...Truth is to be handed down. But that's not what this post is about. Nope. In this case, what has been handed down from generation to generation is ... a dress. More specifically, a wedding dress. Even more specifically, my great, great grandmother's wedding dress.
Excited yet? I am. :) It's quite the feeling to pull a 119 year old wedding dress out of a box and think 'if this had never been worn, I might not be here!' (or something along those lines.)
Like I mentioned in the last post, I practiced great self-denial in waiting nearly 10 months to try the dress on, waiting until my great great grandparent's wedding anniversary.
It was really fun to go through the day and be thinking back 119 years, imagining what might've been going on. Weddings in the early 1900s tended to be at 'high noon', so I imagine Great-great Grandmother Anna woke up bright and early to finish whatever decorations might have been going up at her family homestead. And of course there were women working in the kitchen, perhaps little brothers being sent to borrow a few more eggs from the neighbors for the wedding cake, and any little girl handy set to whipping cream or stoning raisins.
I can picture the grooms younger sisters raiding the garden and creating a 'dream of a bouquet' on the hall table, scattering petals in their enthusiasm. And upstairs, in the room she shared with her sisters, Anna is getting ready to meet her bridegroom.
Her hair is already up, done in the swooping pompadour style that was in vogue at the time. Undergarments first - s-curve corset, petticoats, stockings held up with pretty little garters. On with her shoes, tiny and white and clasped with a blue bead for 'something blue'.
Over her head comes the skirt. Long, white and light-weight with a hint of a bustle settled at the back. Now for the brand new bodice, as frilly and floofy and detailed as could be desired. Anna is very proud of that blouse, glad of all the evenings she spent on fine stitching. And what if she did forget to take out the basting stitches? No one would ever notice that. (Or so she thought. She didn't take into consideration curious great-great granddaughters.) Her sister, who is her bridesmaid, carefully connects all the hook and eye closures up the back, then tucks the blouse into the skirt, pulling out the fabric here and there to create the ideal silhouette.
Slipping tiny kid gloves over her hands is the last step. Anna and her sister tiptoe across the hall to the spare room, where dwells the only full length mirror in the house. After a few spins in front of the mirror, they run giggling back to their room, taking care that the guests who are starting to trickle in don't get a glimpse of the bride. Think that's a bit frivolous? Well, remember, Anna is only 16 years old!
It's a few minutes before the ceremony starts. Anna's mother climbs the stairs to drape the long misty veil that she wore at her wedding over her daughter's head. Here is the 'something borrowed' to complete the old rhyme: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue". Held in place by an elaborate hair piece, the veil falls down Anna's back and creates a lacey effect against the dress's short train.
Her father enters the room and holds out his arm. Anna takes it, and her sister gives her a quick kiss on the cheek before descending the stairs with her small bouquet. A few moments later, her own bouquet of autumn flowers nestled in her arm, Anna is escorted down the old staircase and into the crowded parlor, where her young bridegroom is waiting for her.
Now yes, obviously I don't know most of this for sure. I sadly don't know where Anna was married, if her parents were present, or even if she had any siblings! But the above is a conceivable scenario for the time period.
With all this fresh in your brains, I can now show you the picture that was taken on October 27, 1904.
See her frilly blouse, sweeping skirt and lovely bouquet? See the swooping pompadour and the headpiece and veil? The couple's siblings are dancing around behind the photographer, whistling and shouting teasing remarks in an effort to distract them out of their assumed severity. Anna and Adolph's mouths are turned down properly to able them to hold perfectly still for the required length of time. But picture them, if you would, a few moments after this snapshot, when they relax suddenly with a laugh and smile.
Now as pretty a picture I've painted of Anna getting into her dress, it was a slightly different experience for myself. Rather unfortunately, I had a time crunch, so I couldn't take things lovely and slow. Nope, instead I was rushing to get ready for my first real wedding photoshoot.
My hair went up first. In 5 minutes I had my hair puffed up into a ginormous poof (that fell a bit before the picture was taken). Thankfully, I had: "'The back of my hair? that's none of my business!'" as my motto, and a good thing, too. Four clips, a literal bow stuffed under my hair to make it taller (as well as a hair rat) and no end of bobby pins and hairspray were hiding behind that big ol' poof.
The dress was easier. I discovered that I am slightly taller than my great great grandmother, and she was slightly more plump. With relief I realized that I wouldn't have to hold my breath and never dare to laugh in this dress like I've experienced with others! The under petticoat/slip from my own mother's wedding dress I zipped up the back before sliding the skirt of my period gown over my head. I was confused by a strange bunching of fabric at the clasp on my side - and then recognized with delight that here was the 'hint of a bustle' written about in so many books (such as Anne of Green Gables). I twisted the skirt around until it settled in the back, and then swished up and down our room with my elegant little train.
*But oh yes, reality. We're leaving in an hour.* I slipped my arms in the sleeves and hoped that great-great-grandmother had an easier time getting her blouse on than I did. If my waist was slimmer than hers, my forearms are thicker. The only point of dress I ever worried about ripping were the elbow sleeves. I had to call for my sister to hook up the back, and when she came, I got to sweetly ask her if she would be my bridesmaid. She said yes. ;)
I didn't even try to fit my Thomas-sized feet into her stockings and shoes. I just ran out barefoot to find my groom. He was in front of a mirror, trying to fix his own hair into the substantial wave that is pictured on our great-great grandfather. After I helped him coax it into place and showered him with much more hairspray than he preferred, he left to get dressed.
I think he looked wonderfully like his ancestor. :)
A little brother picked me a bouquet of late marigolds from the garden and bride, groom, and party (curious siblings) made their way to where the photographer/bridesmaid was waiting.
Ready for the picture?
October 27, 2023:
119 years, 4 generations and 80-some people later, the wedding dress of a sixteen-year old bride is brought out to live briefly again.
Side by side:
Yep. We're not smiling. But no! we're not bored or sad! Honestly, those are trying-not-to-laugh faces.
The first couple look young, cute and professional. Their great-great grandkids playing dress-up in the next picture look kinda good. But would you like some secrets about the second picture?
-The bride is barefoot and stocking-less (!) .
-The groom is wearing a computer-paper collar.
-The bride has a lace tablecloth cascading down her back.
-The groom's white bowtie was snagged from his baby sister's headband box.
-The bride's headpiece is wadded up tissue paper.
Oh secrets are fun! :)
And I must say, I love all of my brothers. One is the most silly and cheerful in everyday life. Another has the cutest smiles. One has a way of making me laugh out loud at expressions or inside jokes. The middle one is the most unexpectedly funny. Another gets so caught up in a joke himself that it's impossible not to laugh with him. But William gets the prize for goofiness on camera.
When I think of the sibling that is the most fun to take pictures of, William takes the cake. 9 times out of 10 when I review photos, Will's bizarre facial expressions out-rank all others. Yes, I know you think he's shy and quiet. That what he wants you to think. ;) But along with the eyes he inherited from one grandparent, chin from another, his gestures from Daddy and general facial features from his great-great grandfather Adolf, Will must've got a strain of humor from somewhere in his blood, because it's as much there as the other features.
Enjoy the pictures below as a reminder that if candid cameras were a thing 120 years ago, perhaps we would have some photographs like these in those ancient family albums. Remember, things pass down from one generation to the next - including smiles.