Metro-East Living

Eight weddings and a shower: Vintage dress display brings families together

Bride puts generations of family wedding dresses on display

Bride-to-be Jenna Wood, of Lebanon, IL, displayed six vintage wedding dresses from family members at her recent bridal shower in Highland, IL, in Southern Illinois, near St. Louis, MO.
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Bride-to-be Jenna Wood, of Lebanon, IL, displayed six vintage wedding dresses from family members at her recent bridal shower in Highland, IL, in Southern Illinois, near St. Louis, MO.

Lucille Wessel and Maurice Rakers got married on a Tuesday in April, squeezing the wedding between Easter and the start of the planting season in 1962.

Maurice was a Mascoutah farmer. The couple’s honeymoon was a one-night stay in Wickliffe Mounds, Ky.

“Being Catholic, you didn’t get married during Lent,” said Lucille, 74, of Highland. “And you couldn’t get married on a Saturday. You’d be out all night, and then you couldn’t get up for church.”

Lucille’s wedding dress was one of six dresses on display at a recent bridal shower for her granddaughter, Jenna Wood, of Lebanon, who is marrying Paul Ritzheimer on April 8.

The dresses, dating from 1940 to 1984, represented eight weddings on both sides of the family (two were worn twice). Each had a story.

Lucille bought her dress for $125 at Famous-Barr in downtown St. Louis. It provided full coverage with its scalloped neckline, fitted bodice, long sleeves and a ball-gown skirt with tiers of lace ruffles and pinch-pleated tulle.

“There were some priests who wouldn’t marry you if you were too bare,” said Lucille, a retired nurse.

Her bouquet included one orchid, traditionally worn as a honeymoon corsage in those days.

Over the years, Lucille kept the dress in a plastic bag in the bedroom closet. Her daughters, Donna Wood and Denise Foppe, occasionally dug it out for pretend weddings.

“We played dress-up in it, and it survived,” said Donna, 52, of Lebanon, Jenna’s mother. “We were pleased with how nicely it displayed.”

Icebreaker for shower guests

Jenna, 25, is a graduate student in business administration and a receptionist at McKendree University. Paul is a geospacial analyst for the defense contractor Leidos.

Jenna thought the vintage wedding-dress display would be a good way to combine her and Paul’s family histories. The biggest challenge was finding six people willing to loan dressmaker forms.

The display was a hit among shower guests last month at Windows on Broadway in Highland.

“They loved it,” Jenna said. “They thought it was the coolest thing. They walked through and looked at the pictures (of the original weddings) and took it all in.”

The display also served as an icebreaker for women who didn’t know each other.

“It kind of created a connection between people,” said Paul’s mother, Pat Ritzheimer, 56, of Trenton. “They could compare the dresses to what they had worn or reminisce about their wedding day.”

The oldest dress belonged to Catherine Schwierjohn, Jenna’s maternal great-grandmother, who married Vincent Wessel in 1940 in Pierron. It had been stored in a cedar chest for 77 years.

The long, A-line dress is made of printed brocade with puffed sleeves, covered buttons up the back and a semi-cathedral train. Catherine carried a bouquet of calla lilies.

“They moved the wedding date up so her brother, who was being drafted, could be there,” said Donna, a technology teacher who wrote a book about Catherine, her grandmother.

The next dress was worn by Mary Lou Chapple, Jenna’s paternal grandmother, who married William Wood in 1960 in Lebanon.

The dress is made of beaded and embroidered organza with a sheer mock sweetheart neckline, cap sleeves, a long full skirt with a pinch-pleated ruffle around the bottom, a large bow in front and chapel train in back.

It was worn a second time by Amy Woodward, who married Mary Lou’s nephew, Wade Chapple, in 1982 in Fayetteville, N.C.

“(Mary Lou) was very happy that somebody was going to wear her dress again,” Donna said.

Influenced by Princess Diana

Paul’s parents, Tom Ritzheimer and the former Pat Lechner, got married in 1984 in Trenton. Her dress was on display at the shower.

It’s made of lace and organza with a Queen Anne neckline, Juliet sleeves, a full skirt with layers of ruffles and a semi-cathedral trail.

“I guess it made me feel special,” said Pat, a retired special-education teacher, noting she had been influenced by Princess Diana’s wedding dress three years earlier.

“I wouldn’t pick the same thing today. I don’t know why. I guess you change and mature over time. I would go for something more simple and elegant instead of so poofy.”

Jenna’s parents, Brent Wood and the former Donna Rakers, got married in Lebanon just a month after Paul’s parents in 1984.

Donna’s dress had a high collar of sheer tulle with beaded appliques, a sweetheart neckline formed by lace ruffles, long sleeves and a full skirt with layers of more lace and organza ruffles.

"What I loved about it was the heart-shaped train," she said. "I knew it was going to look gorgeous coming down the aisle."

Carole Stukenberg and Ron Foppe got married in 1962. Carole’s dress was displayed at the shower because the former Denise Rakers, Jenna’s aunt and godmother, wore it at her 1987 wedding in Breese.

The dress is made of heavy satin with lace around the slightly scooped neckline, long sleeves and a full skirt with box pleats.

“My mother-in-law paid $200 for it at Stix, Baer & Fuller,” said Denise, 51, of Breese, who owns Foppe Insurance Agency with her husband, Bill.

“It fit me perfectly, but I embellished it with some lace and beads to make it my own and bring it into the times. It was a simple gown. And when I got married, hats were in style, so I wore a (brimmed) hat.

“Like Pat, I wouldn’t wear that today. The ‘80s were not our best fashion year.”