During WWII fabrics were extremely rare for dressmaking purposes, particularly fine fabrics such as silks. Families were on rations when it came to materials for clothing as well as food. Many cotton and wool manufacturers had converted their production to join the war effort. A common practice for fighting men who had access to parachutes was to lug the huge parachute around throughout the war effort. The parachute would be used as a pillow and blanket while on the front line and they would then bring it home for their sweetheart to turn into a beautiful bridal gown. When faced with either wearing their regular old day suit or having a bridal gown albiet made from a slightly strange medium – a parachute, several brides chose to have the traditional white/ivory gown hand crafted from pieces of a parachute. Generally parachutes were made from silk so for those who were lucky enough to be given a parachute this was a real treat as silk bridal gowns during the war were almost unheard of.
As a tribute to all of those men and women who sacrificed so much for all of us to live the fortunate lives that we do in so many countries today I have put together a collection of some of my favourite 1940s bridal gowns hand made from WWII parachutes.
This first gown even included a little story about the dress which of course I just must share – there is nothing more perfect than a vintage gown with a story!!
Grammy’s Silk Parachute Wedding Dress
“My grandmother’s wedding dress. It is made out a WWII silk parachute from Langley Field. During the war she worked at Langley. One day she was complaining to her boss about how hard is was to find any good fabric for her wedding dress. He asked her what kind of fabric she was looking for, and she said, “silk, taffeta, satin…anything!” He told her to sit put for a minute and disappeared into his office. When he reemerged he was carrying a parachute, with all of the ropes, straps and buckles in tact. He had been entrusted with the destruction of the base’s silk parachutes when the military switched to Nylon. Well, he couldn’t stand to destroy all that perfectly good silk so he rescued four of them.
She took it to her mother, my great-grandmother, who cut the ropes and straps off and removed one panel from the chute. That panel became the bodice and the rest the skirt. The lace is a family heirloom. Pretty cool, eh?
It currently resides in the Hampton History Museum, Hampton, VA. Some day, by the grace of god and with the assistance of crisco and a shoe horn, I hope to wear it when I get married.”
WWII History Center
Time Warp Vintage Clothing
Another gorgeous gown with a story as well as a lovely picture of the bride and groom on their wedding day – Helen McMullens Wedding Dress:
“Jack McMullen was a B-24 Pilot with the 489th Bomb Group, 844th Squadron. He returned to Halesworth in 1996 with his wife Helen for a 489th Reunion. Following their visit, Helen wanted to donate her WWII silk parachute wedding dress to the 489th Bomb Group Museum where it is currently on display.
Helen’s wedding dress was made out of a silk parachute by her mother-in-law, also named Helen. From the photographs you can see the dress was beautifully made. There are two garments; a silk fitted ‘petticoat’ or ‘underskirt’, and the dress itself with a full ‘net’ skirt. The sleeves and the back are fastened with a great number of buttons, each one covered in silk by Helen herself. Parachute cords were used for decoration. The dress itself is a work of art.
Later, Helen decided to alter her wedding dress to enable her to wear it to go dancing in. As a result, the long sleeves on the dress were removed and a pair of short ‘cap’ sleeves fitted. Before sending her wedding dress to the museum, Helen had the long sleeves re-fitted into the dress as you can see in the photos.”
“Betty Green’s wedding dress made from a silk parachute brought back from Germany by her husband, Edwin Morgan Jr., at the end of WWII. Made for $18.00 by John Parva, a tailor from Warren, OH. The manufacturer’s label with Luftwaffe insignia is still visible in the train of the dress, 1946.”
If you love the idea of having a WWII inspired wedding, I have several images of original vintage patterns from the era on my website here for even more inspiration! You may even be fortunate enough to snag one of the very rare original 1940s parachutes on ebay and have your very own hand made silk parachute wedding dress!!