Boutique owner reunites vintage wedding dress with bride

SIKESTON, Mo. (AP) — A vintage wedding dress was almost turned into satin handkerchiefs had it not been for Jeannie Williams’ curiosity to find the bride who wore the 71-year-old gown.

It began when Williams’ friend, Sue Chessor of Sikeston, recently brought a wedding dress to Williams at her shop in hopes that Williams, who owns Purse-N-Ality in downtown Sikeston, would be able to reuse the material in some way, the Sikeston Standard Democrat reported.

Chessor said she didn’t know who the dress belonged to; she had recently found it while cleaning out her attic.

That same day another friend contacted Williams and asked if William’s’ could make her some women’s handkerchiefs. For a split-second, Williams thought she could possibly use the gown to make them, but Williams told her friend she’d think about it.

“That night I opened the box and I found a cleaning certificate dated from 1981 and it had a woman’s name on it,” recalled Williams. “That cleaning certificate spoke to me: all it said was it was dry cleaned in 1981 and the certificate of dry cleaning was issued to Florence Mastis, and I went: ‘I’ll find you’ — and I did.”

Williams said she took the dress out of the box.

“I’ll never forget that. I laid the material up to my face and I thought: ‘Oh my goodness. Who wore this dress? She must have been beautiful.’ I just couldn’t put it down and the idea of cutting it up for handkerchiefs never occurred to me again.”

The Sikeston boutique owner began searching for information to find Mastis.

She started with an internet search to contact the dry cleaning company in St. Louis. They didn’t have records that dated back that far so she then searched for Florence Mastis.

I kept thinking there was something in that name that would help me,” Williams said. “When I did a search, the first thing that popped up was her obituary in the St Louis Post-Dispatch. The obituary didn’t mention her age and the photo was of a young women.”

So Williams looked up Mastis’ death certificate and learned she was born in 1933, which would have made her almost 50 in 1981.

“The dates didn’t make sense to me and I thought maybe she passed the dress down to her daughter,” Williams said. “In my mind I’m creating this story and imagining all these wonderful things because I knew there was something there.”

Williams said she started started researching the Mastis family.

“Oh my goodness, can I tell you about this family!” Williams laughed.

Williams wound up finding a work phone number for Mastis’ daughter-in-law, Vicki Mastis of St. Louis.

Williams said she hesitated to call Mastis.

“I thought: ‘She’s going to think I’m crazy,’ but I just had this feeling there was a story here. This is dress is just too beautiful,” Williams said.

And she made the call to Vicki Mastis.

“Jeannie said: ‘I think have your mother or your mother-in-law’s dress.’ I’m like: I don’t think so. My daughter tried it on not too long ago and it was up at the house,’ “ Mastis recalled about the phone conversation with Williams.

Williams explained how she got to the point to call Mastis, and Williams offered to send a leery Mastis pictures of the dress via text message.

“Jeannie sent the pictures and I said: ‘That’s the dress I wore!'” Mastis said.

Williams said she was fascinated.

“I could just hear the excitement in her voice,” Williams said of Mastis.

Then Williams learned the whole story.

“We didn’t have much money; we were paying for the whole thing so his mom worked with a woman named Jen at the real estate office,” Mastis said. “She was telling Jen about our wedding, and Jen told her: ‘I was about the same size she is now when I got married. She can borrow that — but I want it back because I have a great-niece that I want to give it to.’ “

So Mastis borrowed the dress for her wedding.

“She did give us permission to bustle it. It was a little bit long, but I didn’t hem it or anything so I just got the highest high heels I could get. That was it and we went off on our honeymoon,” Mastis said.

Meanwhile, Florence Mastis took the dress to Classic Cleaners in St. Louis.

“They preserved it in the keepsake box and we gave it back to Jen, and that’s the last I heard of it,” Vicki Mastis said. “Then, after we heard Jen had passed away, we didn’t know in time and we said: ‘Oh, it would have been nice to see about the dress,’ and I figured it was gone for good.”

That is until mid-June when Mastis received a phone call from Williams.

Mastis said she was shocked to find the gown she wore on her wedding day after all these years.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was very excited and remembered putting it on for the first time and how wonderful the satin felt against my skin because I have very sensitive skin,” Mastis said.

Williams then shared the story with Chessor, who said she had an aunt named Jen McCann.

“Sue thought I had found the woman who sold the wedding dress at a garage sale; she didn’t know the dress belonged to her aunt Jen,” Williams said.

Williams did some investigating and learned Chessor’s aunt Jen and the Mastis’ neighbor Jen were the same person.

“Can you imagine my shock? When I discovered the neighbor was Sue’s aunt?” Williams laughed. “To me, it was just incredible.”

Chessor then went back to her attic and found her aunt’s wedding album which included several pictures of the dress. Chessor discovered the dress was specially made for her aunt in 1946 by Montaldo’s, a lady’s specialty shop in St. Louis.

On a recent, sunny June day, Chessor along with Vicki Mastis and her husband, Frank “Rocky” Mastis met at Williams’ shop in Sikeston, where Vicki was reunited with her “something borrowed” from her wedding day. Mastis even brought the original hat she wore on her wedding day, which was Sept. 25, 1981.

Chessor said there was no reason for her to keep the dress; it should be with Mastis.

Chessor told Mastis: “My aunt loaned you this dress 36 years ago and I’m giving it to you today.”

As a thank you, Mastis, who owns an art gallery in St. Louis, brought two of her paintings for Chessor and Williams, who couldn’t believe their eyes.

As it turned out, when Chessor was going through her attic, she found paintings by her aunt Jen, too, which bare a resemblance to Mastis’ artwork.

Both of the women who shared the same wedding dress were artists, Williams said.

“What are the chances?” Williams marveled. “This story just keeps getting better and better.”

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