Sunday, October 18, 2009

My Great Grandmother's Vintage Dress

I go back to our family home three or four times a year and, each time I visit, I go up to one of the attics and sort through crates of accumulated family junk valued possessions.

My clearing obsession started with the realisation that, as my parents got older, I would be the one to have to deal with it all at some point and, if I didn't just want the attic contents carted to the tip, I'd need to get cracking well in advance of their clearance being a necessity. Then, with the announcement of my parents' decision to divorce after forty years of marriage, the need to clear the attics became even more pressing. (The house will inevitably have to be sold in the next year or so.)

When we moved to the house too long ago to count my sister and I went straight to boarding school; the boxes of our books and of our childhood toys remained unpacked and have sat there ever since gathering dust, the contents still wrapped in newspaper. In addition there are boxes of documents, suitcases of clothes & linen, towering piles of yellowing Vogue, NME & Tatler and bric a brac too endless to list.

Although I made a concerted attack on the attic above my bedroom last January by disgorging twelve heavy duty bin liners of broken toys and assorted junk to the municipal tip, and and another ten to the hospice shop in Banbury, I still couldn't see clear floorboards. In June I had another go, this time sorting out cases and boxes of clothes.

After I'd been through our baby clothes & the contents of Great Aunt's Joan's linen cupboard I noticed an obviously vintage purple garment bag hanging from the pipes behind the hot water tank. Grasping the heavy brass zipper, I pulled it halfway down and peeked inside. Something lacey and delicate was in there.

Throwing it through the hole in the attic floor to my bedroom down below, I slid down the vertical folding steps to investigate further. Inside what was evidentally its original bag, was a couture quality lilac crepe and guipure lace day dress with matching crepe coat with bow embellishments.

My mother thinks it must have come from Great Aunt Joan's flat when it was cleared upon her death ten years ago and, upon further investigation, she turned up a photograph of her parent's first wedding, (they married other people subsequently),in 1939, with Grandpa's mother wearing the dress.

Great Granny Wormell had immaculate taste - amongst GA Joan's possessions were piles of her handmade lingerie from Paris, Ferragamo shoes from the 30s, crocodile handbags, wonderful furs and more. She was small of stature, maybe 5'2", with tiny feet. My little sister is a similar height and a size UK8 (US4), so I bullied her into trying the frock on. Eventually, after confiscating her magazine, sweetie supplies and, finally, the dachshund she agreed.


The dress wasn't just her size, it fitted her immaculately. It was the correct length, the sleeves fit, the waist and hips seemingly moulded to her shape. I find it extraordinary that a full eighty years later one of my great-grandmother's descendants should be her exact physical match. We already knew that lil'sis and she had similar shaped feet: Granny Wormell's bespoke shoes fit her perfectly, but for their bodies to be identical is astonishing.


In perfect condition, I suspect that it has been hanging in that bag since our great-grandmother removed it after the wedding. I'm not sure what we'll do with it, but I rather hope that lil'sis finds an opportunity to wear it, especially since she has the same colouring as the original owner. Bridesmaid dress, maybe?