Vintage Wedding Wear Makes Up New Library Exhibit

Photo: Nancy Crevier

Dottie Evans looks over her wedding gown, which will be part of the wedding wear collection displayed at C.H. Booth Library beginning June 20.

Wedding dresses and trousseau items from the late 1800s to the 1960s will be displayed in the Mary Hawley dining room, on the third floor of the C.H. Booth Library, beginning Thursday, June 20, said library curator Mary Thomas. The presentation will remain on view until July 6.

This will be the second time that the library has gathered a collection of vintage gowns for public viewing. Last year, for the entire month of June, wedding dresses from the 1930s to the 1980s were exhibited at the library.

“There was such a popular response, last year. We were very surprised by the way people reacted,” Ms Thomas said. “I think there is something distinguished about the dining room. The dresses on the forms were so ethereal. It was such an atmosphere of dignity, that went right along with the dignity Mary Hawley exemplified in her life,” she said.

When library volunteer Mary Stambaugh mentioned to Ms Thomas earlier this year that she was hoping to find a permanent home for trousseau items belonging to her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, Ms Thomas immediately began thinking about another exhibit for the library. Before long, others had offered to share their wedding gowns for the new display.

“I thought, I’ve got all this clothing, and I wanted it to be somewhere it wouldn’t always be hidden in a closet,” Ms Stambaugh said of the collection she has donated to the library.

Among the several items she has provided is her great-grandmother’s wedding dress, from the 1860s. The two-piece silk dress is overlaid in tulle, with delicate organza trim at the hem. Several items of lingerie, which Ms Stambaugh said most likely were packed for the wedding trips, belonged to her grandmother and to her mother.

“There is a beautiful little lace morning cap that belonged to my grandmother,” she said, “decorated with long ribbons and satin flowers.”

Of the wedding night nightgown belonging to Ms Stambaugh’s mother, Ms Thomas said it was an example of delicate, detailed handiwork. Inlaid crocheted lace and hand embroidery decorating the fine fabric show the expert level of needlework, she said.

“It is such delicate work. Imagine anyone going to this level of work in today’s cultural environment,” Ms Thomas said. Appreciative and knowledgeable about the arts of sewing and needlework, Ms Thomas exclaimed over a sheer, embroidered blouse in the collection.

“This is some of the most exquisite work I’ve ever seen. To do a satin stitch on such fine fabric is incredible,” she said. Items finished with enclosed seams known as French seams show a high level of expertise by the seamstress, Ms Thomas said.

Newtown resident Marge Rogers was married February 4, 1956, in New Jersey. The off-white, floor length satin gown that she walked down the aisle wearing that day will be part of the exhibit. The short-sleeved gown with floral appliqués is exemplary of the 1950s wedding gown, said Ms Thomas.

“I was sorting through things, and getting rid of things. I didn’t know what to do with [my wedding gown]. I thought about donating it to The Town Players, but then Mary suggested the library would take it, so I’m pleased to have it there,” Mrs Rogers said. Her wedding dress will be properly stored and remain in the library archives.

Dottie Evans’s wedding gown is on loan to the library for the duration of the exhibit. Married July 11, 1964, in the Washington National Cathedral, “on one of the hottest days that Washington, D.C. could produce,” Mrs Evans’s dress is a classic 1960s era boat neck gown. The slim fitting bodice flares out slightly into a balloon skirt, and the dress is decorated with seed pearl embroidery. A modest train trailed the dress, she said, and short cap sleeves helped to keep the heat that day at bay.

“All these years, the dress has been in the box in the attic,” Mrs Evans said, and taking it out brought back memories of the event.

“In the 1960s, a wedding was very lockstep still. You got engaged, you picked out your dress and then had the posed, professional photograph taken, and the bride’s family paid for everything,” she recalled. While a few years later brides may have opted for a much more informal look, “I wouldn’t have considered buying anything but a genuine wedding dress,” Mrs Evans said.

“I loved my dress. I felt so pretty in it, and was so excited when I put it on,” she said.

“Many of the pieces are museum quality,” Ms Thomas said, “and some will have to be displayed between glass for protection.”

Other wedding items from Ms Stambaugh will be on display, as well. She has donated a hand embroidered white cotton drawstring purse, known as a reticule, as well as a colorfully embroidered satin hand bag; parasols with fold-up handles; a German wedding cup that allows the groom and bride to imbibe simultaneously; and a Victorian “tussie mussie” bouquet holder. Cleverly appendaged to the metal cup of the “tussie” is a tiny chain ending in a ring. The bride could put her little finger on one hand through the ring, explained Ms Stambaugh, allowing her to move freely without dropping her bouquet.

Ms Thomas said she is very grateful to all who have offered to share their wedding dresses and wedding items with the library, and with the public.

The wedding collection will be on display beginning Thursday, June 20, and can be viewed during normal library hours until Thursday, July 6. The library is open during the summer months Monday through Thursday, 9:30 am to 8 pm; Friday, 11 am to 5 pm; and Saturday, from 9:30 am to 5 pm. The library is closed on Sundays during the summer.

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