Collection of stunning vintage wedding dresses on display at East Bay retirement home

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On this weekend after Valentine's Day, many couples will be remembering the moment they said "I do." 

One group of women in the East Bay assembled a dazzling display of vintage wedding dresses for people to see and enjoy. 

"I just love the classic style of this, it reminds me of Princess Grace," Susan Filice said earlier this week, as she pointed out a princess-style wedding gown with a billowing skirt from the 1950s. Filice also highlighted a 1929 Downton-Abbey lookalike wedding gown, and the oldest dress and pair of shoes in the collection - a hand-made dress from 1907.

The more than 20 dresses, pairs of shoes, shawls, veils and wedding gown accessories Filice was looking at are the kind of display you'd expect to find in a museum, a collection relflecting the wedding fashions of decades past. But you won't see any of it in a museum. They're on display at the Stoneridge Creek Retirement Community in Pleasanton and come from the personal wardrobe from the residents, employees and their families. 

Filice, who is the Life Enrichment Director for Stoneridge Creek, explained how she got the idea for the Valentines week display.

"I had done something similar for the veterans," she said, "where we displayed their uniforms and medals. I wanted to do something for the ladies in our community as well." 

Gazing at the collection, you're reminded that in fashion, everything old is new again. 

Filice pointed out two, high-neck, lace wedding dresses that look almost identical. One is from the 1970s, the other, from the 1910s.

"They look like they're from the same era, when in fact, they are from two very different times." 

The dresses span decades and cultures. One of the items on display is a traditional Chinese Tea ceremony tunic from 1954. 

"One of our residents served her mother-in-law tea, in that outfit, on her wedding day." The tunic was hand-embroidered, Filice explained, with the dragon embroidered on the panel representing the groom, and the phoenix symbol, the bride.

Many of the gowns are paired with black and white photos, showing the brides on their big day years ago.

Cindy Mathis, a resident at Stoneridge Creek, brought three generations of dresses for the display. 

"My mother's dress was from 1939 and it was the oldest in our family collection," Mathis said, "It's just beautiful satin which has held up for 80 years." Mathis said looking at the dress made her think about when the dress was made, in the middle of the Great Depression.

"I'm amazed because I'm sure money was tight during that period of time to have such an exquisite dress of satin was really special," Mathis said, She mentioned that several of her mother's cousins also wore the dress for their wedding day.

Mathis also brought her own dress from 1970, a very different style, empire-waist cut lace gown and train. 

"The lace train from my dress we ended up using as a shawl for my daughter's dress in 2010,"  she said. Her daughter's 2010 A-line princess-style gown is also on display.

"It's been fun to see everyone's reaction, and they've loved it," she said.

The vintage wedding gown display has been so popular with Stoneridge Creek's 800 residents, Filice and the marketing managers there decided to keep it up past the Valentine's Day weekend, for the rest of the month. They're already talking about making this vintage wedding display a yearly tradition.

"I have other residents who've now gone back and found where their wedding dresses are, and have told me they want to include them next year," Filice said. "We also want to make a book with photos and some of the stories that go along with these wonderful dresses. It's the happiest day in most people’s lives. It's wonderful to share those joys."

The display was originally created only for the residents of Stoneridge Creek, but members of the general public can view it as well, they just need to call the retirement community first to make an appointment.