In the Spring of 2016, Valparaiso University’s Material Culture class studied artifacts from our collection, giving detailed historical context to some of our most unique and insightful artifacts. Thanks to Dr. Buggeln, Valparaiso University, the PoCo Muse collections volunteers, and the students for all the work and dedication put into this project.
The following research was compiled by Sarah Crowe:
A Parachute Silk Wedding Gown and
America’s Transition into the Postwar Period
In the WWII room of the Porter County Museum hangs a beautiful silk wedding gown, made from a parachute brought back from the front. The material itself seems to be an unusual choice given the options; however, most people throughout WWII and after did not have access to most fabrics or materials, as it was all donated to the war effort. “Make do and mend” and “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” were popular slogans during the war that helped to promote conservation on the home front during the war and solidified an ideology of practicality that some took to heart even after the war was over. The United States government set specific standards for the consumption of cloth. It was an implied “patriotic duty” to do without materialistic things, and make do with what was not being used for the war effort.
In this case, the parachute silk dress, made in 1948, was a post-war relic of conservation brought back by John Jefferson Miller for his fiancée Virginia Lee Lamb. Although the war was over and the United States was in an economic boom, the ideology of conservation remained. Fred Davis, author of Fashion, Culture, and Identity, argues that the meaning of clothing is highly dependent on context; wearing a parachute wedding dress during the war years was a patriotic act of conservation, but wearing a parachute wedding dress in the post-war boom was an act of ingenuity and practicality. The parachute dress also held some personal connection for John and Virginia; they met right before his deployment with the Navy, staying in touch throughout the war. Using the parachute John brought home symbolizes not only the end to the war but also the beginning of their life together.