It was 1932 in Los Angeles and Maria was 22 and in love with Manuel Moreno, a cartoonist and not the man she was ‘supposed’ to marry. She married him anyway.
She was walking down the street, watching her feet stamp the pavement, with thoughts – of Manuel; of her family who’d moved from Mexico; of her father who was still in Guaymas; and her job that was sewing coats in a factory – dancing across her mind. When she saw the wedding dress in a department store window, she stopped.
She considered it. Tilted her head. Squinted her eyes. And went home and made the dress herself. She used “butter-soft” silk and created a 10-foot train.
Her and Manuel were married that year. But the dress wasn’t finished.
It has been used four times since, passed down through generations. It has sat in a box, untouched, for decades. It has been stolen twice by housekeepers, and twice returned. And the dress has never, ever ended in divorce.
The power of it? Maria would call it the power of family.
It was 51 years before the dress was worn for a second time. Though Maria and Manuel had four children, their daughter Anita didn't wear the dress when she married - Maria made her something different.
But Anita's daughter, Marta, who was married in 1983 in Tustin California, had her grandmother's (she calls Maria 'Grande') silk gown woven around her as she and Kevin O’Hara - high school sweethearts - promised each other eternity.
Listen to the Mamamia Out Loud team debate whether or not it's ever okay to outsource the writing of your wedding vows. Post continues after audio.
"I had never seen this dress before," Marta told The Orange County Register, recalling how Anita had first offered her daughter her own wedding dress, only to find it had stained in storage. That's when Maria's dress was pulled from the cardboard box and unfolded once more.
"I was obsessed with this dress. It’s me. It’s colorful without being obnoxious. You can’t take your eyes off the dress."
All Maria's descendants see colours in the dress, even though it's white. They say it sparkles.
Then, it was Marta's younger sister Elena who married Ric Salinas in 1997.
Maria was at the wedding, even though she didn't like Ric at first. He was an actor and comedian and it took him too long to pop the question, Maria thought.
"He's a great guy," Marta laughs today.
Maria lived until she was 98. She passed away in 2009 to "be with Manuel". And the pair watched from, wherever they are, as Marta's daughter Pilar married Nick Kassouf in September this year.
The dress was worn for a fourth time.
"I knew we had a family dress," Pilar told The Orange County Register. "We opened the box and it felt so luscious. I tried it on, and it felt like it was meant to be. Once I tried it on, I knew I was going to wear it."
In between weddings, the dress lives at Anita's house in storage. She is afraid to dry clean it. She keeps it as it's always been, bundled into a cardboard box, ready for whenever one of Maria's girls falls in love.
Next up, it will be Elena's daughters, Daisy and Lola Salinas, aged 15 and 16, who've both pledged to wear the silk gown, handmade in 1932 and sealed with the love of family, down the aisle.
It's a beautiful tradition... And really darn cost-effective.
Images published with permission from the family.