the box in a cotton sack (yes, that is preferable to airtight plastic) and slid it under the guest-room bed. It was dinnertime; my daughter blew in downstairs, a hungry teenager immersed in the present and fixed on the future. With all the white dresses safely stowed, I turned off the light.

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Reader Comments (2)

What a wonderful heritage in textile! Love those shoulders on your wedding dress. Changing the declote (sp?) certainly made for one hot bride!
December 6, 2011 at 11:24PM | Unregistered CommenterArtist Karen
I like your white dress post, my wife and I are renewing our vows and one of the regrets we had when we got married over 15 years ago was that we never dressed up the way we would have liked. We were young and broke and couldn't afford much of a wedding, so we are re-doing it on our 16th anniversary! We figure most marriages fail between 15 and 20 years, so we should probably throw some glue in the works for good measure! LOL! And it will be fun...

December 27, 2011 at 06:21PM | Unregistered CommenterSean Blume

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