Little girls learn early in life that special occasions are all about the dress: frilly little girl dresses, Sunday-best dresses, party dresses, prom dresses and the biggie: the wedding dress. Visit any formalwear store on a Saturday, and you’ll see brides-to-be trying on what could be “The Dress,” chosen from rows and rows of potential candidates. How does one choose the perfect wedding dress?
When Barbara Harris became engaged to Bill Earnest in 1955, she found her perfect dress at Montaldo’s, an upscale women’s clothing store on West Fourth Street. The princess style dress, made of ivory taffeta, featured a portrait neckline outlined with Alencon lace embroidered with pearls. She wanted to wear her mother’s cap and veil, vintage 1927, but the veil was in tatters, and the cap didn’t match the style of her dress. Barbara was not deterred by these setbacks. Instead, she redesigned the cap in a mid-1950s style with a new veil for a modern look, but with sentimental attachment to her mother, Mabel Clark Harris.
The following year, Barbara’s sister, Mary Elizabeth Harris, was planning her wedding to Jim Harper. Mary Elizabeth was one of Barbara’s attendants and was tall and slender like Barbara. It just made sense that she would also wear this beautiful dress for her special day, with Barbara’s veil and her mother’s cap.
Barbara’s two cousins, also attendants in her wedding, must have fallen in love with the dress as well because they asked to wear this beautiful dress for their weddings. They also wore the veil and the cap that belonged to their Aunt Mabel. One of the cousins was a bit smaller than the other ladies, so the dress was temporarily altered for the occasion.
Barbara’s best friend, Dr. Nancy O’Neil, was planning a Christmas wedding in 1958 to Joe Whitley. Nancy was tall and slender and had been an attendant in Barbara’s 1955 wedding. Nancy asked if she might wear Barbara’s dress, and became the fifth lovely bride to pose for her wedding portrait and walk down the aisle in the dress. Nancy chose a different cap and veil for her bridal ensemble.
Fast forward to 1998, and another bride, from another generation, was planning her wedding. Mary Harper, daughter of Mary Elizabeth, niece of Barbara, and granddaughter of Mabel selected her wedding dress and chose to wear her grandmother’s cap when she married Mitchell Mahony in Centenary Methodist Church. The cap needed a total recovering, and the old lace was gently added to the re-formed cap frame.
Today, the dress, cap and veil, along with several original pieces of the cap material, reside in Barbara’s home and in the home of her daughter. Barbara admits that she has warm memories of her sister and cousins and friend who share this bond of wearing the same beautiful dress on their wedding day. And she treasures the cap that crowned three generations of brides in her family. For these women, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” is more than just a rhyme for brides to recite. It’s a memory.
Coming in July: “Welcome to Winston-Salem! Notable Visitors. Part 1.”