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The Dress and Family Ties

Published in ChicagoNow, December 4, 2018

I just gifted my great niece with one of the flower girl dresses my granddaughters had worn for another niece’s wedding several years ago. I had kept the dresses because the tulle skirts made them too fancy for other occasions and my granddaughters outgrew both the dresses and dressing up shortly after the wedding. What fun to receive the photo of my great niece wearing the dress.

Back in 1977, my daughter was flower girl for my brother’s wedding. His bride, the grandmother of the child in the photo above, sewed her dress. My daughter wore it constantly after the wedding until it was in shreds. She was also four-years-old and thought it was the most elegant dress ever, especially because it was floor length.

There’s something about a very fancy dress that delights young girls, who also believe princesses are real and they could become one. I remember worrying about my daughter’s obsession with Cinderella and dressing up as I tried to raise her with a “free to be you and me” attitude. I shouldn’t have worried. Eventually, she put aside her flower girl dresses and became a strong feminist woman.

When her youngest daughter was honored with flower girl duty for three of my nieces’ weddings, she was also a lucky girl to have the experience of being part of a very special family event. Like her mother before her, she got to wear fancy dresses. She shared her mother’s love of Cinderella, but she was growing up in the era of Disney Princesses. I worried about the messages she received from many of these glamorous role models, but I shouldn’t have. Like her mother, she outgrew this fantasy and moved on to Harry Potter. She is now an almost thirteen-year-old devotee of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Seeing that dress on my great niece reinforced for me the beauty of family and generational connections. Perhaps it’s the pageantry of weddings in which families come together to celebrate. Or seeing those hand-me-down clothes and toys being used by a new generation. It’s easy to forget about the importance of these family connections in the chaos of daily life. Geographical distance separates us as well. And yet, the sight of my little brother’s granddaughter in the dress my granddaughter wore five years ago reinforces the family ties that bind us.

Almost seventy years ago, I also donned a flower girl dress for my uncle’s wedding. Aside from the picture, which I admired for many years after the event, I have no memory of the wedding. In addition to being very young, my mother told me I was running a fever. But the show must go on, so I methodically walked down that aisle dropping rose petals precisely and carefully. The dress was probably borrowed for the occasion because, unlike my daughter and granddaughters, I never wore it again.

There are two common threads for all of these photos in “the dress.” Despite the feminine stereotype of dressing up, the little girls so enamored with glamor grew up to be strong, independent women, as will my great niece. And the passing down of that dress from one side of the family to another, from my grandchild to my brother’s, was a powerful reminder of the role of family in the circle of life.


by Laurie Levy
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