There’s something particularly special about wartime weddings. At a dark time, while dealing with shortages, rationing and danger, sweethearts try their best to celebrate love and look towards a happier future.
The most well-known and evocative wedding dresses from WW2 were made from parachute silk.
This wedding gown is made from the parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger’s life in 1944. It was worn by his fiancée, Ruth, their daughter and granddaughter too. You would never think that such a romantic confection of a dress made with so many creamy ruches and a train could’ve started off strapped to Hensinger’s back as he jumped out of a plane.
Perhaps the most poignant parachute silk wedding dress belonged to Gena Goldfinger. She was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 15th April 1945. Two days later, she met Sergeant Norman Turgel from the British Army, and only a few months later, in October 1945, the couple were married. Her dress can be seen at the Imperial War Museum.
Not all brides could get hold of a parachute, though, and would borrow a wedding dress; my friend’s grandma got married in my great-aunt’s pre-war dress. Still other women opted to get married in a nice suit or dress paired with accessories such as stockings they’d managed to find and keep in their bottom drawer, jewellery, veils or a pretty hat. Although clothing was rationed, millinery supplies weren’t – you just had to try to get hold of them. Buttons were even in short supply, so notice how the next two brides don’t have buttons on their coats or jackets.
This British bride appeared among my family photos. We don’t know who this couple is, but it’s a wonderful example of what you could do to make your day special, even if you couldn’t wear a big white dress. She’s matched her dark shoes with dark gloves, and is wearing a belt with a flower design. The bolero jacket she’s wearing over her dress has a splash of embellishment too.
It was usual for men to marry in uniform if they were in the services as it meant they’d look very smart, and many men were proud of their uniform. My grandma was looking forward to her wedding day in London, in 1942, partly because she was excited about walking down the aisle on the arm of a soldier – my grandad.
The big day arrived, and my grandma walked through the door of the church, looking up the aisle towards the altar rail for her soldier. But alas, my grandad had decided to dress in civvies for the occasion. According to my grandad when he told me this story many years later, my grandma was not very happy!
So my grandad made it up to my grandma a few days later by taking her to a photography studio. He donned his uniform, and she put on her wedding outfit again, and my grandma finally had her soldier. Although not for long – after a brief honeymoon at the seaside (accompanied by my great-grandmother and my grandad’s sisters), the war took him away. He finally came home in 1946.
Thanks to my partner in crime, Catherine Curzon, for the parachute dresses. If you love vintage and antique fashion, Georgian royals, and the Hollywood Golden Age, make sure you follow Catherine on Twitter – look out for #FrockingFabulous and #GravyMagnet!