Wedding dresses from the 19th century to the present are featured in a new exhibit showcasing the changing styles of American brides, from a 1900s dress with a lace choker collar, to a beaded flapper dress from the 1920s, to a 1980s satin confection with an explosion of organdy ruffles.
More than 40 wedding gowns spanning from 1844 to last year are featured in the free exhibit. Most of the dresses are from the University of North Texas’ Texas Fashion Collection, which includes more than 20,000 historic clothing items. Others were loaned from private collections.
“It’s going to bring up a lot of memories and sentiment,” said exhibit organizer Myra Walker, director of the Texas Fashion Collection.
“American Brides: Inspiration and Ingenuity” runs through Oct. 24 at the Greater Denton Arts Council’s Patterson-Appleton Center for the Visual Arts.
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Walker said the exhibit not only shows the changing styles over the decades but also highlights the elements that keep re-emerging.
A Victor Costa-designed dress from 1993 for a wedding in Scotland with embroidered thistles features style elements from the late 1800s, including a dust ruffle beneath the dress, covered buttons on the sleeves and a long train.
“It’s got a 19th-century flavor, but it’s really a 1990s dress,” she said.
A gown from 1982 with billowing sleeves inspired by the dress Princess Diana wore the year earlier when she married Prince Charles stands beside a Gibson Girl-inspired gown from 1894 with similarly voluminous sleeves. Walker said American style began to come into its own beginning in the 1890s with illustrator Charles Dana Gibson’s portrayal of American beauty.
“The show is not really about the white wedding dress; it’s really about the essence of American style,” said Walker, adding, “It is fashion history, social history, the birth of modern fashion and the birth of the American woman and the American woman becoming a fashion icon.
“It really is like a walk through fashion history.”
The exhibit also showcases dresses that stray from the traditional white, including an 1878 dress of deep plum silk satin featuring a boned bodice. “Everyone did not get married in a white wedding gown. Often it was your best dress,” Walker said.
Walker’s own wedding dress from 1974 is part of the exhibit — an example of the earthy style of that decade. A neighbor made the cotton dress with a fabric featuring tiny flowers from a Vogue pattern for her outdoor wedding.
A gown from 1952 of white cotton organdy embroidered with floral motifs was what Janie Stidham chose to wear to her 1994 wedding. She found the dress, featured in the exhibit along with one she designed, in a Dallas vintage store window after realizing she was too tall to wear her mother’s tea-length wedding gown as she had planned and not finding exactly what she wanted in upscale stores around town.
“It was perfect because we were in this old chapel and we rode from the chapel to the reception in a 1930s limousine,” she said.
When Stidham, an associate professor at UNT who teaches fashion design, created the 2007 gown for an Alaska wedding, she took inspiration from the location, choosing a gray satin fabric and embellishing the neck and wrists with shredded silk and organza to evoke the icy surroundings.
Steven Porterfield, who owns Cat’s Meow vintage store in Midland and loaned several gowns from his collection, noted that wedding dresses have a special place in women’s wardrobes: “That’s one thing women keep,” he said.