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The WWII Parachute Wedding Dress

During WWII, resourceful brides all over the country demonstrated ingenuity, creativity, and support for the war effort by making wedding gowns out of parachutes. Fabric for bridal gowns was hard to come by, and brides learned to make do – or do without. Meanwhile, parachute makers were held to stringent standards, and if a parachute was rejected for any reason, the white nylon or silk fabric became surplus. Many brides used that surplus fabric for wedding gowns. This is the story of one WWII bride and her parachute wedding dress.

Janet Gleason

In the summer of 1942, the Navy established WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). WAVES aimed to free up men for sea duty by replacing them with enlisted women for onshore jobs. Twenty-year-old Janet Gleason from Massachusetts decided to join the WAVES. She was assigned to Joint Fort Dix Army Air Force Base in New Jersey, where she served as a Parachute Rigger Second Class.

That same summer, Idaho native Reo Arland Casper, 19, registered for the draft. Shortly after, he enlisted in the US Marines and was admitted into an elite Marine paratrooper training school. Paramarines were required to pass a strict fitness test, with 40% failing the training course. They were also prohibited from marrying. Reo was sent to Fort Dix for special training and eventually promoted to Sergeant.

Reo Arland Casper

During training, Paramarines shared the classroom with Navy WAVES. One day, during a class where students learned to fold and pack a parachute, Janet caught Reo’s eye.

The two struck up a friendship. Reo and Janet enjoyed long walks in Central Park and concerts at Radio City Music Hall. Before long, they fell in love. Reo had completed his training and was preparing to head overseas. Before graduation, he had to complete one final jump, and Janet carefully packed his chute. Reo received orders and prepared to ship out. Before leaving, he asked for Janet’s hand in marriage. They planned to wed as soon as the war was over.

Reo and Janet faithfully wrote letters and looked forward to reuniting one day. Janet’s commanding officer knew that she could not afford a wedding dress and gave her a Japanese silk parachute. The beautiful silk was the perfect fabric for a wedding gown.

Janet designed and sewed her wedding dress and then carefully packed it away, waiting for the war to end. That day finally came when Reo returned to the United States for official discharge in California on October 19, 1945. He and Janet made arrangements to reunite in his hometown in Idaho. Janet boarded a train, and after three years, the two were finally together again.

As wedding plans got underway, the couple encountered challenges when Reo’s mother objected to the wedding. She was concerned about the couple’s religious differences. Unwilling to be deterred, Reo and Janet traveled to Dillon, Montana, where they eloped on October 31, 1945. At last, Janet was able to wear the wedding gown that she meticulously designed and sewed from a parachute.

Reo and Janet were married for 58 years. She passed away in 2004 and Reo, one year later in 2005. The parachute wedding gown that Janet made is now part of the Hutchings Museum collection. To see more items from this collection, or to learn more about WWII, search Fold3.com today.

91 Comments

  1. Susan Anderson says:

    There’s another WWII wedding dress story- it involves a wedding dress (not made with parachute material) made in a Japanese Internment Camp in California and how the dress was worn by six different brides. I first heard the story at a meeting at the Pasadena Museum of History when one of the brides told the story of the dress.
    http://www.whitesatinweddingshow.com/six-weddings–a-dress.html

    • R says:

      Thank you for sharing this Susan, very nice.

    • Russell says:

      I have World War 2 stuff I’m only 37 and don’t know why it was given to me but it was for a reason and it’s from some Mennonite

    • Nancy Inge says:

      Wow. What’s awesome story. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Susan says:

      That’s a wonderful story! Not of internment, of course, but of the wedding dress & knowing that at least the people who were interred were allowed to marry & hold weddings & experience some measure of civility while in the camps. I love that so many brides wore the dress. It seems like we have such a tendency to use these beautiful gowns only once or twice. This particular dress was so much more appreciated & enjoyed!

  2. Donna Curtis says:

    Just happened upon the wedding dress story while burning the midnight oil.
    What a beautiful story and beautiful dress. I will print it out to show my children and grandkids, perhaps for a history lesson.

  3. Sandra Oxedine says:

    I used to serve with a missionary ( Sarah Pinkley)who displayed her wedding dress made from her husband’s parachute on Valentine’s Day at Southwest Indian School. Her husband (Lester Pinkley)was an Air Force bomber pilot in World War II. After they married they served as missionaries in Mexico and with the Native Americans.

  4. Dorothy Willis says:

    This is not a wedding dress story, but I hope I will be forgiven for posting it. My father was billeted with a Dutch family towards the end of the war and one day he brought “home” a torn parachute he had taken out of the trash. He thought his hostess might like to make herself a dress out of it, as the Dutch civilians were pretty ragged by then. She was delighted with the gift, but he was surprised when she made, not a dress, but underwear for the entire family from the fabric. After all those years of war their outer clothing was worn, but their underwear was nonexistent!

    • Martha Anderson says:

      I love this! The wedding dress stories here are inspiring and sweet, but your’s moved me to tears. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    • A, Staley says:

      Dorthy Willis thank you for your story. I remember when my mother made our underware, slips and many other items from a parachute she had aquired. As a child I felt very eligant with my new underclothing. Something we did not have much of during the war. Mother also made several other items and a dress for herself. She dyed the fabric so that she could make a pretty blue dress for herself.

    • Susan Thomas says:

      That is a great story thank you for sharing Dorothy

  5. Michelle says:

    What an interesting fact of history! So happy to learn about it!

  6. Alice Boni says:

    how wonderful that all that lovley silk didn’t go to waste. great dress that she designed.

  7. Kim Neall says:

    My father, Martin Kennedy Boone, from the beautiful Bronx, met and married my mother, Inga-Lisa Emanuelsson while he was interned in Sweden after his B24 Liberator was badly damaged on a bombing run during WW II. Her wedding dress was made from his parachute. It had a high neck, long sleeves and gold-colored filigree clasps down the front. It was simple but beautiful.
    Kim Neall

  8. Genie says:

    Not a wedding dress but a baby dress, made from my Dad’s parachute. I wore it, my daughter & 2 granddaughters all wore it.

  9. Patti Jirdan says:

    My father , George Ferris Clements, who was in the 30th Division, brought home some parachute fabric. About 20 years after the end of WWII, I made a formal dress for my entry in the youth fair … out of the parachute silk! And I won first place! This year, my granddaughter in Virginia will be wearing the dress when they have their ending presentation about WWII.

  10. Theresa ppitman says:

    Wonderful stories very appreciated by me. History that was new to me. Thank you All.

  11. A+ Elaine Treaber says:

    I enjoyed each story. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Joseph A. Lurz Jr. says:

    We had several parachutes that were made into clothing. one was a camouflage parachute that my Mom made into various pieces of clothing. I had one piece remaining from a scrap she made into a handkerchief. I gave it to an older daughter last year with the story behind it.

  13. Joan Fowler says:

    I really enjoyed reading about the wedding dress. She did an excellent job. Also enjoyed reading all the reply’s. All very interesting.

  14. Chris Dickon says:

    From my book The Foreign Burial of American War Dead

    As the world began to emerge from war in 1945, life could return more freely to its ceremonies and routines. In Zoetermeer, the Netherlands, the wedding of Bill van Niekirk and Wilhelmina van den Berg was planned for June 19. Van Niekierk had been one of the first of the Dutch to run to the downed B-24 in farmer Janson’s fields the previous February 22, and as he arrived at the plane, tail gunner Elmer Duerr emerged carrying his parachute. He tossed it to van Niekierk as he ran to a hiding place, and when things had calmed down, the young man gave it to his girlfriend to hide beneath her bed. After liberation, he made her a proposal of marriage, which was accepted. But in the immediate post-war there was no cloth to be found in the shops suitable for a wedding dress, and the fortunate gift of the parachute was remembered. The bride made her own silk dress, and in some versions of the story, the bridesmaids’ and flower girls’ dresses, as well as a pair of silk boxers for her husband-to-be. Four children were born of the union, each with a christening dress sewn of parachute silk. Life eventually took the van Niekirks to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and, in their eighties, they donated the wedding dress to the Calgary Aerospace Museum. 1

    1, 1. “Allied parachute wedding gown donated to
    Calgary museum,” http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/
    2002/03/07/parachute_dress020307.html.

    The plane in the story, a B 24 returning from a bombing run, crashed outside of Zoetermeer in February 1945. The crew survived and one of its members, John McCormick of Scranton, PA, eventually joined the Dutch resistance, in which he was killed by a German sniper. He is still buried outside of the Dutch Reformed church there, and an annual ceremony is held in his honor.

  15. Karla says:

    Great stories .. thanks for sharing them all . Loved taking time to read these great love stories. . Karla S from Chattanooga Tennessee

  16. All the women during the Second World War were innovative in so many ways. They showed their skills . It was necessary because of rationing of just about everything including clothing. Of course under lying their innovative imaginations were their skills in making clothing. I wonder how many young women know how to make a dress from raw cloth these days or knit a sweater. I have asked around on occasion only to learn most of them have no idea.

  17. Bethlee Myers says:

    My mother was an Army nurse ( Regular Army) and served in the Phillipines. She met my dad there and she also wore a Parachute dress, sewn by hand, not nearly as fancy as these and the other nurses also made her a negligee for the honeymoon. They somehow were able to slip away to go to Australia to get married but were recalled back immediately and had to go back right after the ceremony. Their marriage last 70 years until her death .

  18. Rita A Jones says:

    My dad was a parachute rigger in the Navy during WWII. Although my mom didn’t have a parachute wedding dress, she did wear a lot of silk back then. Dad sewed and made most of mom and my brother’s clothes. Everything that required a lining was lined with parachute silk. Mom’s suits and slips, my brother’s coats etc. I came along after the war and grew up wearing silk lined clothing and little silk slips my daddy had made. Dad retired in 1955, but still continued sewing and using his stock of parachute silk. The last of it was used in 1982 to make a small 12X12 silk lined comfort blanket for my daughter. She called it her Dada and it was constantly with her. She carried it when she was tiny and when school days came, it waited patiently in her bed until she returned. On her wedding day, it was her “something old” neatly pinned next to her under the skirt of her dress.

  19. Linda Bogaard says:

    Thank you all for sharing your stories! Beauty and ingenuity in the midst of the horrors of wartime in various parts of the world. Important stories to be preserved and shared with current and future generations.

  20. Cliff Burk says:

    My father, Clifford Sr., married mom while an AAF cadet in 1943. He was sent to the Philippines in Oct 1944 as a Supply officer and was part of the army of occupation in Hokkaido Japan. He returned in March 1946 with 2 Japanese silk parachutes (among his stash). Upon returning home to Cleveland OH he “loaned” one to the nearby church for an Easter procession. Several months later, when his brother-in-law was getting married, he donated the other one for his bride’s wedding dress. Last I heard, the church kept theirs and the other one has been passed down through the daughters.

  21. Jim says:

    Great story!

  22. Loretta Whalen Stamps says:

    I am 66 years old and the daughter and daughter-in-law parents who served in action and served by waiting during WWII. When I married in 1975, I wanted to wear my mother’s wedding dress, however, my mother had passed away when I was a teen, and I had no idea where the dress was.

    My soon-to-be mother-in-law offered me her dress, a parachute dress, worn by her and other members of her family at their late 1940’s weddings, just in case I couldn’t find my mom’s dress. I didn’t know what the term meant until she explained. I tried on the dress, it fit, and we cleaned it up and kept it on reserve while we continued looking for my mom’s dress.

    In the end, we did find Mother’s dress, and that is the one I wore, 29 years after she wore it. Fast forward another 28 years, and my daughter wore my mother’s gown, by that time 57 years old, at her wedding too.

    The parachute dress? It came home with me after my mother-in-law’s passing at 83 years of age. The dress is kept safely now in my closet — along with my mother’s dress. Both are tucked away, waiting patiently for my granddaughter to, one day, come looking for them.

  23. Martha B Watts says:

    My father, Delbert Creed Brimhall was B24 pilot and was shot down over Munich Germany in 1944. After spending time in a German POW camp he was released and made it home. somewhere along the way he picked up a small box of parachute fabric that he brought home to my mother I inherited the fabric from her and is still in my cedar chest. Beautiful and precious

  24. Barb Hall says:

    I am curious how many yards of fabric is needed to produce one of these parachutes. Were there parachute factories all over the USA?
    I believe the DuPont Corporation of Delaware, the first manufacturer to make nylon, produced parachute material for the military.

  25. Karen B says:

    What heart warming stories about women being so practical and innovative using the parachutes. They are creating memories for their children and grandchildren for generations to come. Although my story is not about a parachute, it does involve fabric and my dad during WWII. My dad was in the U.S. Army and stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines from 1943 – 1945. When the war ended his Company went to Japan for several months. While in Japan he bought many items one of which was a large length of white silk fabric. He thought my mother could make something out of it, but it sat in their cedar closet until I decided to use it to line my wedding gown in 1974. Little did my Dad know back in ’45 that almost 30 years later he would be walking his daughter down the aisle wearing this same fabric.

  26. Betty Mills says:

    My Mother made a parachute material wedding dress for the sister of a sailor who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was serving on the Arizona . The last name of the sailor and his sister was TIER . When I visited the Arizona memorial I found his name on the plaque. Mother had to sew the dress together with tissue paper because it slipped so badly. Mom’s machine was a treadle Singer machine.

  27. Kristine Wilson says:

    My Grandmother was a WAVE. Her name was Virginia Adelle Campbell. She met my Grandfather, and my Father was born in 1946.

  28. Kenneth Lewis, 1SG USA (retired) says:

    These are the wonderful stories that some of the young are trying to either cover up or ignore today. Hopefully, that element of our society will fade away and more stories of military and war service can be shared with the world. Our WWII generation is almost gone, our fellow veterans of the Korean War era, and the peace time between Korea and Vietnam are fading and the Vietnam war vets are now becoming the senior vets. Our new young war vets share the same type stories that all of us have. Encourage the military veterans in your families, both war time and peace time, to take time to record their stories for future generations— either in writing, audio or video recordings. There are organizations who will help you do this. Those stories are an important part of American history and only those who lived it can best tell the story, just as this wedding story has been told, recorded and saved for future generations.

  29. Ann Honadle Van Hise says:

    My mother and her best friend both got married in 1943, four months apart. Everything was rationed at that point and fancy dress fabric was cherished. So, they both wore the same wedding dress! It was not made of parachute fabric, but I find the fact that they shared such a special part of of their special days to be a heartwarming way to deal with a difficult situation. My mother was a little slimmer than her friend, so the dress was taken in for her June wedding, after it was first worn in February. Talk about the ultimate in reuse!! I’m not sure the brides of today would be so happy sharing something this personal.

  30. G. Hizer says:

    We lived in Detroit, MI during WW2 and my parents worked in the war factories. I saw the air raids and the parachutes that were dropped during certain times, I believed for practice. The white parachutes were for the military men and the colored parachutes were for the supplies that were dropped. My mother made curtains from a pretty blue colored parachute and they lasted many years. Loved the stories about the wedding dresses and other items made from parachutes.

  31. Ileen Peterson says:

    Here is a story about another use for parachute material. My father was the navigator of a B24 on a bombing mission over Italy. His plane was so shot up when they came back to base that the landing gear did not work. Dad suggested that everyone take off their parachutes and connect them to the plane to slow it down and let it land safely. This worked well and was officially recommended to use in similar situations. Dad had his parachute made into a lovely night gown and robe for Mom, which we treasured for many years.

  32. Marie Faulkner says:

    Yes I remember it well and the truth I am afraid is not so romantic as the memories I now share .
    I was born in 1938 and lived in the country side on a farm with my mother’s side of the family . There were a number of air bases , we were close to the East Coast near Colchester Garrison and so many low flying aircrafts , British , American , German bombers flew low over our cottage on bombing raids .
    One day a German airman was forced to parachute from his plane which had been hit by the Americans just over the field next to the cottage .
    Suddenly my uncles , who had been watching , started to run across the field with pitch forks to …” catch the bugger !! ” quote . and the much to my concern my mother started to run as well .
    I was left standing with my grandmother and I remember turning to her and asking why my mummy was also going to kill the poor man .
    I was told ….” don’ t worry you mother will be ok , she is running to get the silk parachute to make some silk underwear !!! ”
    I was I remember deeply shocked to think anyone would wear the silk that was as far as I could see was so connected with death and war ? ” .
    I have never never worn silk underwear and now I see how many women wore the same silk for wedding dresses I am happy to remember my wedding dress in 1958 was made from a new product nylon , which I wonder may have been developed before 1945 as part of the war effort ?

  33. Maggie Cassa says:

    While I do not know how my mother came by the parachute silk fabric, she made my first communion dress out of it and trimmed the dress with lace. It is heartwarming to know that others used the silk for other purposes. Thanks for the story.

  34. james bradley says:

    in 1976, my wifes wedding dress was made from a 24 foot emergency parachute

  35. Deanna Kaulay says:

    Such a lovely story. I love to hear about the strength and resourcefulness of our Greatest Generation. Thank you for sharing this.

  36. Kim says:

    A generation that truly know what it ment to recycle. Wonderful stories. ♥️♥️

  37. My family also found uses for Parachute silk. My father was a civilian radio repairman at Alameda Naval Air Station . He had to crawl into tight places in the airplanes to get to the radios, He often found parachutes stuffed in strange places in the planes. He brought some of them home. We also had silk undies and baby doll PJs. The most different thing we used the silk for was as backing for a quilt top my mother had made years before the war. A friend said she would quilt it for us. Turned out beautiful. But we had a problem in keeping it on the bed. You move and so did the quilt!
    I still have it. Boxed up and on a shelf in the closet!

  38. When I was in high school back in the very early 50’s after the war, Our school got hundred’s of yards of the bright orange Parachute material. Our school colors were orange and black so they were going to use the material for sound breakers on the ceiling. make a long story short. I bought several yards from that being from a family that had very little I had a skirt a dress from the material. My mom made bedspreads and all kinds of different things from that material. Strong beautiful long lasting material.

  39. Dee says:

    My mother was another 1940’s bride who made her dress out of a parachute. I always thought it was a lovely design but she never liked it. She got married in it, took a picture in it and then…well, I think she may have been the instigator of the current “Trash the Dress” trend.

  40. Jeanne Short says:

    Posted on Sep 12, 2017 | 01:40pm

    NCIS actor Mark Harmon stopped by for the Season 8 premiere of The Talk, where he told a touching story about his parents’ wedding—in particular, his mother’s wedding gown.

    Mark’s story, which revolved around the parachute his WWII hero father was shot down in, had the hosts, his co-star Maria Bello, and Talk guest co-host and Let’s Make A Deal host Wayne Brady “awwwww”-ing from their seats.

    He explained, “When [my father] got back after 30 days, the parachute came with him and he married my mom. My grandmother, an Austrian immigrant and also a great seamstress, basically took the chute apart and made my mom’s wedding dress out of it.”

  41. Herbert T Liedel says:

    My father-in-law, Joseph Verhille was a U.S. Army billeting and supply officer in Paris after its liberation. He met and married my wife’s mother there. My wife was born in Paris before they came to the states. Have a great picture of my mother-in-law wearing her parachute silk dress while holding my wife.

  42. Barbara Benford Trafficanda says:

    Today is my 61st wedding anniversary and yesterday I submitted my uncle’s memorial to Fold3.com. He went down with the USS Arizona on 7 December 1941. I was very interested when this site appeared on my computer today and it brought back memories of my mother’s dress that was made with some rare velveteen and parachute for her 10th wedding anniversary. She and my dad, Col. Robert J. Benford USAF (a full bird) were living in Heidelberg, Germany, with me and my twin sister in June 1946, immediately following WWII. In this war torn country nothing was readily available. Our snow suits were made from US Army blankets (very itchy) and my mom somehow found some red velveteen and a parachute and our seamstress fashioned a beautiful gown for her anniversary. I am 83 today and of course my parents have both passed and are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

  43. Phil Ethier says:

    My parents were both in Saint Paul on leave from the Navy (he as a reservist, one of the Saint Paul men on the USS WARD the first-shot ship; she as an Aerographer’s Mate).

    She didn’t have to think about parachutes. They were married in their dress blues.

  44. Thank all of you for your stories.

  45. Susan says:

    I love this story, in part because my great aunt also wore a wedding gown made of her husband’s WWII parachute. The gown is long gone but we have a copy of their wedding picture. Aunt LIz is just beautiful in that gorgeous gown that drapes so softly and Uncle Bruce is so handsome and looks so proud.

  46. Jackie Palmer-Hibbert says:

    Wonderful to read all these lovely stories first thing on a very wet Sunday morning.
    It wasn’t until this information came through that I even knew that parachute silk was used for the wedding dresses. I’ve since looked at my grandmother’s photos and other family member’s of those times. My mother was born in 1938, me in 1958….and this subject never came up…maybe she didn’t even know. It’s information I will be passing on to my grandchildren.
    Please keep them coming as I’ve already printed all the stories to go in the Ancestry files
    It’s been wonderful what I’ve found out since doing the tree since only November. ..and this was part of my package. Thank you everyone.

  47. Dale Warren says:

    Per Susan’s comment “… the people who were interred were allowed to marry & hold weddings…”

    Funerals are rites where people are “interred,” that is, buried. I got a grin from that auto-correct slip..

  48. Jackie Palmer-Hibbert says:

    Look at the date of today, in reverse. After the email today from 3fold, I feel it someone from past is telling me to look up about the silk background from my grandparents wedding. It was my grandfather’s birthday this week (17th) , plus my mother(15th ) now 83 and her brothers too on (16th) .all one week.
    I’ve also found my godmother’s wedding also wearing silk, along with all the bridesmaids.
    I remembered I had purchased vintage silk christening robes many years ago, just because I liked them…. I found them in a drawer. Still as good now as when used.
    I’ve read and re-read all the replies on 3fold today. Thank you.

  49. Joy Jeyes says:

    My mother’s dress was made from parachute silk, I asked her what happened to it afterwards. She told me it got re-cycled and made into a bridesmaid’s dress for her sister. She said the re-cycling was what everyone did.

  50. Pat Binder says:

    I remember that my mother had a ‘slip’ that she wore under her dresses that was made of a parachute. I have not idea how she came across the material, since my father was in the Navy! She kept it throughout the years, long after she wore it. I have no idea what happened to it and would give anything to have it now.

    • Genie says:

      My mother married my father, who was assigned to the aircraft carrier Yorktown from its shakedown cruise April 15 1943, through the south Pacific battles, to the end of the war. Aircraft carriers carried parachutes for the flight crews.
      She wore a lovely silk dress at her wedding. She told me about the wedding dresses being made of silk because there was no fabric available for special occasions. Hers might have been made from a parachute, but I am not sure, as she bought it. But it makes sense to recycle the defective parachute material.