My husband showed me a small blip about these dresses that was in a flyer he got from the Museum of the US Army. It fascinated me so I did a little more research. I am new to reusing items and making them into something else, but this is the ultimate in taking something that contains a lot of memories and finding another use for it! The dresses and their stories that follow are just a wonderful part of our history.
World War II brides had to be very imaginative when it came to finding fabric for their wedding dresses. Many of them found that discarded silk parachutes were a great source of fabric. At the beginning the parachutes were pure cream silk, then they were made from a thinner nylon material. Parachutes were brought back by servicemen as souvenirs as many could not be used again if they had gotten wet from landing in the sea or were damaged in other ways.
Women started making bridal gowns from parachute silk before the war ended. In early 1943 newspaper articles ran stories about young women who were not letting anything go to waste, including the parachutes their husbands jumped from planes in!
Numerous women in the U.S., Europe, and Australia made these dresses as it was difficult to find a lot of white or cream fabric. Instead they used the parachutes which provided lots and lots of fabric – allowing them to make voluminous dresses with big sleeves, long trains and other details.
Today some of these dresses are in museums while others are cherished pieces of family collections. They don’t often come up for auction, making them a rarity on the vintage clothing market.
Joan Corbett and Eric Chapman were married in June 1946. They had met when Eric was stationed at an air force base in New Plymouth and kept corresponding while Eric was stationed in Guadalcanal and Bougainville and Joan worked in the Land Army. Eric picked up a silk parachute from a stockpile when he was discharged at the end of World War II. Eric thought the parachute would make a great wedding dress.
Joan’s mother, Myrtle, made the dress. It features long sleeves, a full skirt and a long train. It also has sixty nine cotton doily medallions in the train, at the waist, and on the shoulders. (Excerpt from Auckland War Memorial Museum Website)
Joan Chapman’s Parachute wedding dress (Auckland War Memorial Museum)
Following is a white wedding dress worn by Lili Lax, 22, for her marriage to Ludwig (Aron) Frydman, 21, on January 27, 1946. They were married in a synagogue near Celle Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. Lili told Ludwig that she had always dreamed of getting married in a white dress, so he obtained a white rayon parachute from a former German airman for 2 pounds of coffee and cigarettes. Lili used her cigarette rations to hire a seamstress, Miriam, to sew the gown. Miriam used the leftover material to make a shirt for Ludwig. Six months later, Lilly’s sister wore the gown when she married, and then their cousin Rosie wore it. Lili lent the dress to many more brides, although she quit counting at 17. Ludwig, his parents Michal and Gizella, and 11 siblings lived in Sevlus, Czechoslovakia, which was annexed by Hungary in 1939. In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary and soon began the systematic deportation of all Jews to concentration camps. Ludwig was confined to Munkacs ghetto and then deported to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Ludwig’s parents and 7 siblings perished. Lili, her father Yitzhak, and 4 younger siblings Faige, Eva, Mechel, and Eli, were from Zarici, Czechoslovakia. In June 1944, Lili and her family were sent to Auschwitz. Lili’s father and brothers were immediately gassed. Lili and her sisters survived imprisonment in Plaszow, Neustadt in Oberschlesien, Gross-Rosen, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Bergen-Belsen was liberated by British forces on April 15, 1945. Lili and Ludwig met in Celle DP camp in June 1945. With their 10 month old daughter and Lili’s sister Eva, they left Celle in 1948 to join her sisters in New York. (Excerpt from US Holocaust Memorial Museum Website “Wedding gown made from a white rayon parachute worn by multiple Jewish brides in a DP camp”)
Parachute Wedding Dress (US Holocaust Memorial Museum)
The wedding dress below was made from a nylon parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger during World War II.
In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. Suffering from only minor injuries, Hensinger used the parachute as a pillow and blanket as he waited to be rescued. He kept the parachute that had saved his life. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947, offering her the material for a gown.
Ruth wanted to create a dress similar to one in the movie Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. Ruth made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple married July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by the their daughter and by their son’s bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian.(Excerpt from Smithsonian Website)
If you would like to see more examples of parachute wedding dresses just Google it and you will be able to see more as well as read the stories behind them.