These dresses are important artifacts of pre-war Jewish life, and we were honored to be given care of them for crucial cleaning and repair. Their wear shows how valued they were, and their survival is amazing given the terrible times that they weathered. Margaret and Mark went into hiding in 1942 and were separated from their son Harry, then just a year old, who was found and sent to a concentration camp; the couple were constantly on the move and encountered terrible events every time they tried to catch their breath. Watch their oral history recording here.
Even though we have the provenance of these clothes, there’s always a mystery to be found! The seams of the beaded dress were let out as much as possible at some point in its life; this is particularly notable because the dress has more seams than usual, so it allowed for more room than a typical alteration could create. As they are now, the dresses are two entirely different sizes. Did Margaret wear the dress later in life? It does make sense that the less formal departure dress would have been the one worn again, as wedding dresses were rarely repurposed by the original wearer. It’s also possible that the dress was altered another family member. As one of the few things she chose to bring with her during those turbulent years, Margaret Merin may have seen fit to lend her dress to another woman with too little of her own.