Make Do and Mend: 1940s Wedding Gown Transformation Part 1

Recently a theatre colleague came to me with a proposal. She was in possession of her Grandmamére’s wedding gown from 1949 and wanted to use it to make her own. With full permission of family members (and having different proportions than the gown’s previous owners) it needed to be re-made into something that suited her. I love a challenge like this, and loved that she wanted to wear something with family history for her big day. The gown was handmade by her great grandmother (for her daughter).

1949 Wedding Couple. The original owner of the dress.

1949 Wedding Couple. The original owner of the dress.

It was then worn again by her daughter  (my bride to be’s mother) in 1980.

1980 Wedding of the original bride's daughter. The dress was pretty much unaltered.

1980 Wedding of the original bride’s daughter. The dress was pretty much unaltered.

Being the preservationist that I am, I of course documented the original dress in as much detail as I could.  Most of the material is a stiff satin, with a delicate sheer neck panel and covered buttons at the back neck, and on both sleeves.

Original 1949 Wedding Gown

Original 1949 Wedding Gown

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown with veil

Original 1949 Wedding Gown with veil

 

The skirt was made up of six panels – two in the back and four in the front, gathered into the bodice. The hemline was draped higher in the centre front which graduated into a short train shape in the back.

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown

Original 1949 Wedding Gown

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back with train skirt

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back with train skirt

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back view

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back view

The front neckline had lovely scalloped detailing with the sheer mesh hand tacked behind it.

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Scalloped neckline

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Scalloped neckline

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown sheer neckline

Original 1949 Wedding Gown sheer neckline

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown neckline detail

Original 1949 Wedding Gown neckline detail

There is a side zipper and a short row of buttons at the back neck, so I wondered if the brides had to get into it before getting their hair done, since it would have had to go over the head.

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Side zipper (my dress form is too big!)

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Side zipper (my dress form is too big!)

Did the original seamstress have to cover all 18 buttons by hand?

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back neck detail

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back neck detail

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back neck buttons

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back neck buttons

 

I love the construction details such as handmade satin shoulder pads (small satin pillows – not the extreme ones), tiny darts at the elbows (this is before spandex was in everything) and piping in the waist seam.

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Waistline detail

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Waistline detail

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown handmade satin shoulder pads

Original 1949 Wedding Gown handmade satin shoulder pads

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown handmade satin shoulder pads

Original 1949 Wedding Gown handmade satin shoulder pads

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown sleeve with elbow darts

Original 1949 Wedding Gown sleeve with elbow darts

The sleeve cuffs have lovely V shape over the top of the hand, and one had a single strap holder pinned to it as the second bride’s “something blue”.

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Sleeve buttons

Original 1949 Wedding Gown Sleeve buttons

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown with 'something blue'

Original 1949 Wedding Gown with ‘something blue’ (a strap keeper)

Lots of time and love went into the finishing, with hand stitches tacking down all the facings and sheer neck panel from the inside.

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside out

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside out

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside out detail

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside out detail (lots of gathering stitches!)

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown elbow darts from the inside

Original 1949 Wedding Gown elbow darts from the inside

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside sleeves

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside sleeves

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside back neck

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside back neck

 

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside hand stitching

Original 1949 Wedding Gown inside hand stitching

Inside the skirt I found 2 loops which looked like they would be used for pulling up the train, but couldn’t figure out how they were used as there was no apparent method of attaching them to anything.

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back

Original 1949 Wedding Gown back

I love the simple overall style with interesting details and a beautiful line. It’s a reflection of the time it was made – post WWII modesty with a hint of the more voluminous styles to come in the fuller skirt and gathered waist.

Stay tuned for the “After” transformation!

~Heather

5 Responses to Make Do and Mend: 1940s Wedding Gown Transformation Part 1

  1. Vicki says:

    I cant wait to see the after

  2. Emileigh says:

    I had a 1940s side zip gown, and I got my hair done first, then CAREFULLY put it on over my head (with lots of help), then re-fixed any parts that got mussed.

  3. Angie says:

    The loops may have attached to undergarments to help keep something in place.

  4. Pingback: Make Do and Mend: 1940s Wedding Gown Transformation Part 2 | Heather Lee Bea

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