Wedding Dress Holds Memories for Four Generations
The dress was made from taffeta and alison lace. It was speckled with hundreds of tiny Austrian crystal beads and pearls.
Years went by and fashions changed, but the dress lived on. Its sleeves were poufed for the 80’s and cut back off for 2021. Marvelously, and to the delight of the brides, the waist did not have to be taken out. Its train flowed behind three generations of women as they walked down the aisle.
This was the dress first worn by Ann Howard, then by her daughter, Annette, and finally, by her granddaughter, Ashley.
Ann’s mother, Lila Seiler, was a master seamstress. So of course, when Ann married Charles Howard in 1962, she didn’t have to go shopping for a dress.
“I gave her an idea and she took off,” Ann said. “She’s a seamstress and she knew what to do.”
Ann wore that dress down the aisle at the North A & Tennessee Church of Christ in Midland on June 16, 1962. It had a princess-style skirt and a lace bodice and the sleeves were short.
Out of their marriage came twin daughters named for Ann and Charles: Annette and Charlotte. By the late 80’s both girls had fiances and wanted to get married the same summer.
“My husband said, ‘We can’t do two weddings in one summer,’” Ann said.
“Weren’t they picking out all the same things?” Ashley said. “They would each go separately to pick out flowers, and they ended up picking out the same flowers or the same decorations.”
So the twins decided to do a double ceremony. At the time, Ann was teaching at Cooper High School with Marsha Allred, a chemistry teacher who happened to be an excellent wedding planner.
“She came over with her list of all the important things that went on in a wedding,” Ann said. “And the girls had to pick who was the first to walk down the aisle and so on and so forth.”
Annette asked if she could wear her mother’s dress. She fit in the waist part perfectly. Only the hem had to be taken up because she was a little bit shorter than her mother. And of course, to fit with the fashions of the 80’s, the dress needed to have puffed sleeves. Her grandmother, Lila, offered to fix the sleeves and to make a whole new dress for Charlotte.
Charlotte’s dress was similar, but she asked for lace all down the train. Since that was a large project, Lila said she would do it as long as Charlotte helped put the sequins and beads on it to hold it in place.
So Annette and Charlotte got married to their beaus on June 16, 1989, exactly 27 years after their parents got married. They both walked down the aisle at Southern
Hills Church of Christ in Abilene.
Fast forward to 2020, when Annette’s daughter Ashley was getting ready for her wedding. Ashley didn’t know exactly what she wanted in a wedding dress. Her brother’s wife, having recently been through the wedding planning process, offered support and offered to go dress shopping with her. “Over time, over a couple months, we were talking about possibly wearing my mother’s dress,” Ashley said.
“Over time the idea just grew on me.” The dress had been heirloomed-wrapped in a blue, filmy material to preserve it – and stowed in a box in Ann’s house. Ashley and Annette were visiting one day when they decided to get it out. Annette filmed a video as they brought it down and unwrapped it. “I put it on that day, and it fit,” Ashley said. “My excitement about wearing that dress grew.” She remembered standing in the hallway in front of a full-length mirror. She said aloud that she didn’t like the puffed sleeves, and she didn’t like how the pearls had gotten dark, almost a golden-yellow, over time.
“So we decided to get rid of the sleeves,” Ashley said. “But I said, ‘That’s only if I wear it. I’m still not 100 percent set on it.’ And my mom said, ‘You know that’s going to hurt me really bad.’”
Ann set to work making adjustments to the dress. She took off the puffed sleeves and added lace cap sleeves instead. The golden tone of the pearls grew on Ashley and she decided to go ahead and wear it. But there was another problem. The lace at the neckline was flopping down.
“It had been loved on, and worn,” Ashley said.
They added some lace to make it sit properly. There was leftover original lace and taffeta to make it look just right. They came up with lots of ideas to add more to the dress. But in the
end, the sleeves and the neckline were all that needed adjustments.
“I can’t believe my waist was ever that tiny,” Ann said. “The waist was the same for all three of us.”
Ashley got married to Will Peach on February 27, 2021 at Denton Valley Farms. She took a little part of her mother and grandmother with her. And along with her groom, the men in her life participated in the ceremony, too. Her father walked her down the aisle and her grandfather performed the ceremony.
And because the dress was made by her great grandmother, Lila, she carried a piece of her, too. Lila died when Ashley was about 8 years old.
“How quietly but incredibly proud my mother was as Annette wore the dress displaying her handiwork,” Ann said, “and she would have felt the same at Ashley’s wedding. My thoughts were all about my mother and how I wish she could have been here to see Ashley wed.”
“It was like my mom and my grammy were closer, like they were walking right next to me,” Ashley said.
Ashley’s mother, Annette, died eight weeks after her daughter’s wedding.
Now, as Ashley looks forward to the future, she hopes she will have a daughter who might one day wear the dress.
“Hopefully, I have a daughter who gets to wear this dress and feel some connection to her grandmother,” Ashley said. “Hopefully she’ll see these three pictures of us in the dress, and she’ll want to wear it, too. Basically, now I see where my mom was coming from. Now I understand.”
The dress was more than just a dress. It was sewn with more than taffeta and lace and pearls and buttons. It was sewn with love and joy and tears and laughter. It joins together the memories of four generations of women. And perhaps one day, maybe more.
By Haley Laurence