A Dress with a Story

I have taken up a new hobby in retirement all because of my daughter’s upcoming nuptials. She decided she wanted to wear a vintage dress, something from the 1940ies.  She found her dream dress on eBay, and I bid on it.  Without warning, I received a notice from the seller that the dress was no longer available. I sent the seller a note saying I was very interested in the dress. The seller’s daughter replied to me indicating that her mother was very ill and she, the daughter, was not exactly sure how to handle her mother’s thriving vintage clothes business. I told her that if the dress ever became available, I wanted it.

We bought two more dresses on eBay, but neither was quite what she wanted. One was a short, typical 1950s dress, in a creamy damask, meant for a lot of crinolines or a hoop. One was a plain, yet elegant, organza dress with a Peter Pan collar. The dresses were very yellowed. I packed them away to give to my daughter when she visited. About two months later, the seller contacted me. She still had the dress and wanted to know if I wanted it. I jumped at the chance and bought my daughter her dream dress; a creamy white silk dress, with a pinched waist and a train that seems to go on forever. Happy daughter. However, I had two vintage wedding dresses in my closet. I was planning to resell the dresses but as I pulled them out—and smelled them—I wondered if I could get more money than what I paid if I cleaned them first. I watched a few videos, bought some cleaning supplies, and filled my bathtub. They came out incredibly beautiful. And I found something out, I really liked; refurbishing vintage dresses.

I decided to expand to christening gowns after finding an yellowed, albeit absolutely gorgeous, christening gown for sale. So now my house is full of bridal and baby things.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a 1970s christening gown in the original box. I was working on some big wedding dresses, so I put it on the side. Later, I purchased a white junior bridesmaid/communion dress from the 1970s which was hand smocked and made in the style of Princess Diana’s junior bridesmaids. One of the most beautiful dresses that have come across. Since it was smaller than a wedding dress, I would have room in my tub for another small dress. I decided to clean the christening gown with it.

I carefully opened the box—still with the original prince tag on it. It had been marked down to $7.50 from its original $30. I carefully opened the white tissue paper. The under dress was a long eyelet dress and the over dress was part eyelet trimmed in lace. There was a little bonnet included. It was yellowed, but no stains. It still felt crisp and new. I knew I could clean it and get it out to someone who wanted a nice vintage christening gown. As I was closing the box, I heard something. I opened the box and out fell a tiny hospital bracelet.

I have been aware that every dress I clean and sell has a story. But those stories are mostly lost. The dresses have been given away for various reasons. Most of them I buy second hand (though one did come to me crumpled in the bottom of a garbage bag.) I feel I clean them and then send them out to make new stories, hopefully happy ones. But this dress came with its story. I couldn’t just clean it and sell it without finding out about its story.

The baby bracelet had the hospital, time, date, last name, and gender of the original dress owner. It didn’t take too much searching for me to find someone who matched the information. I felt a little bit worried. What if this dress had a bad story attached to it and it was given away in an effort to move on?  I left a message for the original owner on Facebook. I sent her photos of the dress and the hospital bracelet.  I thought it was probably the most non-confrontational way to reach out. If the person wasn’t interested in the dress, she could just not respond.

That evening I got a call from a woman in New Jersey. She was, indeed, the owner of the dress. She had been estranged from her parents for a very long time and because of this she didn’t have heirlooms from her childhood. She wanted the dress to show her own children. I packed it up and sent it out the next morning, happy that it was off somewhere to make new stories.

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