After a note pinned to the gown was shared on the hospice’s Facebook page. It read: “I wish any lady who takes this dress to have a life with her loved one – 56 years – like I did. Happy years. I was a lucky man to marry a lady like mine.”
— St. Gemma’s Hospice (@stgemmashospice) June 8, 2015
The note was simple and tender. The fact it has gone viral, touching a chord with so many people, reveals the deep connection many of us have with old items of clothing; the way they bring stories with them, a gentle suggestion of a previous owner – a whisper that they were worn and loved before in another place, at another time, on another girl (or boy) who was young and beautiful once upon a time.
In the age of mass-produced clothing (much of which is made in sweatshops in third-world countries), we need stories like this one more than ever, to remind us that some clothes have permanence and a hint of another wearer.
I, like many of my generation, am guilty of buying disposable clothes: jewelled sandals not designed to last beyond a summer, tracksuit bottoms which I know will bobble after a few goes in the washing machine, a neon pink pair of shorts I will only wear once before consigning to a black shelf of my wardrobe.
But these are not pieces I love. The items I cherish tell stories and have an air of could-have-been about them.
Often the cut, quality and fabric of old clothes is better than the mass-produced stuff we see on high streets today. The wedding dress donated to the charity shop is indisputably a beautifully made thing. But an item does not have to be beautiful or expensive to tell a story, though wedding dresses with their connotations of romance, adventure, and embarking upon a journey are often magical – leading many to identify with the anonymous donor and feel touched by his story.
We hope that whoever buys the wedding dress from Gemma’s hospice will love it, have a beautiful wedding and a happily married life. Perhaps every time things seem bleak – or they feel like throttling their spouse – they can remember the previous owner and the 56 years of happy marriage. We like to think that clothing has a memory. It holds on to every person who wore it.