Decades of dresses

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HANCOCK HISTORICAL MUSEUM curator and archivist Joy Bennett is shown next to Elizabeth Crates Bailey’s 1911 wedding dress. The dress is part of an exhibit opening this week that features wedding gowns through the decades. (Photo by RANDY ROBERTS / The Courier)

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Staff Writer
It has been more than 55 years, but Pat Bauman’s memories of shopping for her wedding dress are still vivid.
The Findlay woman, who married Don Bauman on Aug. 30, 1958, found her gown at the Alice Shop which was located in the 400 block of South Main Street. The waltz-length gown of white peau de soie was accentuated by a draped scooped neckline and tapered long sleeves. The tightly fitted bodice gave way to a full harem skirt adorned by a matching peau de soie bow at the back hemline.
Bauman’s dress will be part of an exhibit at the Hancock Historical Museum titled “Something Old, Something New: Wedding Dresses through the Decades” which opens Wednesday in the rotating exhibit gallery on the second floor of the Hull House, 422 W. Sandusky St. The exhibit will feature seven dresses dating from the 1910s to the 1970s along with the stories of the women who wore them.
“This is an opportunity for people to learn a little bit more about the fashions over the years, the trends and also wedding traditions,” said Joy Bennett, curator and archivist.
She said the idea for the exhibit occurred to her last fall when she was going through the collections and realized the museum had nearly 100 wedding gowns. The oldest ones date back to the Victoria era, she said, probably the 1880s.
The trend for white wedding dresses began with Queen Victoria when she married in the 1860s, Bennett explained.
“She had a white dress and that started that trend, but it didn’t get huge until later,” she said. “And it was usually the more wealthy that could afford to have a white dress worn for generally one occasion. So a lot of the wedding dresses we have from the Victorian era aren’t white, but we do have a couple.”
Dresses from that era in the museum’s collections are green and brown.
“And then there are some that were just really nice regular dresses that they wore for their wedding,” she said.
Bennett tried to pick dresses from each decade that would embrace the general feel of the time period. Because the Victorian dresses are now so delicate, she opted not to display them. Instead, the earliest gown in the exhibit dates back to 1911 and was worn by Elizabeth Crates when she married Irwin Ross Bailey on June 28 at First Methodist Church.
“This one is also very delicate. You can see there’s a few tears, but it was too beautiful not to show,” Bennett said.
She noted that the white satin gown with its sweeping train and pearl and silver beading trim reminded her of “Downton Abbey,” a British television drama set in the post-Edwardian era.
“I think it would have been off-white (originally),” Bennett said. “I know it’s deepened with age, but I don’t think it was pure white.”
Bennett said brides from that time period would have carried flowers, but not the bouquets of today.
“In the earlier days they actually carried things like sage to prevent evil spirits from attacking the bride, and different things,” she said. “Then it kind of evolved into fragrant flowers.”
The decade of the 1920s is not represented as Bennett could not find a dress from that time period in the museum’s collection. But from the 1930s the exhibit includes the ivory satin gown worn when Justine King Bailey and Robert L. McManness were married April 10, 1937 at First Methodist Episcopal Church.
The bride also wore a long veil which featured a coronet with braided satin fastened at the sides with clusters of orange blossoms.
Bennett said orange blossoms became popular with brides at the end of the 1930s and lasted through the 1940s.
In the 1940s, many brides opted for suits and ceremonies at the courthouse because of World War II.
“So I was surprised that we had an actual wedding dress,” said Bennett. “It’s very rare. I know both my grandmothers got married in blue suits.”
The white satin gown on display was worn by Jean Margaret McGahey who married James B. Van Fleet on Aug. 21, 1943 at First Methodist Church in Kenton.
Bauman’s gown is featured for the decade of the 1950s. The former Patricia Gail Maine married Don Eugene Bauman at First Evangelical United Brethren Church.
A museum volunteer, Bauman helped Bennett research the dresses in the exhibit.
When Bauman had trouble finding a suitable wedding gown of her own, a clerk suggested the same dress she’d ordered for her attendants, but in white. Material was ordered to add the long sleeves.
“If you look at the dress closely, you can see that the sleeves were added,” Bauman said.
She doesn’t remember the cost of the dress, but guessed it was around $100.
“It was a whole lot less than a ‘fancy’ dress would have cost,” she said. “… Mother went with me to shop and she was delighted as I saved my dad a lot of money!”
Two dresses are featured from the 1960s, including the silk-faced taffeta gown worn by Barbara Eakin when she married Glen Shelton on Aug. 14, 1965 at College First Church of God.
The white, silk-faced chiffon velvet gown worn by Carolyn Sue Frances when she married Jack Volkmer Jr. is also representative of the 1960s. The couple were married in December 1964 in Columbus.
“I’ve never seen a velvet wedding dress before but it makes sense for December,” Bennett said.
The gown representing the 1970s was worn when Deborah De Marco married Vaun Wickerham on April 28, 1979 in Maple Heights.
Wickerham is the education coordinator at the museum.
“I love my dress. It was soft. I didn’t like any of the lacy stuff,” she said. “It was just nice and soft.”
She found the dress in the workroom of a Cleveland seamstress. The price was $85 and the veil cost $15.
Bennett said she learned a lot preparing for the exhibit.
“I felt like I was practically getting ready for my wedding,” she laughed.
The exhibit, which also includes a display of wedding shoes, purses, fans, gloves and handkerchiefs, will remain on display through July 3 and can be viewed with regular admission.
Online: www.hancockhistoricalmuseum.org Wolf: 419-427-8419 Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf

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