On June 1, Katherine Knight walked down the aisle and was married to William Patterson at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Of all the things that made her wedding day special and unique, there was one detail that couldn’t be overlooked. Katherine was wearing a wedding gown that is 120 years old.
The dress is a family heirloom first worn in the 1890s that has been passed down for five generations.
Katherine was the 21st bride to wear the dress as a wedding gown.
“The gown has been a legacy in our family for my entire life,” Katherine said. “Both my mother and grandmother and numerous aunts and cousins wore the dress and it means the world to me to be able to enter this next chapter with Will wearing something so significant. I am so glad it fit and was still in good enough condition for me to carry on in this tradition.”
The dress dates back to the late 1890s. It originally belonged to Katherine’s great-great-great-great maternal aunt Mary Elizabeth Pressley Jones Heard. According to the family’s history, the hand-made Brussels Battenberg lace dress was made in Belgium for Mrs. Heard to wear when she was presented to Queen Victoria’s royal court in England.
Mary never had children and allowed her nieces to play dress-up in the gown, with one of them loving it so much that she later wore it as her wedding dress. Unbeknownst to her, she had started a tradition that would be carried across the world and across generations.
The dress has been worn by Katherine’s mother Nancy McRae Knight, aunt Martha Bosworth, grandmother Jean Fambro McCrae, great aunt Martha Fambro Williams and cousin Elizabeth Ann Bosworth.
Ann Morgan Sisley created a compilation of pictures and stories of the dress and its history in a book called “The Dress: A Golden Legacy.”
Katherine’s mom Nancy Knight wore the dress at her wedding in Rockmart in 1984. She said there’s no expectations or pressure for any bride to wear the dress.
“My sister wore it eight years before I did,” Nancy said. “When I got engaged my mom took me to try on the dress to see if it would fit and I knew immediately that I wanted to wear it. I was overjoyed when Katherine said she really wanted to wear it at her wedding as well.”
When it isn’t in the possession of the bride-to-be, the dress is kept by a family member in LaGrange. When Nancy’s mom wore the dress, the sleeves were altered but other than that it remains relatively unchanged from it’s original design. Repairs are made when absolutely necessary but the dress is not tailored to each bride who wears it.
“A slip is made to fit the bride and then the dress is put on over that,” Nancy said. “It’s strange but it’s cut in such a way that it conforms to almost any size. Shorter brides wear heels so that the length will be correct, and in Katherine’s case she’s tall so she wore ballet slippers.”
Nancy said she’s amazed at the remarkable condition of the dress considering its age and how many women have worn it.
Now that Katherine’s time with the dress has come to an end, Nancy will take it Atlanta to be cleaned and it will return to LaGrange to await the next bride who wants to continue the tradition.
“It really was something very special to see my daughter wearing the dress on her wedding day,” Nancy said. “It was emotional for several reasons but especially knowing that my mother wore it and my sister wore it and I wore it.”