Contemporary American brides are often expected to wear white at their wedding. Historically, brides simply wore their "best dress" - in any color - for the occasion. Infused with the young bride's dreams and hopes, this "best dress" was temporarily transformed into a wedding dress. Most brides continued to wear their dress long after the wedding, sometimes even restyling it to keep up with changing fashions. Carefully saved by sons and daughters decade after decade, these treasured dresses comprise the foundation of GMD's collection.
Above: Wedding bodice and skirts, 1876. Gift of Jeanette Hauschild 1996.133.001a-c
The light brown, elaborately ruffled dress above was worn by twenty-five-year-old schoolteacher Anna Jane Hanson when she wed William Secoy in her family home in Illinois on April 4, 1876. Anna was described as a beautiful and accomplished woman - frugal, honest, and ambitious - whose prized wedding gift was the Bible given to her by her father, John. Over 130 years later, this dress remains as a testament to Anna's transformation from daughter to wife. Less than twenty-four hours after the ceremony, the young bride left her hometown to begin a new life with her husband out West.
Carefully crafted from fine wool challis dyed antique bronze, this gown is comprised of three pieces: a highly structured bodice, an underskirt with a train and bustle, and an overskirt with a sweetly ruffled pocket. Hundreds of tiny knife pleats and ruffles line the edges of the skirts and cuffs. Together, they form a striking pattern on the back bodice, emphasizing the bride's hourglass figure. A sheer white neckerchief, now lost, complemented the ensemble.
Above: WAVES uniform and hat, 1940-1944. Gift of Dorothy Samuelson Leeds 1977.036.001a-e
Prim and polished, this Naval Reserve uniform was worn as a wedding dress by Dorothy Samuelson. Amid the drama of World War II, Dorothy, a University of Minnesota graduate (College of Home Economics, class of 1933), married Herbert Alan Leeds, a Merchant Marine, on April 14, 1944.
Over 350,000 women joined the United States Armed Services during World War II. The women's branch of the Navy was called the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). Members held the same status as those in the Naval Reserve and provided crucial stateside military support. Upon joining the WAVES, Dorothy was named Officer In Charge of uniforms. Dorothy recalled that "between February 1943 and August 1945, my department put 90,000 women into navy blue. It was a unique experience because it was an unprecedented, ingenious, efficient and cooperative effort between the military and six highly competitive New York department stores."
Sadly, Dorothy has passed on. Her husband Herbert recently visited the Goldstein to see Dorothy's wedding dress, an emotional experience for all involved. He is pictured above, posing alongside the dress Dorothy wore for their wedding.
GMD Collections Assistant