302. The Story of the Magical Dress

Usually, two of the objects which should be excluded at weddings are ex-wives and red wine.  But sometimes rules should be broken.  This was one of the times.

When my niece, Christine Fitzpatrick, was planning her June 1971 wedding to Mark Milner, she spotted her “dream” wedding gown on the cover of Brides Magazine. It was an issue in late 1970 or early 1971. I remember when my sister Joan showed me the cover.  The dress looked like a frothy confection too delicious to eat. In the photograph, a pink ribbon had been woven through the lace on the bodice, but otherwise, it was the color of a fluffy white cloud.

And my niece did it justice!  She looked like a storybook bride. That perfect dress seemed to have been designed for her exclusive use. 

Chris chose to have a blue ribbon threaded through the lace, instead of pink, and the bridesmaids and flower girl (my niece Denise) all wore dresses in the same shade of blue. 

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Fast forward six years.  To 1977.  The wedding gown appears again in public for the second time.  This time my daughter, Susy Ford, was wearing it at her wedding to Curt Warden.  The ribbons in the lace were aqua this time, and they coordinated with the flower-patterned fabric in the bridesmaids dresses. Susy looked beautiful!  When I asked her what she remembered about wearing the dress, she said “I distinctly remember how comfortable it was!” 

It’s interesting how the anniversaries of these weddings are only one day apart.  June 25 for Susy and Curt.  June 26 for Chris and Mark. 

Fast forward five more years.  The wedding dress makes its third (and final) public appearance (as a gown). My niece Rene’ Fitzpatrick – Chris’s younger sister – wore it at her wedding to Dan Melchior in 1982.  This time, the ribbons laced through the bodice were pink, and again, the gown enveloped its wearer in its gentle beauty. 

The really Twilight Zone factor about this magical dress is that it needed no alterations for any of the three brides who wore it.  None. 

We’ll never know if that miraculous fitting worked for more brides. Because of an unpredictable accident, no more brides got to wear this lucky dress.  Not even Chris’s littlest sister Denise (Fitzpatrick) Fortune.

Every bride’s worst nightmare (well, one of them, anyway) happened at Rene’ and Dan’s wedding reception.  If this was a movie, maybe an ex-wife would have hurled a glass of red wine at the bride, thus ruining the occasion – as well as the dress.  But it wasn’t quite that theatrical.

Due no doubt to the absence of any ex-wives, the perpetrator of the crime was the unwary and innocent bride herself.  Rene‘ did it!  Gasp!  Spilled a whole glass of red wine on what had become a family heirloom – a legacy –  Chris’s wedding gown.  

Rene’ explains: “My family (the Fitzpatricks), and Dan’s family (the Melchiors) have totally different ideas of traditional wedding party activities. I had never done the ‘chicken dance’ before. They also do something called ‘chair dancing’. I’m not saying it’s not fun, just different. Well, amongst all of these dancing activities, Dan’s little brother bumped into me while I held my glass of wine. Me, just being old enough to drink, didn’t really understand the whole red wine thing while wearing a white dress. Chris’ face told me how bad the situation was.” 

“When I should have been doing something about the stain, such as cold water, seltzer water, etc, Dan’s brothers and sister were ‘kidnapping’ me from the party. This consisted of exactly what it sounds like. I was hiked up over Dan’s brother’s shoulder and carried, all the way down the long driveway.”  

“By the way, my mother was very perturbed about this. Trust me, I heard about it later.”

Poor unsuspecting Rene’.  How could she have known she was the trigger for the best thing that could have happened to the dress she had just ruined?

It was a catastrophe.  Or should have been.

One day, a few years later, Chris was sadly examining the stored disaster, and she had a monumental inspiration.  “So it can’t be worn as a dress, anymore”, she reasoned, “But maybe there’s still life in the old girl, yet!”  

And so it was, thanks to Rene’s distracted fumble with a glass of red wine, and to Chris’s inspired imagination, the magical dress was reincarnated.

In its later lives, the legacy of the dress has been multiplied. Since then, it has become a lovely wedding purse for the wedding of Chris’s daughter Heather to Dan Roecker; a christening cap for Rene’s grand-baby Braxton; a treasured christening baby blanket for Heather’s babies’ Jake and Ruby;

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and another beautiful wedding purse for my granddaughter Elizabeth Warden for her marriage  to Sean Smith in 2005. 

As an interesting wrinkle to the tradition of a ring-bearer’s pillow, Elizabeth’s junior bridesmaid – my granddaughter Josie – sans ring-bearer –  carried the rings inside Elizabeth’s purse so the best man could reach in for them to present to the minister when the vows were read.

A few years back, Chris created an heirloom booklet for those who had so far shared in the dress.  It was only four pages long at the time, but it will grow longer in the future:

Chris says “The remains of the gown hang downstairs right now. I’m currently preparing to cut out a piece for nephew Joshua Melchior’s wedding to Andrea. I’m thinking about what kind of project I could do for my daughter-in-law Rebecca – I wish I had thought of that when she and Corey got married in 2002.”

I know how you feel, Chris.  In the crush of the wedding festivities during my granddaughter Gretchen’s wedding to Joe Stark in 2008, we sadly forgot about Elizabeth’s purse.  If I can snag some of the mystical bridal gown cloth, I’m going to cook up a future anniversary treasure for those two.  I’m counting on my sister Joan to help me figure out how to do it.  Maybe it could be a picture frame for their wedding photo.

Though she got “skipped” as a wearer of the dress, my neglected little niece Denise makes this philosophical comment: “I will say this: like the dress, the marriages that it attended to were built for longevity. (This year, Chris and Mark have been married 40 years, Susy and Curt have been married 34 years, and, as of October, Rene’ and Dan will have been married 29 years.)

“Was there some good juju sewed into those seams?”, Denise asked.  “Or just the really great influence of their parents, that the brides had the privilege of watching in their growing up years?”

You’ll be relieved to know that, though deprived of wearing the magical gown, Denise’s marriage to Craig Fortune has somehow managed to be a successful one for the past 20 years come December of this year. 

There just aren’t that many magical dresses to go around, and without the red wine stain, this one would probably be spending the rest of its life folded carefully and stored in a box awaiting a wearer who never materializes.  

That’s because no modern bride would be caught dead in it.  It doesn’t show enough skin.  Ninety percent of the wedding gowns sold today are strapless. Today’s brides choose to wear strapless gowns apparently because they don’t have many other choices, or else because otherwise, the marriage might not even be legal. Prince William’s bride Catherine must have shocked the socks off the fashion world when – Gosh – she showed up out of uniform.

In my mind’s eye, I keep seeing Chris’s enchanting dress shared in more reincarnations: bookmarks for our high school or college graduates or retirees for their Bibles or whatever sordid books they’re reading; embellishment for christening gowns, caps, or First Communion, or Confirmation dresses; wedding finery, like, for instance, trim for the wedding gown, or ring-bearer’s pillows, bride’s garters, flower-girl headbands, or anything else that’s “Something Old”, a picture frame for a wedding photo, or for that matter, a three-dimensional wedding announcement or invitation memorializing the event, ala, my creative sister, Joan. The sky’s the limit!

Fun, huh? I may have to be a volunteer for such projects so I’m keeping my sewing machine oiled. The big deal about this forty-year-old dress, – I’m not kidding you – is its magic. If you’re so lucky as to have a piece of it, you know what I mean!

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4 Responses to 302. The Story of the Magical Dress

  1. Chris and Mark says:

    Thank you for the lovely tribute. It is a great dress. I love that each of us wore our own ribbon color and really made it our own. But as I see it now with no ribbon I think I love it even more as an all white gown. I have a couple ideas for you for the anniversary gift. I’ll bring them when we visit so it won’t spoil any surprise. Love you!

  2. dlschuch says:

    I was amazed to find someone else had my wedding gown! I got on line to look for the bride’s magazine in 1971 that had the dress. And I found you! I would love ot send a picture so I’ll send a url of the small wedding pic.

  3. Leanne Derry says:

    I, too, went online to find the magazine from 1971 with MY dress! What a lovely story. My dress had purple ribbons and was made by my husband’s grandmother. I still have the dress with grass stains from the outdoor reception!

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