Personal Wedding Dress Collection Shares History Through Fashion

Pictured are Leigh Anne Brown (left) and her daughter Carli Brown (right) pose among a portion of Leigh Anne’s wedding dress collection. The private collection was shared recently at an event for the Valrico chapter of Daughter’s of the American Revolution (DAR).

Leigh Anne Brown has always loved vintage clothing. She describes it as a “passionate love affair” which led her to start collecting vintage wedding dresses more than 15 years ago.

What began as a humble collection to indulge her need for vintage is now a 75-piece assemblage, with dresses spanning from the 1890s to today. Women keep donating their unique dresses, and their memories, to be shared in the collection. “I haven’t purchased a gown in over five years,” acknowledged Brown, although she has had more than 30 dresses donated to her during that time.

Her private collection of 12 pre-1930s dresses was introduced to the public in 2005, when Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon held a vow renewal ceremony. Brown was asked to put together a collection for the reception, and within a month, she had collected 62 wedding dresses. “I was surprised how many women didn’t have their dresses anymore, but also that so many were willing to uncrate their dresses for me,” commented Brown. 

Over the years Brown has collected 75 dresses from different style periods, and has put them into a travelling program that she calls “Portrait of a Bride: The Evolving Silhouette.” “Most of the dresses are not elaborate,” Brown said. “They are simple and represent the average American bride.”

“Portrait of a Bride: The Evolving Silhouette” transports audiences through time, as Brown shares the stories of different wedding dresses and their sequences in American History. Her oldest dresses, for instance, show the transition out of Victorian style, when women had to give up their metal cages for the war effort during World War I. Some reflect the Great Depression and others still, World War II when zippers were forfeited to be made into bullets.

“I want people to appreciate the art as well as the history,” said Brown. “I am the product of the generations before me, and my wedding dresses reflect this.”

Brown is always accepting dress donations from women who want to pass theirs on to someone who appreciates and knows how to care for vintage. For more information on donating or booking her program for an event, e-mail Brown at lelu22@juno.com. “I am blessed to be able to enjoy my love for antique textiles and share this with other people,” she said.