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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tea with the brides of yesteryear

The Kemptville District Hospital Ladies’ Auxiliary had a great idea for a fundraiser: a Vintage Bridal Tea. In this case, not only the gowns were vintage; one of the brides was too.
The event was sold out – a huge success – and I know a few people were sorry they missed it so I’ll fill you in on what happened.
Months ago, Linda Carnegie started organizing the event and accepting donations of vintage bridal gowns for the show. St. Johns United Church was chosen as the venue because it has a circular aisle and riser – perfect for a fashion show.
It wasn’t easy to find models for the gowns, because in many cases women were a lot tinier in days gone by than we are today. Most of the gowns, starting with the 1920s flapper-style floral number, were modeled on mannequins.
A lot of research went into this event. Jenny Thibert (my co-host) and I were provided with a bit of commentary on bridal fashion in each decade, along with a few anecdotes about each dress.
Entering the 20s, dancing became a big part of the wedding celebration, and the gowns got shorter as a result.
In the depression-era 30s, gowns were practical and sturdy. They were made out of florals or solid colours in fabrics that could be worn again for other occasions. There just wasn’t extra money to spend on a one-time gown, even for an occasion as special as a wedding.
In the 40s and 50s, the crinoline took over. In some cases the dress was wearing the bride and not the other way around.
In the 60s wedding gowns took on a number of different styles, depending on the bride’s own choice rather than one particular style. Some were a bit more mod, with mini-dresses hidden under long veils – and white go-go boots to match. Others had a bit of a space-age effect, with metallic touches on the shoulders and belt. The crinoline was still in fashion for the princess-inspired bride, and the simple column dress made an elegant, clean line.
My favourite wedding gown decade was the 70s. Wedding gowns were long and free-flowing without the added bulk of crinoline. Most had long sleeves and high necks, and the daisy pattern that had debuted in the 60s was all the rage in the hippy generation.
At the Bridal tea, one model showed a wedding gown that had been designed and worn by a First Nations bride in the 70s, complete with fringe. The bridesmaid gowns were a blast from the past too, in their couch-cushion florals and starchy organza fabric.
I’m amazed at how well the gowns kept their colour and shape after all these years. In honour of the event, I decided to take my own gown out of storage from when I married the Farmer 11 years ago. It’s still in style, but I have no intention of selling it just yet. With 5 daughters between us, someone may find a use for it yet. My gown from 2007 was strapless off-white with a boned and embroidered bodice and rosette accents on the back and the train. I got it from the bridal salon that was once located at #10 Prescott Street in Kemptville. When they went out of business, I got the dress for about $150. The veil cost more, at $199.
I can’t get my dress to zip up anymore, as I was pretty tiny when I got married. I got my eldest daughter try it on though, so that was fun.
At the Vintage Bridal Tea, we had a vintage model. Norma Fisher whispered in my ear in the dressing room: I feel a bit silly, modeling wedding gowns at my age. I told her, Norma, if I look like you when I’m a senior, I’m going to be strutting around every chance I get!
Norma wriggled easily into her sleek cream-coloured, long-sleeved gown with lace overlay. And that’s a good thing because I can’t think of anyone else who could have fit into it. She said the seamstress charged her $15 for the dress back in 1951, and she gave her $20. Norma also modeled her own daughter’s wedding gown for our charity fashion show. How many 96-year-olds do you know who could do that.
You can see some of the photos from the KDH Vintage Bridal Tea on Kathy Botham’s Facebook page.

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