They said 'yes' to this dress, 5 times


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In 1947, my mother, Ryta Pluciennik, spent $100 on a wedding dress. She was, at the time, doing an internship in food and nutrition at the University of Michigan, and what caught her eye was a drawing of it in the Ann Arbor newspaper.

"It was just unusual," she said. "I think it was the hoop."

So began the story of one dress and five brides.

My father, Sam Sciullo, sent her the money. Taking a train into Detroit, she tried on the department store sample and ordered the dress, which was long-sleeved and a ball gown style.

Made of a very heavy silk satin, it had a sweetheart neckline filled in with netting, and, yes, the whole lower half was supported by a wooden hoop skirt.

It was ready by the time her internship finished, so she packed it up and traveled back to Vandergrift. A classmate in Ann Arbor who was a talented seamstress took extra material left over from the alterations of the dress and, at my mother's suggestion, crafted a braided satin crown with a hip-length veil.

Her sister Melania Keck -- my Aunt Mel -- did the prep work on the day before the wedding. She spent hours carefully ironing the draping waves of material.

My parents married on Sept. 7 of that year. Mom began work as a dietitian, Dad would finish law school. The dress, which would not fit anywhere in their tiny apartment in Bloomfield, wound up in someone's closet.

Growing up, we kids saw the wedding photos displayed around the house. It never actually registered that here was something I might actually wear one day. (For a time in my youth I desperately wanted to be a major league baseball player, so wedding gowns didn't figure prominently in my girlhood fantasies.)

It wasn't until my older sister, Lisa, became engaged that anyone gave further thought to The Dress.

Frazzled with her law school studies, she instructed my mother to book the reception site, choose a band, suggest a menu. She and her future husband, Dan Goodyear, met at the University of Pittsburgh, so they wanted to be married at Heinz Chapel. Choosing the chapel, and her flowers, was her entire contribution to the planning.

This is going to come as a huge shock to fans of TLC's popular TV series "Say Yes to the Dress," but there is a whole generation of women today who didn't obsess over shopping for a wedding dress, nor did they want to spend $10,000.

"All I thought was, 'Wow, that's really pretty. It would be nice to wear my mother's dress,' " my sister said.

Someone hunted down the dress, and it was sent off to a seamstress in Dormont. The veil had to be replaced and some adjustments made to the bodice. Lisa and Dan were married Aug. 8, 1981. With all that heavy material, thankfully, it was a cool day.

Nearly two weeks earlier, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married in St. Paul's Cathedral in the wedding of the century, which led to all sorts of funny comments in the Sciullo-Goodyear receiving line.

"As I recall," Lisa said, before bursting into laughter, "Someone told me 'she didn't hold a candle to you.' "

Wedding No. 3 (Dec. 4, 1982) was mine. I figured, "If Lisa wore it, I will, too." It wasn't really sentiment, the decision just felt right.

The marriage to Gary Siriano ended in divorce after less than two years. I do not blame the dress and continue to hold it in the highest regard.

Wedding No. 4 (Aug. 11, 1984) was between my cousin Melanie Keck (we always called her Bitsy) and Michael Doon. We all drove down to northern Virginia for the event, and I have memories of watching the summer Olympics on television as the bride-to-be's mother, Aunt Mel, continued her tradition as the woman wielding the prenuptial steam iron.

"They don't make dresses like that anymore," said Bitsy. "It's a great retro look."

Which leads us to Wedding No. 5 (Nov. 17, 1990) and a bit of family history. The Pluciennik family of East Vandergrift had five children, which included sisters Eugenia, Melania, Helene and Ryta.

Helene Richey died fairly young, of cancer. Her children, Lorna and Leon, would in future years spend weeks at a time at our house, where we would perform makeshift stage plays, directed by Lorna, and walk down to the Lebanon Shops Village Dairy for ice cream cones.

It's a bond that lasts to this day.

Years ago, the Richeys took my mother along on a trip to visit Aunt Mel, whose family lived in Alexandria, Va.

"We were sitting around in the living room and [Ryta] started talking about wedding dresses and how she was going to make it available to anyone [not just the daughters but the cousins, as well]," said my cousin Lorna.

"I was really excited about that. After losing my mother, having a relationship with her sisters -- who became mother figures for me -- and having this continuity, all that was very meaningful for me.

"So when she said that, that really registered with me. I really felt that I was part of something I didn't always feel I was part of."

Lorna didn't marry until almost 17 years later, and by then the dress had aged from its original blinding white to a soft beige. Although the wedding itself was not ultra-formal, the dress more than fit in.

We had a photo taken of Lorna, wearing the dress, flanked on both sides by the other four wearers. Clearly, $100 has gone a long way over the years.

Between the five of us, we could not dig up that photograph. But I did find the dress, neatly boxed and slipped under the bed of the white four-poster in Lisa's old bedroom at my parents' house in Castle Shannon.

When I remarried in 1987, there was never a moment's consideration of my wearing it again: new beginnings and all that. Instead, I went to a dress shop in Mt. Lebanon, where designer Tomasina Keremes was an old acquaintance.

True to the stylings of that era, my second wedding dress had big, puffy sleeves, a fitted bodice of raw silk and a big skirt to offset my really big hair.

I've asked my own two daughters if they would like to wear it someday. They tell me, "No thanks."

Then perhaps they, or Lisa's, or Lorna's, or Bitsy's daughters, might like to wear my mother's dress. That, I would not mind a bit.

fashion

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published July 10, 2012 4:00 AM


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