Wedding gowns of yesterday

On the weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Something Old, Something New, a wedding dress exhibition at Balaklava, a country town 1.5 hours north of Adelaide, South Australia.

It’s a collection of gowns and wedding memorabilia on loan from local families. It was delightful.

The exhibition was all in one big room, with dresses hanging around the walls and more on models in the middle. Most of the gowns had photos of the wedding day.

Here are some highlights….

The oldest gown was from circa 1900, and was found in a shed on the family farm in the 1970s – in very good condition. We were allowed to look inside the skirt – the dress was sewn by machine but all the seams were neatened by hand.
The bodice is adorned with machine sewn pintucks, lace, braid and bobbles.
Here’s the sleeve detail.
The dress second from left is almost as old (1903).
The middle dress, from 1981, was designed by the bride and friend of her mother’s, who made the dress.
The lace, bought in Adelaide, is very lovely.
Almost all of the dresses from the 1980s and earlier were made at home, often along with the bridesmaids dresses. Sometimes the millinery and mens ties etc were too.
There were interesting extras – a headpiece from the 1930s.
Beautiful pintucking in Swiss voile on a dress from 1972.
Most of the gowns had accompanying photographs taken “on the day”. It was was surprising just how different the dresses looked in real life compared to photos.
My favourite was this tiered broiderie anglaise dress from 1953.
The fabric was so fine and sheer, like cotton organza. The bride wore the dress with a hoop and rope petticoat, and long white kid gloves.
Three dresses from different eras.
The bride who’s dress is on the left wore those satin high heels, which she later dyed turquoise to match an after-5 dress.
This charming dress has a sheer overlay with embroidered flowers on it .
Lots of the dresses were displayed with their headpieces/veils, like this one.
We met the groom for the second dress on the left! Some of the dresses on display were from several weddings in the same family.
The dress on the far left has what I think is called a Juliet Cap for a headpiece. In the wedding photos, she has flowers on it.
All the lovely details on dresses can be seen up close.
Some of the information about the dresses noted the weather. This one says the wedding took place on an extremely hot day!
A lace dress trimmed with satin ribbon and flowers from 1939. Apparently the wedding took place on Adelaide’s second hottest day of the 20th century, at 45 degrees. The following day was the hottest day at 47.6 degrees.
This 1962 bride desired a “plain” and simple dress, which was achieved with the help of her dressmaker who also designed and made theatre costumes. The dress had a train (now missing) attached by a belt of the same fabric and lined in blue.
A special and unusual wedding memento. The floral items from this 1916 wedding were preserved in this large box frame. They include the bridal bouquet, the small sprays of flowers which decorated her dress and the grooms buttonhole flowers.
Beautiful lace and beads.
Some of the dresses, even ones decades old, were in absolutely pristine condition – clearly they’d been stored carefully boxed in tissue paper and laid away.
If you’re local or heading through Balaklava, I highly recommend stopping by to look. Entry is free but there’s an opportunity to make a donation.



  1. Linda Lester on February 28, 2022 at 10:43 pm

    Thanks Liz I love your reviews of exhibitions I could never get to as I live so far away in the UK. I got married in 1973 in a royal blue medieval style dress with white lace trim, I am interested that all the Australian dresses you show are white or close to white.

    • lizhaywood on March 1, 2022 at 2:42 pm

      You’re welcome Linda – I feel the same way about reviews of exhibitions in the UK!
      Interesting point about the colour. Yes, all of the gowns were white or close to. Coloured wedding dresses are not that common here, even now.

  2. Carol in Denver on March 1, 2022 at 1:19 am

    Fascinating! My grandmother cut up her wedding dress to make baby clothes. When I was a young mother, I met a woman whose grandmother had sewn my grandmother’s wedding dress. Small world.

    • lizhaywood on March 1, 2022 at 3:43 pm

      I wonder, did your grandma regret it later?
      I think a few wedding dresses get cut up or repurposed; while some of these had a train missing or had been shortened, they were all fairly intact and had been stored with their “memorabilia” too.

      • Carol in Denver on March 2, 2022 at 9:04 am

        My grandmother never expressed regret to me. Maybe she was proud to have her little babies wear silk dresses for their christening.

      • lizhaywood on March 2, 2022 at 12:08 pm

        Ah, I didn’t realise it was for silk christening dresses. Occasionally some brides do that in Australia, or they cut up, say, the train from their dress (which might be why some of the trains from the dresses in the exhibition were missing?).

    • Maria on March 1, 2022 at 7:14 pm

      That is fascinating, Carol! Here in South Africa among English-speaking South Africans it is very traditional for the bride’s wedding dress to be used to make her babies’ Christening robes. I wonder if your grandmother was following a similar tradition?

      • Carol in Denver on March 2, 2022 at 9:01 am

        I think her “tradition” was thrift. but fascinating to hear of the tradition in South Africa. She did keep some of the beading and faux orange blossoms, which I gave to my niece.

      • lizhaywood on March 2, 2022 at 12:10 pm

        That IS a fascinating tradition, Maria, thanks for sharing it.

  3. Laurinda on March 1, 2022 at 9:32 am

    That was cool, thank you!

    • lizhaywood on March 1, 2022 at 3:39 pm

      Cheers, Laurinda! It was a very cool exhibition.

  4. Margaret Davies on March 1, 2022 at 1:52 pm

    How delightful!! I have my mother’s wedding dress from the early 1950’s; not white, but a blue silk knee-length dress, made from the same silk fabric that the late Queen Mother had her under garments made with! Where the dressmaker got the fabric from is anybody’s guess! It’s stunning, but a bit too small for me to wear, although I did squeeze into it a few years ago to get some photos. Sadly, I do not have a photo of my mum wearing the dress.

    • lizhaywood on March 1, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      What a treasure, with such an interesting story!

  5. Michelle Shaffer on March 2, 2022 at 12:12 am

    I enjoyed this post very much, especially knowing that these were mostly made at home. I also enjoyed seeing the picture of the bride wearing her headdress as I was having difficulty imagining how it would look. Thanks!

    • lizhaywood on March 2, 2022 at 12:15 pm

      There were some pretty handy mothers, it seemed! Some were made by a family member or a local dressmaker. One was bought hurriedly the day before the ceremony!
      We thought the headdress was very “of its era” (in a good way).

  6. Peggy on March 2, 2022 at 1:02 am

    Enjoyed! thanks. I collect old wedding dresses for some reason. I used to make sculptures out of them.

    • lizhaywood on March 2, 2022 at 12:12 pm

      That’s a pretty glamorous thing to collect!

Leave a Comment