Publication Date: Wednesday Feb. 9, 2000
The dress with five lives:
Talk about tradition, this wedding gown adorned five brides over 40 years
by Jane Hazelton Knoerle
Most wedding gowns are worn once, then carefully swathed in layers of tissue to await a future generation. Not mine. My wedding gown was worn by five brides. The first, (me) in 1948; the last in 1985. Not bad, considering the dress wasn't even my first choice.
While working in Chicago, I selected a white satin gown at Saks Fifth Avenue costing the exhorbitant sum of $300. Outrageous, said Mother, who made me take it back. When I went home to Muncie, Indiana, the next weekend, we drove to L.S. Ayres department store in Indianapolis where we found thedress for $125.
Here's how it was described in the wedding write-up in the Muncie Evening Press: "The bride wore a gown of candleight satin designed with a sheer yoke outlined with embroidered seed pearls. The long tight-fitting sleeves formed points over the wrists and were buttoned with tiny covered buttons. The sleeves were edged with embroidered seed pearls. The fitted basque was edged with the same seed pearl embroidery highlighting the soft folds of the full-length cathedral train..." Society editors really gushed in those days.
What I remember most about the dress on May 1, 1948, was how the long train served as sort of an anchor as my father and I proceeded down the aisle at St. Lawrence Catholic Church and that the netting over the shoulders scratched like crazy.
The dress was folded away in Mother's cedar chest until February, 1950, when it was worn by my sister-in-law, the late Janet Hanley Hazelton who married my brother, John, at her parents' home in Muncie. It remained a size 10, although I'm sure it was taken in for Janet's slender waistline.
Then it was back to the cedar chest until September, 1952, when my sister-in-law, Anne Knoerle Schram, now of Mountain View, married Joseph Schram at St. Angela Merici Church in Fairview Park, Ohio. "I loved the dress. It was gorgeous. I felt very privileged to wear it," says Anne. "I liked the candlelight color and felt regal with the long train."
Bride No. 4 was my cousin Judith Hazelton Schell, who rescued "the dress" from the attic. "It was so pretty and I wanted to wear something that belonged in the family," says Judy, who has a strong sense of tradition. Judy wore a size 6, so the dress was cut down to size to fit her 5-foot-2-inch frame. Judy married Dale Schell in July, 1955, at High Street Methodist Church in Muncie. The typical Indiana summer weather "was so hot, we almost passed out," recalls Judy. Wearing a heavy satin gown didn't help. In those days before home air conditioning, we took refuge in the car to cool down.
During the ensuing 30 years, the wedding gown got no respect. Mother even loaned it out to a local little theater group for a play. My daughter, Diane (DeDe) and her little cousins used to drag around in it, playing "bride." Sure enough, one of those cousins, Cathy Schell Galliher, was to wear "the dress" in 1985.
"Cathy always wanted to wear the 'Hazelton dress' because it belonged in the family," says Cathy's mother and Bride No. 4, Judy. By now the gown, almost 40 years old, was showing its age. But Judy found a talented Swiss dressmaker who was able to literally re-make the dress for size-4 Cathy. The pesky netting was removed, the beading restored and the train was shortened.
Cathy and Mike Galliher were married in October, 1985, at historic St. John's Episcopal Church, "Church of the Presidents," in Washington, D.C. The bride, like all those before her, was radiant.
When the dress was re-structured, some of the loose beading was removed. In yet another nod to family ties, Judy Schell sewed those seed pearls onto a linen handkerchief and gave it to Julie Hazelton Rankin, daughter of Bride No. 2, Janet. Julie carried the special handkerchief on herwedding day in May, 1987.
Thedress is now wrapped in a white sheet in a box at Cathy Galliher's home, back in Muncie. Cathy's two daughters, Jennifer, 10, and Julia, 8, look as if they'll be tall like their father. Will the wedding gown see new life in the next generation? Let's wait 20 years and see.