Three brides, one dress and 50 years of true love

I do, I do, I do! Three brides, one dress and 50 years of true loveSame gown. Even the same date. How the weddings of three generations
of women from one family capture changing social mores – and deeper
values that NEVER change.

UPDATED:

08:23 GMT, 12 July 2012

The bridal gown stands on its mannequin. Its fitted bodice is made of Chantilly lace and fastened with five tiny pearl buttons. A tiered back cascades down like a frothy fountain, each rippling layer appliqued with a fine lace trim. The panelled skirt front sweeps to the floor and ends in a scalloped hem.

It is more than half a century old and you might imagine it is a museum exhibit; a fragment of fashion history. But the dress is special not because it was made by a famous couturier, or modelled by a celebrity, but because it has been worn by brides in three successive generations of one family.

Yorkshire grandmother Dorothy Sampson wore it in June 1959 when she married her husband Peter, then a trainee accountant. Exactly 25 years later, their daughter Catherine Clark walked down the aisle in it when she married Anthony, who then worked in his family textile business.

Something borrowed: Sarah gave the dress a new lease of life when she married Jonathan earlier this year

Something borrowed: Sarah gave the dress a new lease of life when she married Jonathan earlier this year

This year, Catherine’s daughter Sarah,
25, completed the hat-trick: she not only chose her granny’s dress as
her bridal gown, but also decided to marry on June 9, the anniversary of
her parents’ and grandparents’ weddings.

‘The dress had been wrapped in tissue and stored in a box in Mum’s attic,’ says Sarah.

‘Mum got it down and laid it on her
bed. I looked at it, contemplating the tiny waist. But I slipped it on
and it was perfect. It felt like home. I didn’t try on another dress.

‘On my wedding day, I felt like such a princess. I walked down the aisle with tears of happiness streaming down my face.’

Invested in the dress is a treasury of
happy memories. And through the wedding days of the three women who
wore it, we can trace a fascinating social history of middle England.

The story begins with Dorothy, 74, of
Liversedge, who has been married to Peter, 77 — retired from the family
stationery and office equipment business — for 53 years.

They met at a badminton club when she
was 18, he 21. It was — as was customary in the Fifties — a decorous
courtship: ‘You lived with your parents until you were married,’ says
Dorothy. ‘I didn’t drink, other than the odd Babycham, and we didn’t go
to nightclubs.’

After Peter proposed, Dorothy, then a secretary in the family business, went with her mother to buy the dress.

Passed down the generations: Dorothy first wore the dress when she married Peter in 1959, left, and then her daughter Catherine walked down the aisle in it when she married Anthony in 1984

Passed down the generations: Dorothy first wore the dress when she married Peter in 1959, left, and then her daughter Catherine walked down the aisle in it when she married Anthony in 1984

Same dress, same date: Dorothy first wore the
dress when she married Peter in June 9, 1959, left, and then her
daughter Catherine walked down the aisle in it when she married Anthony
in 1984 also on June 9

She says: ‘We chose Anne Corbett’s
bridal shop on Bond Street in Leeds. I spotted the dress with its
long-sleeved lace bodice, turned-back collar and layered back, and when I
tried on the sample it felt right. I had a tiny waist — 24in — and I
was tall, which I hated. (I never admitted to being more than 5ft 7in
and 7/8ths.) I don’t remember trying another dress on.’

The dress cost 30 guineas, about 500
today. Dorothy also chose a French silk veil, so pure and fine it could
be compressed into a tiny ball.

On the morning of her wedding, one of
the staff from Anne Corbett’s helped Dorothy dress. The shop assistant
was at the church, too, arranging the hem and veil.

The florist was eager for her bouquet
of gardenia, lily of the valley, orchid and stephanotis to be seen in
all its glory. ‘If someone gives you a lucky horseshoe, be sure to hide
it behind the blooms so it doesn’t obscure them in the photographs,’ she
counselled Dorothy, who heeded her advice.

Dorothy was radiant with happiness as
she walked down the red carpet — customary at smart Fifties weddings —
to the door of St Thomas’, Batley, the church where her parents
worshipped. The male guests wore morning suits and top hats, while the
four bridesmaids had full-length lemon dresses.

‘In those days, there was no
difference between a wedding and funeral car,’ recalls Dorothy. ‘Now
everyone wants white limousines, but we had a black one.’

Dorothy’s parents paid for the
wedding; it would, she believes, have been rude to ask the cost. She
recalls a lavish reception at her father’s Masonic Lodge, Blenheim
House, in Batley.

The 120 guests, most of them invited
by her parents and in-laws, sat down to a formal meal of iced melon,
asparagus soup, salmon with cucumber sauce, then fruit salad.

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Three generations: Sarah with her mother and grandmother who were delighted she carried on the family tradition

Back at home, the new Mrs Sampson had
her wedding dress cleaned, swathed in tissue paper and put in a box in
the attic. She says: ‘Some people had theirs made into ball gowns. I
decided mine should stay as it was.’

She had no idea that it would have a new lease of life a quarter of a century later as her daughter’s wedding dress.

Catherine, 50, a nurse, says: ‘Anthony
and I decided to get married on June  9, 1984, as it was Mum and Dad’s
silver wedding anniversary. We thought it would be lovely to have a
double celebration. I said: “I’d like to wear your dress, Mum,” and she
told me it was in the loft.

‘As I unwrapped the tissue my heart
was hammering. I thought: “Will it be discoloured Will moths have eaten
it” When I saw it, still perfectly white, a classic vintage gown, I
thought it was beautiful.

‘I tried it on. The bodice seam had to
be let out 1cm,’ says Catherine, who is 5ft 9ins and a size 10. ‘We
had it dry cleaned. It looked gorgeous. At the time, everyone wanted
huge meringue dresses. Mum’s was more understated.’

Catherine and Anthony met when they’d gone to collect their younger siblings from the boarding school they attended.

Catherine remembers reversing her
mum’s estate car into a space Anthony couldn’t negotiate in his Mini.
Some ribbing ensued, which set the tone for their relationship. ‘We hit
it off and I was blessed to marry a man I loved,’ she says.

They dated for two years, during which
time strict rules were observed. ‘At home, Anthony was never allowed
upstairs,’ says Catherine. ‘In those days, it was still rather Victorian
— although we did sneak off for the odd weekend in the Lake District.

‘Now you accept young couples live
together and get to know all about each other’s irritating foibles
before they make a commitment.’

Catherine and Anthony were married at
St Mark’s Church, Dewsbury. ‘We had 150 guests — half were Mum and Dad’s
friends — and many of them remembered the dress from first time
around,’ says Catherine. ‘Dad was so proud. “The dress looks as
beautiful on you as it did on your mother,” he said. I felt such a
special bride.’

Catherine, like Dorothy, had four
bridesmaids; all of them dressed in lemon yellow. Her bouquet of white
freesias, roses, carnation and stephanotis echoed her mother’s.

The wedding breakfast at Parkway
hotel, in Bramhope, near Leeds, was melon, chicken-a-la-creme and fresh
fruit salad. ‘And like Mum and Dad, we had a three-tier square cake.’

/07/11/article-2172234-1406396E000005DC-526_306x620.jpg” width=”306″ height=”620″ alt=”Royal match: Sarah could not fail to spot the similarities between her gown and Kate Middleton's, right” class=”blkBorder” />

Royal match: Sarah could not fail to spot the similarities between her gown and Kate Middleton's, right

Royal match: Sarah could not fail to spot
the similarities between her gown and Kate Middleton's, right

After the celebrations, Catherine took
possession of the dress: it had been stored in her attic for 28 years
when she got it out again to show Sarah.

Catherine was overwhelmed to see her daughter in the wedding gown, but it needed some renovations.

‘We replaced the netting in the
underskirt and had it steam-cleaned. You think: “Why do young people
wear those fishtail dresses baring acres of flesh” Mum’s dress was
demure and unique,’ says Catherine.

Sarah — personal secretary to
Yorkshire Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke — who married restaurant
manager Jonathan Humphreys, 25, was convinced her dress would be unique.
Then she watched last year’s Royal Wedding and could not fail to spot
the similarities between her gown and Kate Middleton’s. ‘I thought: “Oh
my God! It’s Granny’s dress!”’

Sarah, who was married at St Michael
and All Angels’ Church, Thornhill, was so inspired by the story of her
mother’s and grandmother’s weddings that she was determined to have a
traditional wedding: the dress, she feels, was its focal point.

‘Everything came together round it,’
says Sarah, who is 5ft 11in and a size 8. The theme was timeless
elegance. Her parents’ neighbour drove her to the church in the vintage
Talbot car he had lovingly restored.

She adds: ‘My dad is a man of few
words, but I knew he was proud when he saw me in the dress,’ says Sarah.
‘Before the wedding, Mum was on her hands and knees arranging my
petticoats and Dad came in and smiled. It was a special smile of pride;
the same one he had on my graduation day.’

Sarah and Jonathan, both graduates of
York University, had met during their time there. They had been
together for five years and had shared a home, in Selby, North
Yorkshire, for three years before their wedding. Once Sarah decided to
wear her granny’s dress, the decision to choose June 9 for her wedding day was a natural one.

Her bridesmaids wore purple; the male
guests grey morning suits, and she carried a bouquet of canna lilies and
cream roses. The wedding breakfast was goats’ cheese tarts, roast beef,
then vanilla creme brulee.

There were 95 guests at Healds Hall Hotel in Liversedge. The 10,000 cost was shared by the bride and groom’s parents.

The dress remains displayed on a mannequin at Catherine’s house in Middlestown near Wakefield.

Eventually it will be swathed in
tissue and restored to the attic. Perhaps Sarah and Jonathan will have a
daughter who will wear it on her wedding day. They fervently hope so.
But what is it worth

‘Perhaps 3,000,’ says Catherine. ‘But in terms of the memories invested in it, it is priceless.’