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From antique to cool: wedding gowns through the decades

Antique Chat with ‘Annie’ Joyce Nordsvan

At Annie’s, we refer to some wearing apparel as ‘vintage’ but we don’t often think of clothing as ‘antique’. I recently went to see the beautiful exhibition The Way We Wore at The Q in Queanbeyan.

I went with my best friend, Lynn, who I went to school with, and this made the event even more memorable. If you missed it, I’m sorry, it was wonderful.

It was an exhibition of wedding gowns worn by the ladies of the district of Queanbeyan from the 1880s to 2006, and was staged by the Queanbeyan Historical Society to celebrate Queanbeyan’s 175th birthday.

Twenty gowns were on display, surrounded by around 45 photographs, some of which were wedding parties including the gown on display. My mother was a seamstress, milliner and tailoress and has made many a gown over 30 years for ladies in the Canberra/Queanbeyan region.

She made gowns for weddings and formal events so we like to think we are ‘au fait’ with garment manufacture. Lynn and I consequently minutely examined each gown (with our eyes not hands) and discussed the intricacies of the style, fabric and needlework involved.

Something borrowed, not much new

Our conversation then led to wedding gowns within our families including our mother’s and our own. Lynn’s mother was a war bride and borrowed her complete outfit for her wedding day as almost everything was in such short supply or impossible to buy.

My mother-in-law married in a classic two piece suit, wearing a hat and carrying a small bouquet. My mother married just after the war and made a comparatively elaborate gown from silk with a high pleated neck and long sleeves.

I don’t know what happened to my mother’s dress, I guess it stayed in Holland when we emigrated and was eventually given away.

Lynn and I both married in the early 1970s. Lynn’s gown was a classic empire line and mine a straight sheath of crepe to emphasise my Brussels lace train. We looked stunning, as all brides do.

Wardrobe filling weddings

An 1883 gown displayed in The Q exhibition was found “crammed into a too full wardrobe with a shopping bag hanging on the same hook.” Lynn’s gown, my gown, my daughter’s gown and my daughter-in-law’s gown are all in our respective wardrobes.

Which makes you wonder, how many wedding gowns are stored in wardrobes across the town, state and country? And what eventually happens to them?

The majority will not be lucky enough to be preserved by an historical society and star in an exhibition. A gown, hat or veil which is central to such an important event surely deserves a more fitting existence.

I did a quick survey of people coming into Annie’s over a weekend and found that the majority still had their wedding gowns. Some were specially cleaned and boxed in pale blue tissue, one had been treated with a special stiffening product which proceeded to disintegrate the gown into dust!

Some dresses had been and were still being used as dress ups for children – thereby perpetuating our memories and putting stars into little girls’ eyes. On this Mother’s Day, may you reminisce with a smile on your face and stars in your eyes.

Till next time, Annie

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