Vintage gowns stirring local memories of weddings past

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
If nostalgia was a cloud, it would be floating in big white puffs inside Molly’s On Main Street, the antiques and collectibles store at 119 S. Main in Hillsboro.

June is bridal month, and four wedding gowns-worn between 1927 and 1964-are on display at the antique store.

“So many women have come in to see the dresses,” said employee Janice Porter. “It’s been a good interest.”

Owner Sharon Mueller contacted women in the Hillsboro area to borrow either their wedding dress or one belonging to their mother to be displayed in her store.

The exhibit includes wedding gowns worn by Susie (Hiebert) Wiens, Martha (Koch) Klein, Joyce (Schneider) Medley and Judy (Klein) Helmer.

But the display goes beyond material, buttons and lace. It includes photos of the bride and groom, and information about a seamstress who used to tailor wedding dresses in Hillsboro.

Susie Esau custom sewed wedding dresses without the aide of patterns or modern computer-programmed sewing machines. (See related story.)

Nearly 800 gowns were created by Esau in her career as a seamstress, whose shop was located in the back of the former Ben Franklin Store on North Main Street, Mueller said.

“She never used a pattern. She told them how much fabric to get and when she was through, there were just scraps,” Mueller said.

“I mean she guessed that close.”

Two wedding dresses sewn by Esau are showcased at the store. One is a doll’s dress, and the other is Medley’s bridal gown.

“Alice Koop let us borrow her doll that is wearing a wedding dress made by Susie Esau,” Porter said. “We thought it would be fun to have it here in the display.”

Medley, who will retire in August as secretary at USD 410 school district in Hillsboro, was married in 1950 and chose to have Esau create her wedding dress.

“I saw this gown in a magazine,” Medley said.

“The actress Elizabeth Taylor, it was her first marriage, and she had this beautiful wedding gown that I really liked.

“I took the picture to Mrs. Esau and from that she made it.”

For today’s bride, the cost of a wedding dress can run into the hundreds and thousands.

And the cost of Medley’s dress made by Esau in 1950?

“I think it was about $75-that was for everything,” she said.

The dress is made of heavy satin and lace. The lace is inset in the front of the skirt with a satin underlay.

“It has a lace collar and yoke in the front with covered satin buttons all the way down, long sleeves and a train,” Medley said.

“She also made the veil, and I wore satin slippers.”

Esau displayed Medley’s gown in her window after the wedding, and it has also been worn at bridal shows, a school celebration and at the Durham centennial celebration.

“It seemed to be well preserved, but the veil is kind of deteriorating,” Medley said.

“I just kept it in a big heavy box. I had tissue paper around it and in between the layers, and that’s all.”

Susie Wiens was married in 1927 to David B. Wiens on her parents’ farm in rural Goessel.

Daughter-in-law Karen Wiens, rural Hillsboro, found Susie’s wedding dress about 10 to 15 years ago in a plastic bag in an old wooden trunk.

“The only reason I knew what it was, was because I had seen their wedding picture,” Karen Wiens said.

The dress has a row of sequins edging the rounded neckline. The sequins are echoed at the wrists, and the shoulders are smocked.

“We think the gown is silk,” Porter said.

“It feels like an old silk hankie.”

The short skirt is reminiscent of the “flapper” styles of the ’20s, and the wedding photo shows a veil that continued past the hemline of the dress and almost touched the floor.

The newest dress on display was worn by Judy Helmer when she and husband Larry were married in 1964 at Zion Lutheran Church in Hillsboro.

The taffeta gown-a part of the Jackie Kennedy fashion era-has a long-sleeve fitted bodice with corded appliqued lace that begins at the neckline and extends down the front of a paneled, bouffant skirt.

Unpressed pleats on the skirt continue into a cathedral train also trimmed with lace.

“I bought it in Wichita,” Helmer said. “It was just the gown that I liked best.

“One other person borrowed it from me, a friend who wore it in her wedding.”

Helmer said she kept the dress hanging in plastic until last year, when she decided to keep it in a cedar chest.

The fourth dress at Molly’s belongs to Mueller’s mother, Martha Klein, who was married in Lipscomb, Texas.

The most colorful of all the dresses on display-it’s a periwinkle-blue satin.

“It wasn’t unusual at that time to have a colored wedding dress,” Mueller said.

The empire design has tucks on the bodice with puffy, gathered short sleeves.

A tab of material overlayed down the middle of the bodice is decorated with three large rhinestone buttons, and the full-length skirt has a gentle flare to it.”

Mueller said her mother wrapped the gown in brown paper and kept it in a cedar chest over the years.

Even though these gowns have been preserved, some details about the weddings are forgotten or lost over generations.

Wiens said she wished she’d had an opportunity to have her mother-in-law tell her more about her wedding day.

“She died less than two years after we were married, so I wasn’t able to find out a lot of things I would have liked to have known.”

But Wiens said she’s happy that the gown is being displayed for others to enjoy during bridal month.

“I thought it was very interesting, and it’s fun to have it over there,” she said.

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