After attending Petaluma Museum's cake and champagne opening reception for its latest presentation, an exhibit of local, historical wedding dresses, aptly titled: "I Do!", I had an aha moment about my own wedding dress, stashed in a box in my old bedroom, at my parents' house in the UK, since the late 80s.
My Mum has been trying her best to pursuade me to haul my wedding dress home to the States for years. Each time I'm over at my childhood home in East Anglia, I do give the idea a thought for a few minutes, but it's become something of a tradition in itself for me to accidentally on purpose forget to make provisions for transporting the swath of ivory skirt and trains, along with those, oh so 80s sleeves, all the way to restore for posterity, here in California.
Now that I'm a parent of an adult child, myself (as well as two more up and coming) I more fully appreciate my mother's desire to have me take ownership of my stuff. The relevance of my wedding dress upon starting a new life (thankfully, still with the same marriage partner!) clear across the globe, wasn't all that apparent.
We all tend to look at outdated clothing, even wedding attire, as an entertaining reminder of how swiftly styles change. I'd often wondered what in the world I would do with a 20 something year old wedding dress, lovely as it once was back in 1988. It did see the light of day a few years back on the eve of my sister Lindsey's wedding when my two sisters and myself tried it on for laughs. Let's just say that two plus decades and almost as many years of parenting have added an extra layer of complexity to my carriage and I won't be sporting my wedding dress for any misguided Miss Haversham-themed Halloween get-up anytime soon.
It struck me as I wandered the museum oohing and aahing over some 20 exquisite wedding gowns worn by local Petaluma luminaries (and their daughters), that each of these dresses must have, at some stage or another, appeared as outdated relics of a bygone era.
Yet, after a period of time, these gorgeous, mostly hand sewn momentos of wedding fashion through the decades, stand alone as a powerful testament to the past, in particular, evoking the characters who wore them on the most important days of their lives, right here in my long-adopted home town.
Because our history here as a community is relatively short compared to the rural, medieval English village in which I was born and raised, it's not so hard to feel a connection to the early settlers of the city. Those whose family names we're so familiar with on street signs and parks.
Just as I was about to leave, I bumped into former council member Karen Nau and her grandaughter Isabelle. The pair were out for a very special afternoon together to visit Nau's own 1982 wedding dress, on display at the exhbit's entrance. Isabelle's maternal great-great grandmother, Jessie Heinzman had hand spun the ivory raw silk for Karen, then Peterson's wedding to her late husband, Jack Nau.
Older, more delicate dresses dating back to the city's heyday in the Victorian era were captivating in style and design, beautifully exhibited on custom built, tiny mannequins. There certainly weren't any overweight brides in historic Petaluma, if the museum's collection of donated gowns is anything to go by.
I found this a compelling exhibit of local history, fantasy-day fashion for real life Petalumans of the past.
I've decided that the next time I go back to England to visit my folks, I'll finally make those arrangements to reclaim my wedding dress. Who knows, maybe in another 80 years or so, it might see the light of day again as a romantic relic from 1980s UK! I'll store it alongside my son's ever expanding collection of antiquated amplifiers......
Be sure to see the "I Do!" exhibit for yourself, open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 10 am to 4 pm and Sundays noon to 4 pm. Petaluma Museum, 20 Fourth Street, Petaluma. $3 members/seniors, $5 general. 707 778 4398. See Petalumamuseum.com