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Dress Matters

Today, the white wedding dress is such a given in American tradition that it seems like a universally accepted norm, but its history is both more recent and more complicated than many realize. Even those who think they know that history are sometimes mistaken: the white color didn’t always represent virginity, for example, and though Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding dress helped popularize the white gown, she did not invent it.


Many, though not all, American Jewish women embraced the western idea of the elaborate white gown, in which religious and secular expectations could often be combined harmoniously, letting a Jewish bride express herself to the extent her comfort level (and finances) would allow.

Wedding dress worn by Bessie Grossman when she married Louis Paymer, Jan. 3, 1911 at Hazazer’s Hall, Baltimore.


The Baltimore Sun reported, “The Hall was decorated with palms and evergreens and illuminated with incandescent lights. The bride wore a gown of white liberty satin, draped in white chiffon and trimmed in pearls.”  


This fashionable, modern (electric lights!) ceremony called for an equally fashionable gown, and this one is very much a la mode. The use of both machine- and hand-sewing indicates the dress was likely custom-made for the bride, who lived on East Pratt Street where her parents Louis and Ella Grossman owned a grocery store.

Gift of Zelda Paymer Salkin and Lenore Paymer Snyder. JMM 1986.109.1


Suit and tie, worn by Barry Kessler at his marriage to David L. Hankey on January 1, 2013 – the first date same-sex marriage was legal in Maryland. 


Their small interfaith wedding was held under a chuppah at their home, officiated by their friend Alistair So (an Episcopal priest), and attended by family, including the couple’s two children, Helen and Michael. Barry wore this, “without question my best suit, and the only one I would have considered for that day.” 


On loan from Barry Kessler. JMM L2017.5.1-.2


Until the late 20th century, wearing a white dress for a second wedding was seen as inappropriate at best, if not outright vulgar. 


This gold wedding gown was worn by Ruth Guyes when she married Theodore “Teedles” Berman in Baltimore, November 12, 1949.  The bride was a divorcee; following the dictates of both fashion and etiquette, she chose this gold sateen dress with princess seams, ruched neckline and skirt, and cap sleeves (purchased at Virginia Driskill’s dress shop in Towson) with matching elbow-length mitts and a clutch purse.


Dress on loan from Marian Berman. L2016.12.1-.3. Photo courtesy of Tracie Guy-Decker. CP 2017.19.1 


Depending on their circumstances, Jewish American brides were just as likely to wear their best dress – or a new dress, but one suitable to be worn again in more ordinary circumstances – as were other women.  


Wedding portrait of Ida Hurwitz and Mendel “Mike” Glaser, taken by Hebbel Photo, Baltimore, October 1894. Family stories tell us that Ida worked two jobs in order to pay for her wedding to Mendel, who was a very recent immigrant.


Gift of Robert Steinberg. JMM 1992.228.1


Traditional Jewish brides wore white long before most of their European sisters… and so did Jewish grooms, for white is the color of both purity and renewal. Grooms often choose to wear their kittel, a ceremonial white robe, at their weddings.


Dr. Diego Wysynski married Dr. Carolien Panhuysen on December 26, 1996 at the Lloyd Street Synagogue; Rabbis Shlomo Gottdiener (Etz Chaim), Mendel Feldman (pictured; Khal Ahavas Yisroel), and Moshe Hauer (B’nai Jacob) officiated the Orthodox ceremony.


Photo by D. Sherman. Gift of the Baltimore Jewish Times.  JMM 2012.54.413.1

Everyone knows what a wedding dress is like. 

Emily Post, 1922

Fabric names and descriptions are sometimes bewildering to the fashion novices among us. Take silk, for example: for a long time, and still, the most popular fabric choice for wedding gowns. But ‘silk’ involves a multitude of weaves, sheens, patterns, and stiffness, and today it needn’t necessarily come from a silkworm. Is that silk gown a charmeuse? A shantung? A marquisette?


As helpful sewing guides and wedding websites inform us, each fabric has its own advantages and disadvantages.  Does your desired silhouette require a stiff fabric, or a drapey one? Is the season warm enough for organza, or chilly enough for velvet? Is faille still in fashion? Will you choose a synthetic fabric or natural, and why? And what do all those different words mean, anyway?

A wedding of considerable interest took place yesterday evening at 7 o'clock at the Har Sinai Synagogue, Wilson and Bolton streets, when Miss Bertha Rayner Straus, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Straus, was married to Mr. George P. Davis, formerly of Petersburg, Va., but now of Baltimore. The temple was elaborate decorated with palms and cut flowers, the altar being banked on both sides. Rev. Dr. Charles A. Rubenstein, rabbi of the synagogue, performed the ceremony, the choir rendering special musical selections during the entrance and exit of the bridal party. The bride wore a handsome gown of pan [panne, or crushed] velvet, embroidered in real lace and pearls. Her veil was caught with a diamond clasp and she carried white heather and Bride roses.

- The Baltimore Sun, December 8, 1899


Left: Black velvet dress made by David Adler, Ladies' Tailor, for Anne Adler Salganik, c. 1930. JMM 1990.133.1.

Right, top: Blue velvet hat, c. 1950s. “Hutzler’s Baltimore 41” label. JMM 1987.126.28.

Right, center: Tan velvet yarmulke with gold embroidery collected by Blanche Shimmel as a travel souvenir. JMM 2001.39.6a.

Right, bottom: Green velvet tefillin bag belonging to Rev. Benjamin Bleiberg, cantor of Eden St. Shul. JMM 1983.68.5a.

Miss Jennye Lesser, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Lesser, was married to Mr. Abraham Cummins yesterday at 6 p.m. The ceremony was performed in Lloyd Street Synagogue by Rabbi Schaffer, assisted by Rabbi Levinson. The bride was attired in a white lace robe over taffeta, trimmed with point lace, and carried lilies of the valley.

- The Baltimore Sun, October 22, 1906

The wedding of Miss Barbara Evelyn Blaustein, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Blaustein of Pikesville, and Mr. David Hirschhorn of Irvington, NJ, took place October 23 at the home of the bride's parents. The ceremony was performed by Rabbi Abraham D. Shaw.... Escorted by her father, the bride wore a gown of white silk taffeta trimmed with re-embroidered Alencon lace. Her fingertip veil fell from a matching Juliet cap and she carried a bouquet of white phalaenopsis orchids with streamers of stephanotis.

- The Baltimore Sun, October 30, 1955

Left: Black lace and taffeta dress, c.1900a, that belonged to Jennie Goldschieder Frenkil and made by Baltimore dressmaker Tillie Rosenblum. JMM 1990.116.15.   

Right, top: Silk taffeta shoes by Rayne, 1960s. Given by Mrs Peter Palumbo, courtesy of the V&A Museum.

Right, center top: Silk taffeta fan  by A. Rodien, c. 1870. Gift of Miss Ida Lincoln Cooper, 1943, courtesy of the Met.

Right, center bottom: Silk taffeta hat, snood-style, by Claire Comte, 1940s. Given by Mrs Newnham, courtesy of the V&A Museum.

Right, bottom: Synthetic taffeta and rubber bag by Carole Mortisha Ascoli, 1995. Given by Mortisha, courtesy of the V&A Museum..


The marriage of Miss Rose Schuchman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Schuchman, to Rev. Morris Klavan, son of Rabbi and Mrs. Joshua Klavan of Washington, DC, was solemnized Sunday, December 1, at Community Hall.…The bride was dressed in ivory brocaded satin and carried roses and lilies of the valley. 

- The Baltimore Jewish Times, January 3, 1941


Wedding dress, Rose Schuchman Klavan. JMM 2016.36.1.

Miss Florence Judith Lorch, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur R. Lorch of Scarsdale, New York, was married Wednesday, June 10, to Mr. George Frederick Kolodner. He is the son of Dr. and Mrs. Louis Kolodner of Baltimore, Md.... [The bride] wore a long empire gown of silk organza and a shoulder length veil of tulle held in place by a single flower headpiece over the forehead. Her flowers were eucharis lilies and stephanotis.

- The Baltimore Jewish Times, June 12, 1964


Left, top: Silk organza handbag by Emily Jo Gibbs, 1998. Given by the designer, courtesy of the V&A Museum.

Left, center: 'Petal' style hat of silk organza, designed by Rudolf, Great Britain, 1950s. Given by Mrs Bella Wyndgate, the V&A museum. 

Left, bottom: Organza evening gloves designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, fall 1939. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Costume Collection Fund, 1995.

Right: Silk organza wedding dress designed by Jo Copeland, 1937. Gift of Raymond J. Cuminale-Russo, In honor of his mother Carmela F. Russo, courtesy of the Museum at FIT.

Mr. Nathan Epstein and Miss Laura Strauss, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Strauss, were married last evening at Lehmann's Hall Rev. Dr. William Rosenau, rabbi of the Eutaw Place Temple, officiated. The hall was tastefully decorated with palms and cut flowers. The bride wore a gown of white crepe de chine trimmed in Duchess lace and wore a diamond pendant, gift of the groom. She carried a prayerbook and lilies of the valley.

- The Baltimore Sun, September 27, 1901

Left: “Celebrate” scarf, permanent dyes on crepe de chine, designed and handpainted by Roberta Hyman, summer 1996. JMM 1997.8.1. 

Right: Silk crepe de chine evening cape by Chanel, 1927. Gift from The Dorothea Stephens Wiman Collection, courtesy of the Museum at FIT.

Crepe de Chine.jpg

Mr. Henry Keller, of Parkersburg [West Virginia], and Miss Dora Lowenstein were married in Lehmann's hall in the afternoon at 5 o'clock, by the Rev. Benjamin Szold, of the Hanover Street Synagogue. The couple, during the ceremony, stood under an arch made of evergreen and flowers. the front of the state, in the rear of the officiating rabbi, was decorated elaborately. . . . The bride wore faille Francais, with duchess lace. She also wore natural flowers in her hair and carried a bouquet of bridal roses in her hand. The bride is a member of the choir of the Hanover Street Synagogue.

- The Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1889

Faille combo.jpg

Left: Silk faille evening gown by Elsa Schiaparelli, c. 1955. Gift of Mr. Rodman A. Heeren, courtesy of the Museum at FIT.

Right top: Black faille fabric costume with gold silk, c. 1930-1950. Given by Peter F. Bazeley, courtesy of the V&A Museum.

Right, bottom: Pink faille shoes by Fenton Footwear, 1930s. Museum Purchase, courtesy of the Museum at FIT.

One of the most beautiful weddings of the season took place at the Southern Hotel on Sunday, March 7, when Miss Rae Freedman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Barnett Freedman, and Mr. Isador Mount of this city were united in marriage. The ceremony was performed by Rabbi S. Schaffer assisted by Cantor Alfred Davidman. The bride was attired in a French model of white georgette, embroidered with pearls and her veil was formed with a coronet of family lace. Her bridal bouquet was of lillies-of-the-valley and white orchids.

- The Baltimore Jewish Times, March 12, 1926

Left: Silk georgette slip/chemise, c. 1930s. JMM 1986.130.1c

Right: Short-sleeved party frock of twill-woven silk satin, skirt lined with green silk georgette. JMM 1991.217.1


Miss Fannie Mansbach, daughter of Mr. H.H. Mansbach, a leading business man of Cumberland, was married this evening to Mr. Dan Rose Broh, a merchant of Parkersburg, W. Va., at the bride's home, in Cumberland. Rabbi J. L. Stern, pastor of the Cumberland congregation, officiated. The music was furnished by Prof. George R. Daisy's Orchestra. The decorations, which were most profuse, consisted of Bride roses and ferns. The bride was given away by her father. Her gown was of white organdie. She wore orange blossoms.

- The Baltimore Sun, September 7, 1898


Wedding dress with organdy lace overlay worn by Bessie Tarses during wedding to Sidney Earl Tucker, August 6, 1931 and portrait of Bessie in dress. JMM 1995.4.1,4.

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