Sally’s Closet the Place for Lace at Chelmsford Historical Exhibit

November 15, 2018

One of the oldest wedding dresses on display at the Garrison House in Chelmsford, shown here is the dress of Lizzie MacDonald who married William Cachran in 1887. SUN photos /David H. Brow Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

CHELMSFORD -- Kay Desmarais and Doris Holt examined the details of an 1880s-era wedding dress, remarking at the carefully sewn beads, sequins and embroidery forming flowery art nouveau-like patterns on the black fabric.

“Look at the work on it,” Desmarais said. “Oh, look at that.”

Wait, a black wedding dress? Yes, that’s right -- white wedding dresses didn’t begin to come into vogue until England’s Queen Victoria wore won for her 1854 wedding, according to Deb Taverna, who chairs the Garrison House board of trustees.

Before that, brides “used to make a really nice dress they could wear again and again,” Taverna said.

Wedding gowns and accessories from the late 1800s up through about 2000, as well as wedding attire from a number of Asian countries, were on display Sunday at the Garrison House as part of a Sally’s Closet exhibit.

The event is named in honor of Chelmsford’s late Sally Palmer Field, a well-known quilter and antique and vintage clothing collector who died in 2011, Taverna said.

It was always Field’s dream to display the clothes, especially the wedding dresses she collected, Taverna said. Unfortunately, she said, half of Field’s collection was lost due to water damage at her home.

Taverna said the Garrison House holds the exhibit every two years, drawing upon its own clothing collection and that of Field, as well as items loaned from residents and others. The exhibit Sunday did not include any items from Field’s collection, she said.

The beautiful white-turned-ivory dress Dolores Rawding, of Winchester, wore for her 1952 wedding was on display, with its 6-foot-long train and lacy upper bodice. Originally of Long Island, New York, Rawding recalled the oppressive heat of the day and reports that people were frying eggs on the sidewalks in Central Park.

Her daughter, Linda Prescott, also wore the dress for her 1978 wedding, trading out Rawding’s beaded leaf-ringed Juliet cap for a long white veil. The double-pleated waist needed to be taken in, but that was no problem for Rawding, a former home economics teacher who had fashioned her own blue post-wedding suit made from the pattern of a French designer.

Fay G. “Virginia” Chin had three dresses on display -- each from a different part of her 1960 wedding, as is tradition with Chinese weddings, she said.

She had to have her lacy white wedding dress custom-made at a Boston boutique to fit her tiny frame. The other two dresses, for her reception and honeymoon, came from Hong Kong, she said.

A dragon made of silver sequins and pink and green bead accents stretches across the top soft pink silk reception dress, with a pink and green beaded phoenix, with silver sequin accents, rising from the bottom.

“I still can put this on,” Chin said, her fingers running over the smooth fabric of the beige honeymoon dress, embroidered with silver and gold bamboo leaves.

The Ripsom family contributed several items to the exhibit, including the wedding gown worn by Betty Ripsom in her marriage to her husband, George, and wedding gowns and other attire their daughter, Margaret Bleau, of Plymouth, collected from a number of Asian countries while stationed at Yokota Air Base in Japan.

Wedding kimono

Among the treasures: a bright red and white Japanese wedding kimono emblazoned with glittering gold cranes; a women’s red and white Korean hanbok, with a jeogori shirt and chima skirt with gold floral accents; and a traditional Thai chitlada with a gold brocade wraparound skirt, white silk jacket with gold flower buttons and bright pink floral lace sash.

Attendees were captivated by the exhibit’s beautiful dresses, and for many it sparked a walk down memory lane.

“It brings back our weddings, hearing about our parents’ weddings, our grandparents’ weddings, that nostalgia -- and you never forget your wedding dress,” Holt said.

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