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Times Remembered

Not just any wedding dress

I was a war bride, and I wanted my gown to be special. And it was - from the fashionable Bonwit Teller store in New York City. The marriage? Very special, indeed.

By HELEN TINLEY
Published August 31, 2004

photo
[Times photo: Keri Wiginton]
Harold Tinley kisses his wife, Helen, in their Spring Hill home recently. The pair celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary Aug. 12.
  photo
[Photo: Harold Tinley]
The wedding dress was light blue, with a jacket. And it was perfect. Here are Helen and Harold Tinley on their wedding day in California, where Harold was serving in the Air Corps.

In the 1940s, Bonwit Teller, on Fifth Avenue in New York City, was one of America's top fashion retailers. In 1990, after near-bankruptcy and a failed takeover, the upscale store closed its doors forever. Its demise was a disappointment for me because I had been a Bonwit Teller bride. Not a bride in white satin with a long flowing train or imported French lace and a full veil. No, I was a war bride. A bride who carefully packed her wedding dress into a suitcase and traveled 3,000 miles to wed her fiance who was in the Air Corps.

During World War II, decisions about marrying during the war or waiting until it was over challenged many young people. Because weddings had to fit into furloughs or short leaves, they were often informal.

Because I couldn't plan a traditional ceremony and reception, I decided that "my wedding dress should be special." I was convinced that if I shopped for it at Bonwit Teller, on Fifth Avenue in New York City, it would be.

My wedding was to be in August, and in June, a friend and I left my home in Baltimore by train to visit Bonwit Teller. As strangers in the city, we relied on a taxi and its friendly driver to take us directly to the store.

Seated in Bonwit's elegant bridal salon, several dresses were brought to me before I decided on a light blue, two-piece, street-length gown. Everything about it pleased me except for a very large flower (made of many tiny blossoms) attached to the jacket.

As the consultant in the salon removed the flower, she suggested it could be used to create a matching hat.

"The blossoms can be separated and sewn onto brown netting to match your hair," she explained. It was a good idea, and I agreed.

I still have the receipts from the sale to remind me that the cost for the dress was $70.70.

Today that figure seems minimal, but for me, it meant about two weeks' wages. Surprisingly, Bonwit only required a $20 deposit to complete the sale. I was to be responsible for the balance when the dress and hat were delivered.

I can still remember when the bright blue boxes arrived from New York. The hat box was quite chic - round with its own blue silk carrying cord and the words "Bonwit Teller, Fifth Avenue, New York" on the lid. Inside my bridal hat rested on a cloud of white tissue - a flowered fantasy. As I placed it on my head, a short pale blue veil fell to my shoulders. I knew at once that everything was going to be special.

I would later learn that a full-page photograph of my dress appeared in Redbook magazine. A model wore it as she stood before her pretend bridegroom. The photograph accompanied an article describing what a war bride might choose to wear on her wedding day. I could hardly believe it - my wedding dress featured in a national magazine.

As planned, my fiance and I were married in August in California. It was a quiet ceremony in a large, Spanish-style church with only a few friends attending. There was organ music, and as we exchanged vows, the beautiful notes of the Indian Love Call echoed throughout the vaulted, almost empty, church.

A few weeks after our marriage, my husband received orders for deployment overseas. I returned to Baltimore to wait for the war to end.

The war did end - just two days more than a year after our wedding. We spent our first Christmas together that year and on New Year's Eve, I welcomed 1946 wearing my special wedding dress.

In time and after two babies, I slightly outgrew the Size 8, pale-blue creation that I had cherished. Although carefully protected, its delicate blue color faded to gray. Strange spots began to pock the fabric. It saddened me to see it deteriorate, so one day, on impulse and while alone, I watched it disappear into ashes. The hat survived longer (I think I still have it). Even so, white hair could never hide under brown netting.

The marriage? It has also lasted well. On Aug. 12 my husband and I celebrated our 60th anniversary. It was, most of all, a special wedding.

Helen Tinley, 82, lives in Spring Hill. Painting and design were her early interest and work. In her senior years, writing is another special interest.

Let's hear it for . . .

Ginger Herring of St. Petersburg for "Wedding Anniversary." The story about her mother, Helen, was thoughtful and well-written.

[Last modified August 27, 2004, 10:49:05]

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