Wedding Gown History Profile: Priscilla Kidder
Priscilla Kidder opened her business in 1945 in a small townhouse in Boston. The first week, she had sales of $10,000; all in wedding gowns! In an era when the average wedding gown cost $35, this is amazing.
Born Priscilla Comins in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1918, she learned to sew at a young age from her mother. She designed and sewed doll clothes as a girl and opened her own yarn shop (a girl after my own heart!) after graduating from the local high school. She then went on to study at the New England School of Design and took a job at the R.H. White department store, working her way from model to sales associate to assistant buyer in the bridal department.
Her first shop, opened with the help and support of her husband James was called “The Bride’s Shop”; her sister Natalie was her design partner. Priscilla was truly invested in the family business model and stayed involved in all aspects of the business until she sold it to Priscilla Kaneb in 1993.
I first became interested in learning more about Priscilla and her Priscilla of Boston line when I found a beautiful - but in poor condition - PoB gown from the 1960s for sale online. This was at the beginning of my gown restoration career and the gown was cheap, so I bought it as a learning piece. The gown was nearly orange and brown when I received it, but whitened beautifully and turned out to be a spectacular piece. I later sold it to a bride who wore it for her wedding, 50 years after it was made.
My favorite Priscilla of Boston gown was the one that Priscilla herself designed for Tricia Nixon to wear when she married Edward C. Cox in 1971 in a White House wedding. The gown is a timeless and gracious silhouette with the most beautiful lace work and applique.
Other notables who wore Priscilla’s designs were Tricia’s sister Julie Nixon, Luci and Lynda Bird Johnson, and Barbara Eisenhower. She also designed the bridesmaid dresses for the wedding of Princess Grace of Monaco.
In my research on Priscilla, it became obvious that she was not afraid to speak her mind and share her opinions on wedding gown style and the industry. She did not enjoy it when the grooms would be part of the wedding gown shopping, she said they had “terrible taste”. She was certainly a traditionalist who thought gowns should be feminine and classic.
Priscilla was, however, one of the first to design a line of wedding gowns specifically for the second-time bride with shades of pink and blush. She was also one of the first to design for the petite bride; the line was first called “Teeny” and then changed to “Petite”.
Quality was important to her; she loved knowing that a gown would last for generations. In fact, she was in the business long enough to alter some of her own designs for the daughters of the original brides for whom the gowns were made.
My favorite quote from Priscilla herself about weddings? “You can't have a perfect wedding. The ones that do -- it's a bore.” Now those are words of comfort to brides, mothers, and all of us who work hard to make weddings nearly-perfect!
Smithsonian Collection NMAH.AC.0557