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Historic Havens: Vintage Wedding Gowns on Display

By Lori Draz

History is the fabric that connects our communities. Its threads unite us all, so now it’s time to button down our Historic Havens topic. This month, The Journal celebrates weddings and special events with a most unique visit to the Vintage Wedding Gown exhibit at the Shrewsbury Historical Society. 

The exhibit opened with 20 vintage wedding dresses, donated by local families and painstakingly restored by master seamstress Judi Buncher. The exhibit also includes bridal accessories, items worn by children and grooms, and an explanation of the gown’s history and its details. In many cases, there are also original wedding photos.

Miriam Allen, 1886

The exhibit was an instant hit. Since then, many more people have donated their cherished heirlooms for restoration and display and now the collection has grown to more than 40 of these remarkable gowns. 

Our tour guides through some of the highlights are President of the Shrewsbury Historical Society Don Burden and Master seamstress Buncher, who donated her grandmother’s dress, mother’s dress, and her own wedding and vow renewal dresses. Burden’s sister also donated her gown.

The oldest wedding dress dates to the 1886 wedding of Miriam Allen, of Deal. Her granddaughter, Miriam Buchaca, wore the same dress, updated with a Spanish lace mantilla, at her March 1951 nuptials. The gown was donated by Ken Stockbridge, Allen’s great grandson and son of Miriam Stockbridge.

Robin Blair donated a 1908 dress worn by her grandmother, Georgia Gotshall. This gown is made of the finest silk satin in a formal Gibson Girl style. The blouson bodice creates an hourglass silhouette, and at the neck is a “wedding-band collar” of lace. The bodice and skirt have appliqué rosettes of velvet and lace. The sleeves are three-quarter length, and she wore long kid gloves with white satin pumps. She also wore a half-wreath of lilies of the valley in her hair and carried a “shower” bouquet of white roses and lilies of the valley. According to the family, the dress’ intricate details are thanks to a live-in seamstress. 

Gotshall’s daughter, Dorothy Blair Mason, became Shrewsbury’s first female mayor in 1979. An advocate for women’s rights and their greater involvement in public policies, education and community activities, she was first woman elected to the vestry at Christ Church, which given that the church was founded in 1702, was a historic accomplishment.

Georgia Gotshall, 1908

Hanna Jonassen reminds us of the many area Norwegian immigrants. She emigrated from the village of Brekesto, Norway and met her future husband, Kristian, on a trans-Atlantic crossing. They married and raised eight children, and their granddaughter and great granddaughters remain part of Shrewsbury to this day.

Jonassen’s circa-1907 gown is a lovely, lightweight, shear silk batiste with a high pleated neck and a handmade lace yoke. The blouson bodice of this ankle-length dress is decorated with satin rosettes as are the elbow-length sleeves. The tiny waist is cinched with a V-shaped band. 

Hanna Jonassen, 1907

History meets fashion at the dress of Emilia Siciliano, the second female mayor of Shrewsbury who served from 1999 to 2008. She was a lingerie designer for the True Value chain in New York City. She got engaged on New Year’s Eve, and her father told her she could either get married before Lent or after Easter. She choose the earlier date, leaving her just two months to design and sew her own dress, inspired by the dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in “Funny Face.” Siciliano brought her mannequin on the train so she could work during her commute. 

Buncher noted the fragility of some of these treasures, like the 1913 gown of Laura McDowell, donated by the Borden family granddaughters. The tight-waisted hobble-style dress has three-quarter sleeves called bracelet sleeves. It has sheer lace, hanging beads, a waterfall train and the collar is dotted illusion fabric supported by a serpentine wire. This dress is so delicate that even Buncher could not restore it. 

Buncher also highlighted the Florence Belott 1935 hand-sewn ivory silk gown which closes only at the neck. The unusual neck closure includes streamers that cascade all the way down to hemline in the front. The dress also has a long, rectangular, cathedral-style train which was the popular style of the World War II era. 

These are just a small sample of what you will see at the exhibit. There is a free booklet to help you really understand the history and the intricacies of their construction.  

The exhibit is free, although free will donations are accepted. The hours In January are Sundays from 1:30 to 4 pm, and private appointments for groups, bridal showers, anniversaries and more can be reserved. Call 732-530-7974 or email The Historical Society has a community area to host small gatherings. Additionally, this March as many as 10 of these dresses will be moved to the Eastern Branch of the Monmouth County Library, so check back for more details.  

The Shrewsbury Historical Society and museum are located at the Shrewsbury Municipal Complex with plenty of parking and handicap accessible.  

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