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December 3, 2015

All Dressed in Turkey Feathers: This is How Turkey Feather Fashion Rocked in the Late 1940s

Turkey feather fashion in the late 1940s was a very big trend that many women followed. Many women bought long gowns made of turkey feathers.

In 1948, a LIFE magazine writer was tasked with covering the wedding of “turkey enthusiast” Barbara Orr Ehrhart—a woman who made her wedding dress out of turkey feathers. And her bridesmaids dresses out of dyed turkey feathers.

Ehrhart had a longstanding fascination with turkey feathers, for years using this unconventional fabric to make hats and accessories before spotlighting it in her own wedding dress. Half a century before Lady Gaga hit the red carpet in her infamous meat dress, Ehrhart displayed her feathered creations at local poultry shows.

After obtaining permission to get married at the Far West Turkey Show in California, the bride gathered 37,500 plumes for her dress, which was constructed over the course of several months. Her bridesmaids’ dresses were also crafted out of feathers, which she dyed pink, blue, yellow and green.

Instead of throwing rice, guests showered the newlyweds with — what else? — feathers as they exited the ceremony. And after all the talk of and emphasis on turkey had whetted their appetites, guests chowed down on a turkey dinner to cap off the night.

Today we might consider Ehrhart an early pioneer of the now-trendy “nose to tail” cooking philosophy, which seeks to eliminate waste when butchering an animal. This turkey lover clearly made good use of the birds’ feathery raiment in addition to the meat. Ehrhart did not slaughter the birds specifically for her own sartorial gain — she asserted that the 300 birds she plucked feathers from were already dead or fatally wounded.

LIFE reported that the morning after the wedding, even newlywed bliss couldn’t keep Ehrhart away from her beloved birds. She traveled to a movie set for her part in a short movie, in which she would be filmed standing amid what LIFE called “a sea of turkeys.”

Finally, if today’s readers have any concerns that Ehrhart’s proclivity for the birds would somehow overshadow (or even undermine) her marriage, they need not fear. The original LIFE article points out that the groom, Fred Ehrhart, who was a lumber grader in Oregon, gamely helped his fiancĂ©e create her gown. Birds of a feather, it seems, do indeed flock together.

Bride shows off a prize carcass.

Wedding attendants, dressed in pastel-dyed turkey feathers, give last-minute attention to the pure-white plumage of the bride's gown (center).

Fond farewell is given to a flock of beloved White Holland turkeys before Barbara, dressed in bronze feather gown, leaves on her honeymoon.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Preceding the bride, the matron of honor paces up the long aisle followed by 6-year-old Sharon Snider, who strews feathers along the carpet.

Barbara and Fred are married by a justice of the peace in public ballroom.

Instead of rice, handfuls of turkey feathers are showered on the happy newlyweds as they dash out the door.

Turkey feather fashion, 1948.

Nuptial ballads are sung before the big ceremony. Composed by the bride, they are, "It Must All Be Dreams," "I Knew It Would Happen That Way."

Wedding banquet after the ceremony consisted of cranberry sauce, vegetable gravy, potatoes, and to no one's surprise, plenty of hot sliced turkey.

Barbara Orr Ehrhart, with a friend, 1948.

(Photos: Charles E. Steinheimer—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)


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