Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center
 


Costume Collection - Women's Dresses

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Dress, 1-Piece - click to enlarge

Dress, 1-Piece - click to enlarge

Click photos to enlarge.

Dress, 1-Piece

Catalogue number: 1992.0236.001

Date: 1947

Maker: Unknown

Description:

White; made from parachute; fitted bodice with left side metal zipper; shirred at center front from waist to bust; shirred at side seams at bust; net yoke inset that also forms upper portion of sleeves; opening in yoke at center back, fastened with eight buttons and loops; wide ruffle of lace and net sewn to bottom of yoke; two darts in back bodice; long sleeves; skirt portion of eight panels of parachute; parachute cord in casings placed vertically and drawn up to form poufs; cords pulled up to make skirt shorter in front and create train in back; skirt lightly gathered onto bodice; parachute cord casings, without cords, used as decorative band around bottom of skirt.

Background:

This wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved the groom's life during World War II. Maj. Claude Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew, were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, in August 1944 when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. It was night and Major Hensinger landed on some rocks and suffered some minor injuries. During the night he used the parachute both as a pillow and a blanket. In the morning the crew was able to reassemble and were taken in by some friendly Chinese. He kept the parachute and used it as a way to propose to Ruth in 1947. He presented it to her and suggested she make a gown out of it for their wedding.

She wondered how she was going to make "this voluminuous item" into a dress. Seeing a dress in a store window that was based on one that appeared in the movie Gone with the Wind, she patterned her dress after that. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. She made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple were married in the Neffs Lutheran Church in Neffs, Pennslyvania, July 19, 1947. Their daughter and their son's bride also wore the dress for their weddings.

Credit: Gift of Claude E. and Ruth L. Hensinger

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