Designer Priscilla Kidder is not only considered the first famous bridal gown designer, but also one of the most influential designers. Her gowns boasted renowned style, craftsmanship, and feminine elegance. Although the company is no longer in operation, many vintage-loving brides are still seeking out her dresses today!
How It All Began
Priscilla Eastman Comins was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1916. With her heart set on the wedding world, Priscilla graduated from the New England School of Design in Boston. After graduation, she worked in the bridal section of R. H. White’s department store. While working for White, she met James Norton Kidder, who would later become the VP and Treasurer of her company, and they married in 1940.
To achieve her design dreams, Kidder had to work her way up to the top. She went from model to sales associate and finally assistant buyer in White’s bridal department. She started to notice that White’s selection of bridal gowns was limited, so she took it upon herself to leave the store and open her own bridal salon, The Bride’s Shop, in 1948.
The store, located on Newberry Street in Boston, allowed Kidder to become an independent dressmaker and wedding consultant. Her designs featured imported lace, which was very different compared to the simple designs of the era. Her romantic wedding dresses became part of a line titled “Priscilla of Boston” which soon turned into Kidder’s brand name.
She also launched a “Miss Priscilla” label—casuals for young figures including cottons for autumn wear. Thanks to the post-WWII wedding boom, Kidder made around $15,000 on her first week of opening.
By the 1950s, Priscilla of Boston was booming. Brides were eager to buy her gowns that were famous for exquisite silk, beadwork, and French lace. For the next 30 years, Kidder’s customers wanted more bridal and less casualwear. She created the “Betsy” line, named after her daughter, for the bride wanting an inexpensive gown.
The “Teeny” line followed, for the smaller woman wanting sophistication, and in 1980 the less formal “Contemporary Romantic” line was created for the refined woman. During this time, Kidder also gained a ton of high-profile clientele including socialites, celebrities, and first daughters.
The Empire Today
After building her company for more than 45 years, Kidder was ready to sell and retire. In 1993, she was considered internationally renowned, and her designs continued to wow brides everywhere. In 1996, the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of American History acquired a collection of Kidder’s gowns, papers, and photographs. Her dresses are displayed in the Division of Costume Exhibit, and many bridal designers consider her to be the Oscar de la Renta of her time.
In 2002, Federated Department Stores bought Kidder’s company, and she passed away a year later. In 2007, bridal chain David’s Bridal bought the company and really helped expand the Priscilla of Boston name. While the retailer was known for their less expensive designs, ranging from $300 to $1,500, Priscilla of Boston was seen as the posh older sister with higher-end gowns costing between $5,000 to $10,000.
Although the brand brought in some higher revenue, David’s Bridal customers were looking for the lower price point options. Ultimately, all 19 Priscilla of Boston stores were closed by the end of 2011.
Although Priscilla of Boston is no longer around, the brand had some great collections towards the very end. The spring 2010 Vineyard collection is sleek, modern, and sophisticated. The flowy strapless gown is one of our faves—it’s flirty and fun!
Jumping to the spring 2012 bridal collection, both the Danni and Andrea gowns are full of princess-like qualities. We love the strapless trumpet Danni gown. The lace accent at the drop waist is super elegant and classy. Andrea is giving us Kate Middleton vibes with the long-sleeve lace top and high collar. It’s simply stunning!
Speaking of royalty, remember the famous clientele we mentioned before? It all started with the stunning Grace Kelly. Her 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco put Kidder on the map for high-profile clients. She designed the yellow organdy bridesmaid gowns for Kelly’s wedding party that featured small collars and billowing sleeves. Nearly 600 guests attended the wedding, including major Hollywood stars like Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson, and more.
From there, Kidder quickly became a sought-out designer for multiple White House weddings. First up, Lydon B. Johnson’s daughter Luci. For her 1966 wedding to Patrick Nugent, Kidder designed a beautiful high neck gown with long sleeves, like the one that Grace Kelly wore.
In the late ‘60s to early ‘70s she designed gowns for both Nixon sisters—Julie and Tricia. Julie’s wedding to David Eisenhower brought two presidential families together in December of 1968. Her gown was simple and feminine. Her sister Tricia turned a few heads for her 1971 nuptials. Kidder designed a sleeveless gown for her big day and many people considered the dress revealing for that decade. Either way, she looked amazing in it!