Three Generations, One Pittsburgh Wedding Dress

I may not have mentioned this before, but I have a soft spot for traditions.  Don’t get me wrong – I love keeping up with the latest trends, whether in weddings, everyday fashion, or home decor.  But doing something based on the meaning it holds really gets me every time.

Which is how one lovely Pittsburgh wedding dress came into the lives of three women.

Photo Credit: David Eaton Photography


It All Started Circa June 1947…

This special dress came to be post-World War II.  At that time, materials – including fabrics – became less affected by rationing, and ladies headed for the altar were looking forward to a more indulgent shopping experience than what they would have had during the war.

This was true for my grandma, Helene.  Skilled in sewing, she hand-made many of her garments.  For her wedding in June 1947, though, she sought out a gown from the Kaufmann’s department store in downtown Pittsburgh.  The one that ended up catching her eye was made of slipper satin, complete with long sleeves, a basque waist, and an illusion sweetheart neckline accented by lace appliqués.  Candlelight in color, it also boasted a dramatic train.

I recently asked my grandma how she felt when wearing this dress on her wedding day.  She summed it all up in one powerful word: Happy!

…and Continued on to June 1975…

The dress reappeared when my mom, Cindy, became engaged.  I was really curious what she initially was looking for in a wedding dress and how she eventually came to choose this 1940s gown – especially given the option of other styles on the market at the time.  Here’s what she said:

Even though I married young (by today’s standards), I knew that my parents’ budget was very limited. I wanted a train on the dress, and I remember looking at dresses that had a floral motif. I went dress shopping with my mom – she said that I could wear her gown, or she would buy me the one I had my eye on. After making several trips back to the store, I decided to wear my mom’s gown.  It had the long train I desired and the lace. Bonus: it was made from antique candlelight satin. You don’t see that around – even when I was getting married! Plus, white was very much the color of the times – too bad it didn’t do much for me!

The main reason [I chose this dress] was a cost-saver for my parents. As I said, I knew they couldn’t afford much, and I wasn’t about to demand. I realized that:
  • I actually liked the gown;
  • I knew it was unique and quite beautiful;
  • My mom was proud that I chose it;
  • She custom-designed my veil to match the gown;
  • I knew this would be the talk of the town!

It’s while reading my mom’s comments that I realize a shared appreciation for sentimental things – and also for unique clothes! When asked how she felt when wearing this dress on her wedding day, she replied:

I felt special! I swear my mother-in-law passed the word down throughout the church before I even walked down the aisle! You could see all the women’s heads turn, then whisper to the ladies around them, as I floated down the aisle. I knew it was the perfect decision whenever the priest told me afterward, “I looked down the aisle, and I saw prisms of light reflecting off your dress. I have never seen anything like that before – it was a beautiful sight!”
To sum it up: the decision was initially a means to save money; however, it turned out to be the crown jewel of the wedding.

(Personal Photo)

…then Made Its Way to May 2010!

2009 arrived – and with it, my very own engagement.  Looking for my 2010 wedding, I began dreaming and scheming right from the start.  Unlike all the other details bouncing around in my head, though, one was lacking: the dress.  I don’t think I considered why at the time, but looking back, I realize why I wasn’t laboring over this decision: it was because, on some subconscious level, I already had made up my mind.  What dress I would wear for my wedding wasn’t a question, but rather a fact: it would the same one my grandma, and my mother, wore on their wedding days.

I wanted to wear this dress because of its history.  Growing up, I heard tales of this magical gown – how it moved, how it shimmered, how everyone couldn’t stop talking about its beauty (later, I realized that, although this dress indeed is spectacular, it was the women in the gown who made it that way).  Because it was stored in a cedar chest after my mom’s wedding, I didn’t see it in person until I was engaged.  What a day it was when I finally tried it on at my grandma’s house!

I remember being worried that this dress might be too fragile to wear, being 63 years old.  But it wasn’t.  I was concerned that it wouldn’t fit – but it somehow did (how’s that for magical – after 63 years and two weddings!).  Yes, the dress was very heavy, and I needed some serious help from my Maid of Honor when walking around in it…but it was completely worth it.  Did I think about re-styling it to make it more modern?  No.  Call me superstitious, but I didn’t want to alter a gown that has ushered in two happy, long-lasting marriages.

                                                                                           (Personal Photo)

I was, and still am, so proud to be a third-generation bride who wore that Pittsburgh dress.  To that dress, and to all those things in our lives that connect us and make us feel special: Thank You.

                                                                                            (Personal Photo)

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