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Who Made Elizabeth Parke Firestone's Wedding Dress?

July 7, 2015

Elizabeth Parke Firestone in her wedding dress, 1921 THF119879

Elizabeth Parke was a trim, blue-eyed beauty. The daughter of a prosperous merchant in Decatur, Illinois, she was full of life and adventure. Elizabeth loved to dance and enjoyed parties. Good thing, too; she met her handsome, intelligent, wealthy husband-to-be at a dance at Princeton about 1920. Young Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., the son of the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, must have found her to be a spirited partner. He learned to fly airplanes during World War I and she did not seem to mind climbing in one with him. The Firestones often traveled for business and pleasure. Elizabeth enjoyed trekking through jungles and sleeping in grass huts in exotic locales as much as she relished dining in sumptuous hotels with royalty.

Elizabeth had a fine eye for fashion. As a teenager, she attended school in Europe , studying French and learning about applied and fine arts. Family notebooks include some early costume sketches in her hand for theatrical presentations. Family members recall that young Elizabeth designed and sewed many of her own fashions before her marriage in Decatur on June 25, 1921.

But did she make her own wedding dress?

Wedding of Elizabeth Parke Firestone and Harvey Firestone, Jr., Bride and Attendants, June 25, 1921 THF119867

Firestone family members relate that Elizabeth designed and produced her own off-white silk satin wedding dress. This dress was a short-sleeved, short-skirted, "flapper" type wedding dress, with headdress inspired by Russian folk headpieces. By looking at this dress for clues, we might determine whether the wearer did indeed craft her own wedding gown.

The adequate, but not expert, finishing of the bodice seams is seen here.

A close look at the satin behind the beading reveals traces of the red marking powder or ink used by the seamstress to mark the beading design on the fabric.

Close examination of Elizabeth Parke's 1921 silk satin wedding dress reveals that it is entirely hand sewn. This is surprising. Sewing machines were in use for decades and dressmakers would likely not have spent all that time sewing a dress entirely by hand—there's not much profit in that. Too, the quality of the handwork makes it apparent that the dress is not expertly sewn. The stitching is not quite as precise and consistent as we might expect a seamstress to produce. For example, seams are somewhat "finished" with overcast stitches so they won't unravel (but they are unraveling nonetheless). A seamstress might well have rolled or taped the edges of the fraying satin so that it would not entirely unravel. Similarly, red markings for glass bugle bead floral decoration are visible at close examination. A professional dressmaker probably would have ensured that these marks were minimized.

The lovely hidden chemise is attached to the dress front.

Nice hand sewing is seen along the peach-colored crepe near the armhole.

Interestingly, the dress design is intricate. If young Elizabeth did design the dress, she truly understood complex dress construction. There is peach-colored crepe carefully lining parts of the dress and a complicated construction of an attached chemise hidden behind dress flaps. Sleeve construction is careful and meticulous. Elizabeth Parke, known for her meticulous attention to fashion detail, may well have sewn the dozens of tiny snaps to close the dress—perhaps more than necessary—to ensure there were no gaps visible in the sheath-like dress. A dressmaker would have balked at sewing so many snaps into this dress and might well have assured the wearer that there would be no immodesty in using fewer closures.

parke-wedding-gown2

Did Elizabeth Parke produce her wedding dress for her June 25, 1921 wedding to young Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.? It seems likely. She never needed to sew her own dresses again. Shortly after her marriage to Mr. Firestone, she patronized some of the twentieth century's most influential couturiers in the world, from Paris to New York . Her letters occasionally chide the fitters in the couture salons for not paying enough attention to details regarding fit and finish. Her admonitions indicate she knew how to use needle and thread.

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