On her wedding day, Margaret Leola Egan wore a dress made from a silk parachute.

Margaret attained the material through her brother, Walter “Bud” Egan, after he returned home from the Second World War. During the war access to textiles were restricted in order to ensure there was enough material for the war effort. Margaret’s wedding dress is an example of how women learned to accommodate when the government requisitioned all silk supplies for parachutes.

Margaret collaborated with a dressmaker and sewn the parachute with a silk thread. The dress featured lace, silk-covered buttons, as well as hand sewn button, loops, and detailing. A taffeta slip was also added to avoid exposure when the wind blew the lightweight dress up. On her wedding day, Egan wore a cotton gauze veil and a headpiece decorated with lace, gaze, and small pearl beads.

The parachute wedding dress is part of the Women’s Museum of California’s Historic Clothing Collection.

World War II prompted many young couples to say “I do” before military service separated them. Weddings were casual and quickly planned, as brides tried to coordinate with their sweetheart’s military leave. During wartime, weddings often happened quickly and without notice due to the groom being shipped off on a whim. This left little time to get a special dress for the wedding. Dresses during this era were simple and often short in order for the bride to be capable of riding a bike to church or city hall for their wedding.

The minimalist style was popular and consisted of a rayon/silk bias-cut dress and matching jacket with padded shoulders and covered buttons on the front. The sleeves began at the shoulders with a slight puff and became narrower toward the wrist. Designers showcased the neckline—heart-shaped, dramatic V, or beaded round. Skirts of sheer netting with flower appliqués could be added. Veils usually ended at the fingertips. For a courthouse wedding, a nice afternoon dress complete with gloves and a hat was suitable. Many new brides followed military husbands to posts around the country. 

At the close of the war, the marriage rate jumped. The late 1940s reflected renewed hope, and weddings during this time embodied this joy. In 1947, designer Christian Dior’s “New Look” of pronounced shoulders, celebrated hips, small waist, and emphasized bust influenced fashion. However, the bell-shaped ball gown reigned supreme during the latter part of the decade.