By Marie Gilmore
It has been 10 years since Valrico resident Leigh Anne Brown helped Bell Shoals host a vow renewal ceremony on Valentine’s Day. The event was so successful that many wanted to attend to wish the couples well that space became an issue at the church. More than 2,500 RSVP’d for a sanctuary that, at the time, only sat 1,300. The decision was made to not allow wedding dresses in the audience.
Brown, on the committee herself and eager to wear one of her personal collection of 12 vintage 1930’s or earlier era dresses to the event, was crushed. With the help of the church, it was decided Brown could set up her dresses and recruit more for display after the ceremony during cake and punch.
Brown enlisted the help of friends, family and fellow church members to gather a selection of 62 wedding dresses from across the ages. She showed such a love and passion for the dresses that of the 50 that were borrowed for display, only 25 wanted theirs back. The rest wanted Brown to keep the dresses and continue to put them on display.
Now, with countless displays and talks about the history of the modern woman as seen through the design of the wedding dress from the late 1800’s until today, Brown has become a historian, collector and advocate for sharing her passion of the wedding dress with others.
Recently, Brown was invited to share her dresses and history at a monthly Brandon Christian Women’s Connection luncheon where almost 100 women were able to enjoy and reminisce about their own weddings.
“Portrait of a Bride: The Evolving Silhouette” presentation transports audiences through time as Brown shares the stories of different wedding dresses and their sequences in American History. One of the dresses in the collection is from 1944 when a WWII soldier parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He survived and was later injured and sent home. He handed his sweetheart his parachute and told her that she had two weeks to make her wedding dress and she and her mother sewed the pure silk parachute tirelessly to make it a beautiful gown.
“This is one of the few dresses that has never changed color with age,” describes Brown. Brown is always accepting dress donations for her collection. For more information on donating or booking her program for an event, e-mail Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.