Charlotte Malone is having second thoughts about her upcoming wedding to Tim Rose, but she’s not exactly sure why. She escapes to a familiar hideaway, Red Mountain, the site of the Ludlow Estate, where she and her mother, Phoebe, used to picnic, enjoying each other’s company and dreaming the afternoon away together. Tragically, Phoebe was killed in a motor vehicle accident when Charlotte was a mere ten years old and, given that she has never known her father’s identity, Charlotte has been pretty much alone in the world ever since. Taken in and raised by her mother’s good friend, Gert, who is now also deceased, Charlotte has established herself as a successful and highly sought-after wedding stylist/consultant, assisted at Malone & Co. by her good friend, Dixie. Tim proposed to Charlotte just two months after they met and began dating, and Charlotte is eager to become a member of his large, close-knit family. But with her own wedding just two months away, Charlotte has yet to select her own gown, address the invitations or attend to other pressing details. Why?
There is an auction taking place at the Ludlow Estate and before she realizes what’s happening, Charlotte has spent a thousand dollars on a beat-up old trunk with the lock welded shut that supposedly contains a hundred-year-old wedding dress. The odd auctioneer wearing the iridescent purple shirt was peculiarly determined that Charlotte uy the trunk. Even more bizarre is the notation on the receipt he hands her: “Redeemed.” Confused by her own behavior, Charlotte correctly predicts that the purchase will be a point of contention between her and Tim, who is angered by her having spent so much money without consulting him, especially on an item that may well prove to be worthless.
But once Charlotte manages to get the trunk open, she discovers an exquisite gown in pristine condition that appears never to have been worn. How is it possible that a dress could be that old without showing any sign of decay? The gown is hand-sewn with gold thread and seems to radiate its own light. The style defies description, but is timeless, with the initials “T.H.” are initialed inside. Also in the trunk is a beautiful sachet containing a set of dog tags.
Who created the beautiful dress and did the bride for whom it was designed ever wear it? Who placed the dog tags in the sachet and what happened to that soldier? How did the dress end up in the trunk and who welded it shut?
So many mysteries . . . Charlotte is determined to solve them all and find out if the dress was truly destined for her, as well as whether Tim is the man she is meant to give her heart to while wearing it.
A “girls'” weekend in Tennessee for the author Rachel Hauck and three friends. during which one woman shared details about the search for her daughter’s perfect wedding gown, pushed Hauck’s imagination into gear. “What if there was one gown worn by four women . . . over . . . a hundred years? Who were these women? What happened to them and the dress? How did they get the dress? Why would they wear it? When did they wear it? Does it fade or wear out? Does it fit everyone?”
Charlotte is a survivor who has made her own way in the world, save for the $100,000 anonymous gift that allowed her to renovate and remodel her bridal salon, taking the business to a new level of success. But the dreams, planning, and, most importantly, innate gift of being able to select the one unique gown that each of her clients is destined to wear on the most important day of her life are all Charlotte’s own. She loves Tim and her attraction to him is unquestioned, so she is stymied by her indecisiveness when it comes to completing preparations for her own big day. It soon becomes clear, however, that Tim shares her misgivings and Charlotte winds up heartbroken, but determined to regroup and carry on.
When Charlotte discovers the stunning, magical dress in the old trunk, she is equally determined to learn its history and why the strange auctioneer who periodically turns up in her shop so adamantly insists that the dress belongs to her.
Charlotte’s current-day story is juxtaposed against that of Emily Canton, a twenty-two-year-old college graduate living in 1912 Birmingham. She is stunned when Daniel Ludlow abandons his professional baseball career and returns home, eager to marry her and launch his new career as a teacher. In the five months Daniel was away, Emily did not hear from him and began dating Philip Saltonstall, a debonair member of the wealthy and powerful Saltonstall family. She accepts Philip’s proposal, mindful that her marriage will elevate not only her own social standing, but that of her entire family, as well as undoubtedly improve business for the local bank her father founded and operates.
Daniel soon brings Emily troubling news about Philip’s behavior, some of which Emily herself witnesses. Emily has never known Daniel to lie, but still . . . he does want to marry her, so could he be motivated to discredit Philip in order to win Emily’s hand for himself? Emily is spirited, opinionated, and brave, daring to venture into the “colored” section of Birmingham to have Taffy Hall, a talented African-American designer and seamstress, construct her wedding dress, despite the vehement protests of her family and Philip. The dress Taffy creates for Emily makes her feel loved, while the stiffly formal, uninspired gown sewn by Mrs. Caruthers prohibits her from breathing and moving freely. Which dress should Emily choose for her most special day? Is Philip truly a cad who is merely using Emily to secure his inheritance and social position, or is Daniel wrong about Philip’s character? Should Emily listen to her heart or her family?
Charlotte’s journey leads her to Hillary and solves the mystery of both the dog tags contained in the sachet and the welded lock. Hillary’s story is also one of heartbreak born of loss and anger. A Saltonstall descendant, she has long carried her pain with her silently and absent resolution. Hillary becomes a mother-figure to Charlotte, filling in large pieces of the puzzle and joining the younger woman’s search for answers. Along the way, Hillary is able to find peace for herself as she bonds with and helps Charlotte.
Finally, there is Mary Grace, now ninety-four years old and married an astonishing seventy-two years to her preacher husband, Thomas. She too becomes an integral part of Charlotte’s life and provides additional information about the dress. Thomas and Mary Grace are an inspiring example of all that marriage
Lastly, there is Tim, an upstanding, honorable, but confused man of thirty-two who, like so many men, has so far not been ready to fully grow up. Also like many men who have tender hearts, Tim is not adept at cutting his ties with a former girlfriend, Kim, who arrives on scene and complicates his already strained relationship with Charlotte. Despite being somewhat hapless at managing his love life effectively, Tim is a man of faith whose heart is true. When he finally figures out what he really wants and knows he is ready to pursue his dream, he knows he has to prove himself to Charlotte. Is he up to the task?
The Wedding Dress is a completely charming and fanciful tale inhabited by well-meaning and endearing characters, along with a villain or two. Hauck effortlessly alternates the action and focus between 2012 and 1912 Birmingham, Alabama, and events taking place in the lives of her main characters. At the center of the story about one’s search for identity, destiny, and treasures of the heart stands the dress — an allegory for faith which, like the gown, withstands the pressures and ravages of time, perfectly fits all who inhabit it, brings radiance to one’s life, and is a thing of beauty observable by everyone we encounter. Hauck’s characters and their struggles are authentic, despite the fantasy aspects of the piece, and the ending, if predictable, is thoroughly satisfying. Overall, The Wedding Dress is a delightfully whimsical, well-crafted story of love lost, love found, and four brides who are united by destiny and common beliefs. Readers who love romance will not want to miss this latest work from Rachel Hauck!