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On Allison Rinaldi’s wedding day in June she didn’t have to think twice about what her ‘something old’ would be.
Even before her husband popped the question she knew she would be wearing a wedding dress that has been in her family for 127 years.
Bought back in 1884 for her great-great-grandmother’s wedding day, it has since been worn by Allison’s grandmother, aunt, mum – and now her.
“I always knew I wanted to wear the dress,” graphic designer Allison, 23, says. “I even tried it on when I was a little girl.
“Not only did I think it was beautiful, I loved the sense of history which came along with it and I am such a family kind of girl that it meant a lot for me to carry on the tradition.
“My mum and Grandma would always talk about what amazing wedding days they had while wearing it, so I thought it would bring me luck if I did, too.
“And I was right! Our wedding day was perfect and wearing the dress made it even more special.”
It was on June 11 this year when Allison tied the knot with graduate student Chris Rinaldi in St Louis, Missouri.
And there to prepare her as she squeezed into her historic dress was mum Mimi, 55, who had worn the very same dress 29 years before on June 5, 1982.
“It was so emotional helping Allison get into the dress,” Mimi says. “But utterly wonderful as it made me recall my own special day. Like me, Allison was getting married on the university campus where she had met her husband, which is exactly what I did when I married her dad, Jack.
“And I can safely say Allison’s day was just as great as mine.
“She had a few more guests than I did, but both weddings were full of joy and laughter.
“I just hope the dress brings her as much joy, love and happiness as it gave every other woman who wore it before us. Each of us went on to have long and happy marriages.”
The dress was made out of tone-on-tone ecru silk brocade and patterned with chrysanthemum flowers. It was created in 1884.
Nellie Campbell, Allison’s paternal great-great-grandmother, first wore it when she married A.G. Shellito in 1884 in Iowa. But unlike Allison and Mimi, her wedding was much smaller and held in the family home.
Allison says: “It always surprised me to find out Nellie had chosen such a grand dress for a wedding at her home.
“We don’t know much about the day apart from that it was on December 30, 1884 and no more than around 12 people attended. But she must have felt like a princess to have worn such a dress in her own front room.”
The dress skipped a generation until Jean Lawman married Nellie’s grandson, John Shellito in Iowa on December 26th, 1941.
Jean was too frail to attend granddaughter Allison’s wedding this year and passed away two weeks after the ceremony, but Allison says she was overjoyed when she found out she was going to wear the dress.
“Grandma had a long life and passed away in her sleep when she was 91, just two weeks after my wedding,” Allison says.
“And I know she wished she could have been strong enough to make it to the wedding as she was so excited to see the dress again.
“Chris and I made sure we told her all about it before she passed and she was over the moon to hear it had also made me as happy as it had made her.
“I asked her how she had come to wear it and she told me, ‘It was beautiful, it was offered and it fit!’
“She actually tried it on the night Pearl Harbour struck. Unfortunately, my grandad then had to enlist, so they were married just a few weeks later.”
Next to wear the dress was Barbara Shellito, from Boston, who wore it when she wed Jean’s son Paul on July 12, 1975 in Wichita, Kansas.
Allison said: “My aunt Barbara was there on my wedding day and I know, like my mum, it brought back so many happy memories of her wedding day when she married uncle Paul.
“She loved seeing the dress in all its glory again.”
Allison’s mum Mimi Balazs Shellito also wore the dress when she got married in 1982 to Jack.
Mimi says: “I loved the way that the dress caught the light. It was just made of the most exquisite material.
“That’s why it lasted and I am glad to say it looked just as stunning on Allison as it had so many years before. The dress just glowed and so did my daughter.”
Considering its age the dress is in pristine condition thanks to the fact that it has been lovingly stored in linen sheets for the past 127 years.
So much so that Allison says she made barely any alterations to the dress on her big day. The only thing she had to do was go on a diet so she could fit into it.
She said: “The dress is just stunning and I would have loved it even if my mum and all my other relatives had not worn it. To me its vintage look is so modern and it just has this sheen which glows.
“And it is so different from all the usual strapless gowns girls today always seem to wear.
“My mum had some patching done to it before her wedding, but apart from that it was in perfect shape. It was so well made and carefully looked after.
“The only issue was that at my age my mum was smaller than me so I knew it was going to be a tight fit to get in it. But before my wedding I dieted like mad and thankfully it fitted me like a glove.
“The only thing I did differently was to wear a bustle under mine.”
Allison could not have been happier with the results and neither could her doting new hubby.
“Chris was a little bit jealous that everyone had seen the dress before him, but he understood just how important it was to me,” Allison says.
“And when I saw the look on his beaming face as I walked down the aisle I knew I had made the right decision.
“He loved it and thought it was beautiful. He was so nervous though, it took him a little while to register what I was even wearing, but once he did he absolutely loved it. It was a magical day.”
Allison hopes that if she has a little girl the tradition will continue. And to ensure the dress stays in good condition she changed into a different dress for her reception.
“I would love nothing more than to have a daughter who will want to wear the dress,” says Allison.
“It’s just got such sentimental value now for all of us.
“With that in mind I wanted to make sure I did not spill anything on it or tear it at the reception and so I changed into a 1960s short cocktail dress.
“Amazingly, after all these years nobody had split or torn the dress and I certainly didn’t want to be the first.
“Thankfully, I managed not to get a single mark on it and now it’s back wrapped in the linen sheets and in storage, safely put away until the next girl in our family hopefully wants to wear it.”