Jennifer George Heilman’s wedding dress was a delicate off-the-shoulder gown, cream with French lace lining the neck and bodice. The sleeves fell just past her shoulders and the neckline was trimmed with more scalloped lace.
Most young brides would scoff at the offer to wear their mother’s gown on their own special day, but Heilman, who grew up on Mercer Island and was married on June 11, 1983, welcomed the opportunity. Her own mother had worn it on her wedding day in the 1950s.
“It had beautiful long silk, imported” she remembers. “I think my grandmother had some part in making it.”
Eager to preserve what had become a family heirloom, Heilman, took the gown to an Island dry cleaner after her wedding, where they packed it in a box with strict instructions not to open it until they were ready to break the air-tight seal. When Heilman’s own daughter announced plans to marry in summer of 2014, she decided to continue the tradition.
“It comes in two boxes. There’s the outer box and then there’s what looks like a baker box. You can see through the cellophane. I remember thinking, ‘oh my gosh, what if it’s the wrong dress?’” recalls Heilman. “I’m fairly on the thinner side and tall, as is my mom and daughter.”
After 30 years of carting it around, this summer she peeled back the blue cellophane to discover a shiny, bright satin dress with broad poufy sleeves and a bodice covered in lace. A long train trails behind the gown, evidently made for a much shorter woman.
Heilman had the wrong gown: “We were quite surprised to find a very different wedding dress than what we had dropped off at the cleaners. Apparently, the dry cleaners had mixed up our beloved dress with someone else.”
Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery dress, Heilman decided to do a little research. She remembers the dry cleaner as Clampitts. The business is owned now by Blue Sky Cleaners. With the help of her daughter, who now lives in Baltimore, she contacted a number of shops around the Island.
“At first I thought we could go through the records. Not that many people could’ve been married on Mercer Island around then.”
But without computer, none had accounts dating back to 1983.
“We couldn’t figure it out. There are pictures of my daughter holding up the dress. She’s 5’ 11” and the dress, it looks like, is for somebody who weighs 80 pounds and is 4’ 8”.”
Heilman’s parents Gene and Iris George were long-time residents of Mercer Island, where they worked as real-estate agents. In a picture from Gene’s wedding, the elegant bride carries a bouquet of white flowers. The dress falls just above her ankles. In another image from Heilman’s own wedding, the fabric of the gown falls like a bell around her waist.
“Somebody is going to want their beautiful dress, somebody out there,” says Heilman, “will open up their own box and wonder what happened.”
The Heilmans are hoping to get to the bottom of their wedding dress mix-up. If you have tips, her family can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.