A dress collection 2 decades in the making to be put on display

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Joy Fine has an elaborate collection of 200 wedding dresses that has been two decades in the making  — and she can tell the story of each and every one of them.

Fine moved from Ontario to a rambling farm house in Jacksonville, about 100 kilometres west of Fredericton.

She bought her first dress in 2000 and she since that time she hasn’t met a dress she didn’t want to add to her collection. 

She’ll be exhibiting some of her collection this spring in Woodstock. 

Dresses with a tale to tell

200-dresses A dress collection 2 decades in the making to be put on display

Joy Fine has been collecting dresses for two decades and knows the story of each and every garment. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Fine loves the elegance and statements of wedding garments.  But when she started her collection almost two decades ago, she realized what truly hooked her were the stories that came with them.

“There are lot of 40s stories,” she said. “There was a story in the 1940s which is a soldier who asked if he could stay one more day because he really wanted to marry his girl.”

And that one extra day saved his life.

“Had he shipped out, the boat he was supposed to be on sunk, and there were no survivors,” said Fine. “So that one day saved his life.”

History through dresses

Many people have donated dresses for Fine’s collection. One is accompanied by a composite photo of the three women — a mother and her two daughters — who wore it between 1940 and 1970.

But she buys rarer finds, like one belonging to a woman named Melissa Miller, who was married in 1878.

That dress would sell for more than $1,000 these days, something Fine said would have been unthinkable in Miller’s day.

“It was very common, back in that day, for girls to marry in their Sunday best, in the dress they would go to church in,” said Fine.  

200-dresses A dress collection 2 decades in the making to be put on display

Each story provides details about the person who wore the dress and in what year, but some dresses come with an incomplete history. Fine said it just depends on the dress’s origin. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

The white wedding dress that’s become a mainstay of modern nuptials is a tradition launched by Queen Victoria in 1840 and was only for the wealthy.

Finery of the famous

Fine has also scored some finery of the famous. She and her mother loved the comedian Phyllis Diller and when Fine wrote to her, Diller wrote back and donated her wedding outfit from her second and final marriage in 1965.

“She just felt that she wanted it to have a home,” said Fine. “And I was lucky enough to be that home. So this is one of my prizes.”  

200-hundred A dress collection 2 decades in the making to be put on display

This dress belonged to Melissa Miller. During this era, many women wore their Sunday best to their weddings. Only wealthy women wore white. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Each dress is stored in acid free plastic bags and then placed in large plastic containers.

“I have a decades chart,” said Fine. “Different dresses comes with different things.”

200-dresses A dress collection 2 decades in the making to be put on display

In her collection, Fine includes a written history lesson for each dress (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Fine has one set that includes everything down to the underwear that was worn to the wedding.

She says she will never refuse a wedding dress donation that comes with a story.  

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