It’s often believed that once a wedding dress is worn, it will be shuffled to the back of the closet, never to see sunshine again.
We asked Southwest Florida women to reveal what they did with their wedding dress after they walked down the aisle. Did it suffer the shuffle — or find new life? In doing so, women shared stories of family troubles and triumphs, of love lost and found, and more than one amusing anecdote.
How amusing? Well, we won’t tell. But here’s a hint: Never trust a dog.
There were many more stories than we could use in this space, but every one of them were obviously cherished memories of a special time in these women’s lives.
The $500 bargain
I bought my wedding dress more than 51 years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y. At the time I paid $500 for it, which was a very expensive price to pay, but I loved it and simply had to have it. My parents, as well as my intended husband, thought I was crazy to spend this much, but they did agree it was very lovely. So I wore it on June 4, 1960, when I married Joe. ...
We corresponded by mail. I had joined a corporation in New York, which he had just left because he went into the army. The girls at the office kept urging me to write a few lines to “this nice guy,” so I finally did. We met more than a year later and were married the next year.
I had my gown cleaned and sealed with a see-through panel in front. When I had my first daughter, Lisa, she loved looking at the dress and always said she would wear that dress when she got married. Of course, I thought it was “cute” but never gave it a thought until one day in 1985 she came to me and asked that very thing.
She wore the dress and we again had it cleaned and sealed, until the day three years later my next daughter, Gina, asked me if she could wear the dress! You can imagine my amazement when I realized that each of my daughters wanted to do this. They looked beautiful, as you can see from the photos.
Yes, I certainly loved this dress and you must admit I received my money’s worth!
The dress is still in beautiful condition 51 years later, cleaned and sealed in the downstairs closet of Lisa’s house, awaiting the next generation!
— Cathy Stenza
Dress first, dream guy later
Believing in love, I saw the dress of my dreams in a little shop in Naples. I purchased it with the knowledge that when I found the man of my dreams I would wear it on my wedding day.
Ten years later, I finally got my wish. I found the man of my dreams, Guy, and we were married in 2001.
A decade later, we renewed our vows at the same site as our original wedding. I wore my dress again, and will continue to do so for as long as it fits. With the good Lord willing, that will be a long, long time. So ladies, never give up on your dreams — or your dress. I’m so glad I didn’t.
— Marla Jo Kibbe
A dress blessed
I married my best friend Nick on May 14, 1960, at St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church in Jersey City, N.J. We had pushed our wedding date forward from October in order for Nick to beat the draft. It did not work, and shortly after returning from our honeymoon in Bermuda, he received the dreaded draft notice.
Eventually, he was deployed to France, and I went home to the Bronx and lived with his parents until his return two years later. As for my beautiful wedding dress, I sewed my name into it and donated it to a convent in Bronx, N.Y., where we made our home. I was advised a nun would wear my dress when taking her final vows to marry God. I was also told she would pray for me every day of her life, and I needed all the prayers I could get.
Here we are 51 years later, retired in beautiful Naples, and I still feel blessed.
— Marsha DiVinitz
The dress I didn’t wear
Vince and I met in May 1943, just before he left for World War II. We wrote every day until he came home in August 1945, and set our wedding date for Aug. 17, 1946.
In May 1946, I went to find a wedding gown. After searching, my mom and I finally found this wedding gown factory in New York City, where we lived. They had a beautiful gown for around $100. After two months I heard nothing from the company. After a number of inquiries, I learned the company had gone out of business. I lost my deposit and the gown.
Time and money were my dilemma. My sister came to my rescue, designing my gown and veil. The train on my gown was 4 yards long!
As the years went by, we were blessed with three beautiful sons, but no daughters to whom I could give the gown. About five years ago a very dear friend of ours was making wedding dolls. She used the material from my gown to make a miniature of my wedding gown, creating a magnificent work of art that I will pass down to my children.
— Louise R. Bufalieri
A mother’s inspired choice
When I became engaged in December 2005 I knew what kind of dress I wanted —- something big and ball gown style, preferably satin with lots of ornate beading. I had made plans for my mom to travel to Florida to go dress shopping, but she called me one day in early March and said she had to stay home. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to stay to do treatments.
Instead of her coming to me, I flew up to be with her. We only had one day to go dress shopping. At the end of a long and exhausting shopping trip, I stood in the dressing room while my Mom came back with a dress she had found for me. She said, “I know you’re going to hate it, but just try it on for me.”
Well, it turned out to be the one.
My wedding day was May 26, 2007. The dress was light and airy, a contrast to the heavy satin with a cathedral train gown I originally considered. My mom talked me out of that first gown, insisting it would be too hot. She was right, 100 percent!
Afterward, my dress was pressed, cleaned and stored. I joke with my husband that if I should die tomorrow, please bury me in the dress, as it reminds me of a truly happy day when I married my best friend.
— Beth Jameson
The dress he ate
On Sept. 29, 1962, I wed the man with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I wore a beautiful off-white peau de soie wedding gown encrusted with tiny seed pearls at the neckline and a full skirt that formed into a large bow with a train. A cathedral length veil complemented the look.
When we had been married about six or seven years and had two boys, I received a curious call from my husband, Robert, asking me what I was planning to do with my wedding gown.
After our wedding, I had had the gown cleaned and boxed and stored in a locker in an unfinished room off our downstairs playroom. When I would go to visit my parents or shop, I would put our Newfoundland dog, Charlie Brown, in the room because a cage was out of the question for a dog of 180 pounds.
You guessed it: The dog broke down the locker door and tore up everything he could get his paws on. He was wrapped in the once-beautiful veil when my husband returned home from work. Can you imagine the dinner conversation? The good news is I am still married to the man of my dreams.
— Carole Beauregard
Happiness for two
My husband, Jasen, and I were married on Feb. 18, 2005, on Grand Bahama Island. My dress was from Demetrios in Tampa. I immediately fell in love with it. The icicle-like design with the sweeping Swarovski crystals was fantastical. So was the fact the line of the dress made me look thinner — a plus for any bride!
Once we got home from our honeymoon to Lake Tahoe, I had the dress professionally cleaned. There it sat in my too-small closet for a year, and I began to think about what I should do with the dress.
So I started to do some research online. How could I make someone else’s day as great as mine was? The answer was amazingly simple. I punched in “wedding dress donations” into the computer’s search engine and immediately popped up the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation. This charity accepts wedding dresses to donate to terminally-ill cancer patients in an attempt to give them a last, happy memory.
At the time, I was fortunate to say I did not personally know anyone with cancer. But this charity struck a chord with me, so off to the post office I went with my wedding dress in tow and shipped it to Oregon. I haven’t regretted my decision to give away the dress. Knowing someone else possibly got a chance to enjoy it too made my day.
— Ingrid Gilbert
I had two wedding dresses. One was a traditional gown, the other a tea-length dress. I wore the gown for my Catholic wedding in an Italian church in Western Pennsylvania. The dress I wore for my Catholic wedding in Rome, Italy. Both were in June 1997.
Actually, I wore the gown four times: first, on my wedding day; second, for our wedding reception that we held a month later; third, for a modeling shoot that was on a carousel in the middle of a mall in Western Pennsylvania; and, finally, for fun around the house on my first anniversary — just to see if it still fit, which it did, and still does.
I wore the second wedding dress four times as well. The first time was on my wedding day in Rome. Then, it became a much-used Halloween costume: first, as an angel costume for a Halloween party in 2006 in Naples; then, this past Halloween as a bride costume in a Halloween parade and a party in Western Pennsylvania.
Now, I’m a wedding and event planner based in Naples and Pennsylvania and the gown is placed on a mannequin and showcased in the corner of my Pennsylvania home office. It is often used as a prop for numerous wedding shows, trade shows and Victorian teas. Meanwhile, the dress is prominently displayed in my closet as a favorite sentimental keepsake, looking forward to be worn again for a special occasion, or a party.
— Alexis Michel Angelo
Roomful of brides
In 1966, 12 years after my wedding to John Harrington, I became president of the Mothers Club of St. Raymond’s Church in Providence, R.I. In casting around for a fundraiser for the parish school that my two children attended, I suggested to the board that we hold a dessert fashion show. Nothing original there, except this fashion show would feature the members’ very own wedding gowns, as well as those of women in their families.
What fun that turned out to be. We had club members scouring the family closets for grandmothers, mothers, aunts and sisters’ wedding dresses. We tried, and succeeded, in getting samples from different eras.
The oldest was from the 1890s and it wasn’t white, but a navy serge number with a somewhat squashed bustle. By the time we collected enough garments to put on a show, we had samples of flapper gowns from the 1920s, a pale blue suit worn by a World War II bride whose new husband left for combat a few days later, some yellowed “Gone with the Wind” numbers and mine: a silk taffeta sheath I wore with 16-button gloves.
I can’t remember how I got the wedding ring on my finger at the altar, but I sure did and it’s still there.
— Jean Harrington
Making over mother’s gown
The bride, Georgine Anderson Hill, was told to wear her mother’s — Mary Anderson Hill — dress. She wanted a new dress but was overruled!
The white satin dress was worn by her mother on Feb. 14, 1920. Lord & Taylor, New York, did the dress over, as Mary was 5 feet, 6 inches, and Georgine only 5 feet, 2 inches.
Georgine was married June 12, 1945 to Dr. John J. Mendillo in Long Island, N.Y.
There was not enough satin for sleeves so Georgine had to wear white gloves. A lace bertha was added to the neckline and a lace mantilla was worn on the head. There was a court train added to the top of the shoulders. It was covered with seed pearls.
Quite an unusual dress.
— Georgine Mendillo
Dress with a suitcase
My wedding gown had an interesting life. It began in 1950, when I saw it in an upscale department store window for $20, marked down from $100. I was told the markdown was because of a dirty spot at the hemline. I tried it on, and it was a perfect fit, so I purchased it and took it to the cleaners.
A few months after my wedding, a college classmate asked if she could borrow it for her wedding ... and then another classmate asked to wear it for her wedding. After three weddings, I decided it needed a rest, so I took it home and put it in my hope chest, where it remained for 30 years, until my youngest daughter, Terri, asked to wear it for her wedding in 1980. By that time it had some yellow spots on the skirt that could be removed. I purchased some soft lace by the yard and overlaid the skirt with the lace.
A few years later she and her husband and children went to Ghana, Africa, as missionaries. She took the gown with her. Two years later, when they returned, she left the dress there with some of the women she had befriended.
I like to think it was worn again and it may still be in circulation there.
— Donna Botma
From debutante to big day
The sensible southern belle who lives within me cherishes the frugality of my very expensive and much loved and used wedding dress. Well, being frugal in the sense of being inexpensive isn’t exactly what I mean, as you will see.
In the 1960s, a proper belle was introduced into society by a series of teas and receptions culminating in “The Debutante Ball.” My family was poor, but proud, and in my small North Carolina town there were no individual introductions. Most of the girls in Lexington were, by invitation, invited to the ball. My southern family’s priorities were appearances above all else. As their only darling daughter, nothing but the best would do. Baloney sandwiches for dinner for a month would cover the cost.
The simple blue silk sheath and short jacket, dyed- to-match pumps, wrist length white gloves, and of course, pearls was the look I chose. Several hats were involved for the teas and receptions that led up to the “Season.”
Spring, of course, was filled with where to, how to, what to, conversation. The ball gown was a demure white satin and lace confection as befitting any southern belle. Dyed-to-match pumps, and this time the gloves were full-length with pearl buttons and definitely kid. I carried a dozen red roses and was escorted by a gentleman friend and a suitable male chaperone during the evening.
I had been properly introduced into a local society of which I never intended to be a part.
I had my sights set on a world of glamour and travel. I wanted to be a stewardess. I spent a year in college waiting to be old enough and then flew to Minneapolis for my first interview with Northwest Orient Airlines. I never had seen an airplane on the ground before or stayed in a hotel. I wore that same blue debutante dress to my interview and to my great joy was hired. If nothing else, that justified the cost of the very expensive blue dress.
As time went by, the very expensive ball gown served as my wedding dress with the addition of a veil, new dyed-to-match pumps, and a beautiful bouquet. So lovely, so sensible.
Tragically, the blue dress and the wedding dress, stored carefully in the basement of our Fargo, N.D., home, suffered death by drowning during a tornado. All was well with the family, but I later discovered that if you have a sump pump in the basement, you need a potato to put into the hole at the base of the sump pump.
Not a very befitting end to those beautiful dresses, but the memories live on in the heart of this southern belle. Those dresses changed the course of my life.
— Brenda McLaughlin
Sharing the dress
My parents were married on May 19, 1936, so this year would have been their 75th wedding anniversary. However, my dad died in 1984 and my mom in 2005. My mother’s wedding gown was all satin and very beautiful. My mom did not do much to preserve it because they were in the midst of the Great Depression and money was tight. It actually laid in a large brown bag in the closet until the house was sold and my mom moved into an apartment when she was in her 80s.
At that time, my sister took the gown thinking one of her daughters might want to wear it. However, that never happened.
In 2001, my mom decided she wanted to do something with the dress. She was 90 years old and it had been 65 years since the wedding, but she was very determined and so she solicited my help. I am the youngest of four and live in Bonita Springs. My mom and my other three siblings lived in Northern Kentucky, so it was a challenge working from a distance.
I got the dress from my sister and, after many cleaners refused to clean it because of its age, I put it in the bathtub and washed the dress. It came out beautifully. Then a friend of mine, who is an excellent seamstress, agreed to cut up the dress and make stuffed bears out of the fabric.
The satin buttons that were on the back of the dress are now on the front of the bear. The ribbed fabric that made up the collar of the dress is now the lining of the bear’s ears and feet. The feet also are embroidered with pink roses on one foot and my mom’s name, Rose, on the other foot.
My mother picked out the design and the thread colors for the trim and the dress was made into four bears, one for each of her children. She planned to surprise us and give them to us for Christmas. Remember, I was the only one who knew she was doing this. Together, we wrote a short poem and attached it in a small frame to the bears with a picture of her in the dress. This was done so no one would ever forget where the bears came from. Needless to say, when she gave them out, and I read the poem, there was not a dry eye in the house.
Now that both of our parents are gone, the bears remain as a constant reminder of the wonderful day my parents married.
— Linda Baker
Dress of many dreams
The first time I laid eyes on my “dream wedding dress” was the cover of Bride’s Magazine, June 1959. My mother and father, Jessie and Fergie Ferguson, saw to it that I walked down the aisle in my dream dress at First United Methodist of Fort Collins, Colo. This was Aug. 9, 1959, when I wed Dr. Robert S. Davidson.
The second time my dream dress was worn was June 4, 1966, in Colorado Springs, Colo., when my cousin Pam Ferguson Dawson wed Pat Dawson at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
My dream dress next gowned my firstborn child and eldest daughter, Lisa Davidson Lefkow, on Aug. 3, 1983 when she wed Brooke Lefkow at First United Methodist Church of South Miami. A beautiful orchid lei flown fresh from Hawaiian enhanced the dream dress.
In anticipation of my youngest daughter Bonnie’s wedding, my dream dress made its fourth appearance after more than 20 years in safe storage. In the spring of 2006 with my two daughters, Lisa and Bonnie, granddaughter Jessie (named after my mother), and family friend, Beth Fredstrom, my dream dress was unpacked, and we sadly found some age damage to the beautiful fabric.
Beth, a marvelous seamstress, immediately saw the potential of remaking the dress to create a modern-day version of the almost 50-year-old magazine cover dress! She was able to retain the embroidered overskirt and then hand-embroidered and beaded the bodice in the same style, while incorporating a modern striped silk fabric. The little original embroidered rose-buds, flattened after three brides weddings, and years of awaiting another wearing, are each padded with tiny bits of cotton, unusual indeed.
So Bonnie Davidson Thayer glided down the aisle in a re-incarnation of my dream dress at Cornerstone United Methodist Church, here in Naples, on New Years Eve 2006 when she wed Aaron Thayer.
My dream dress is now lovingly packed away to await the next Davidson/Lefkow/Thayer girl who wants to wear it. ...
— Joy Davidson