Wedding dress that fell from wartime skies

Felicity James, assistant manager at the Sue Ryder Retro shop Headingley, with the old wedding dressFelicity James, assistant manager at the Sue Ryder Retro shop Headingley, with the old wedding dress
Felicity James, assistant manager at the Sue Ryder Retro shop Headingley, with the old wedding dress
IT WAS once worn by a blushing bride in a Britain still feeling its way out of the darkness of the Second World War.

Lovingly fashioned from parachute silk – as so many were in the make-do-and-mend times of the early 1950s – this wedding dress is at the centre of a mystery that has touched the hearts of fundraisers at the Sue Ryder charity.

An elderly customer recently donated the dress to the charity’s vintage and retro shop on Otley Road in Headingley, Leeds.

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It is thought that he wanted to do his bit to support its work as his late wife had died at the charity’s nearby Wheatfields Hospice.

The dress labelThe dress label
The dress label

Now the charity is keen to say thank-you to the anonymous donor for his generous gift and is appealing for the benefactor or anyone who knows him to get in touch as soon as possible.

The navy blue shirtwaister-style dress has a white collar and a white bow and was dropped off in its original bag, which bears a Leaders Fashions logo.

Also left was a black and white photo from the couple’s wedding day as well as a handwritten note saying that the dress had been bought at a shop on Commercial Street, Leeds, in 1953 for around eight guineas.

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A spokesman for Sue Ryder said: “It must have been extremely difficult for this gentleman to part with such a treasured item and we were thrilled to receive such a generous and heartfelt donation.

“Our specialist vintage and retro shop in Headingley stocks a wide range of items which are kindly donated to help us raise funds to provide incredible care to people with life-changing illnesses, including in the local area at Wheatfields Hospice.”

The spokesman added: “This dress has already proved very popular with staff and customers alike and there has been a lot of interest in it.

“Unfortunately, the gentleman didn’t leave his details and, although the staff were very grateful for the gift, we would really like to get in touch with him to say a proper thankyou and find out the full story behind such an unusual wedding gown.”

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Penned on Royal Horticultural Society-headed paper, the touching note provided by the man reads: “A very much ‘new look’ dress bought at ... Commercial St Leeds 1953 for (I think) 8 guineas.”

Although it is not yet on sale, store staff hope that the dress will fetch between £50 and £100 when it is eventually made available for purchase.

The soft, fine nature of parachute silk meant it was a popular fallback option for people running up their own clothes during the shortage of conventional materials that existed in and immediately after the Second World War.

A hardy group of women from Earlswood in Warwickshire even grabbed pitchforks and tackled a downed German airman on one occasion in 1941 so that they could get hold of his parachute 
to cut apart and use as underwear.

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The Imperial War Museum’s website carries details of a number of dresses in its collection that were made from parachute silk.

One is a bridesmaid’s dress that was created for the wedding of a Ted Hillman (4th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment) and a Ruby Mansfield in 1945.

Another was made for a “theatrical artiste” called Jean Neville for her marriage to an RAF squadron leader. Sadly, the website records, Miss Neville’s marriage did not take place, although the reason for its cancellation is not given.

Anyone with information about the identity of the Headingley wedding dress donor is asked to telephone Paul Martin at Sue Ryder on 0207 554 5955 or alternatively email him at [email protected].

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Wheatfields Hospice is one of 13 centres run by the charity across the UK to provide care and support for people with what it describes as “palliative, long-term and end of life” needs.

For more details about the charity’s work, visit