Finding the perfect wedding dress is time-consuming, can be quite expensive, and require multiple fittings, but for area residents from the 1940s to the 1980s, there was another option. Young brides could have their wedding dresses custom designed by Eleanor Andre Lisowski.
Winona residents Janet and Don Justin on their wedding day 52 years ago. Janet Justin’s dress was custom-made by the late Eleanor Lisowski.
What started off as a hobby for Eleanor soon snowballed into a regular job, with wedding dresses called for nearly every week. These dresses were often designed without patterns, based on pictures from bridal magazines. They usually took only one fitting, and were relatively inexpensive. In addition to the dresses, Lisowski made veils and bridesmaids' gowns as well.
Over 30 of Lisowski’s wedding dresses will be on display at the Arcadia Historical Society on Sunday, August 25, from 1 to 4 p.m. There will also be a style show by models wearing some of Lisowski's creations.
Phyllis Wolfe, who purchased a dress from Lisowski in 1949, has been planning the event since March. Wolfe said she was not only interested in the beautiful gowns, but the history and stories behind them as well. Ads were placed in a few papers to garner initial interest in the project, and Wolfe made many phone calls. The phone calls were followed up by a questionnaire that was sent out to dress owners, asking for details of the wedding in which the dress was worn, as well as the cost and size of each gown.
The dresses that will be on display or modeled will be from the late 1940s to the mid 1980s. The original cost of the dresses ranged in price from $30 to $300. Many of the veils and headpieces were also made by Lisowski. Many of the dresses will be modeled by grandchildren of the original brides, as the dresses were custom fitted, making it more difficult to find older models who fit into the dresses.
Lisowski’s clients had many positive things to say about their experiences with their dressmaker. Wolfe spoke of how effortless the whole process was, noting that there were only two meetings throughout the process, the initial one to gather measurements and go over the design, and the final fitting once the gown was finished. Many enjoyed how personal the experience was, and several people have mentioned how happy Lisowski always was. Wolfe noted that one could tell that Lisowski truly enjoyed sewing: “She was always happy; she liked what she was doing.”
Eleanor Andre Lisowski
Eleanor Andre Lisowski, originally of North Creek, began sewing at a young age. As she got older, she sewed all her own clothes, and then after marrying, she made clothes for her son and daughter, including such things as winter coats. Rita Harvey, Lisowski’s daughter, said that she continued to make clothes for all of the family members each December, regardless of how busy she became with her paying customers.
In the mid 1940s, Lisowski made her first wedding dress for a girl in North Creek by the name of Woychik. In 1947, she made her second dress, and soon she had several clients requesting wedding dresses. Lisowski was often working on at least one dress a week. Although she would also do alterations, her true love was sewing bridal gowns.
Lisowski bought most of her supplies in Arcadia, but occasionally it would be necessary to buy fabrics in Winona or La Crosse. She always looked for sales, to reduce the cost of the dresses. As the business took off, Lisowski would sew all day, every day, except for Saturdays and Sundays. In the evenings, she would work on the veils and headdresses so she could sit in the living room with the family while she worked.
Over the years she created hundreds of gowns for local women.
To view Eleanor Lisowski wedding dresses and the style show visit Arcadia Historical Society at 401 S. Washington Street, Arcadia, Wisconsin between 1 and 4 p.m. The style show will be at 3:00 p.m. Admission is $5.00 and food and beverages will be served.