THE DETAILS ARE, OH, SO LOVELY. Dainty buttons. Lace. Shiny satin. You’ll see them all in Wedding Traditions of Steele County, a newly-opened exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna.
Nearly two dozen wedding dresses take center stage in this exhibit created by three volunteers and a museum staffer over some six months.
But this exhibit extends well beyond dresses to include wedding history, traditions and genealogy. It’s an impressive visual documentation, especially fitting as the wedding season begins.
Did you know, for example, that a bride didn’t always wear white? Prior to 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in an all-white gown, a bride simply wore her best dress, no matter the color. Blue, rather than white, once symbolized purity.
And about that “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”…this started as a tradition to ward off evil spirits. You’ll learn that and a whole lot more as you peruse this multifaceted exhibit.
Volunteer Char Ost spent hours researching and planning with team members at meetings and at home as this exhibit came together. She’s a former museum staffer and board president who simply thought the project would be fun. The team reviewed photos of wedding dresses in the museum collection before choosing gowns that would display nicely and were in suitable condition to showcase, she said. Those selected gowns cover the time period from 1896 – 1997.
Missing, though, are wedding dresses from the 1980s and more from the 1990s. People are still familiar with those bridal gowns and those brides are not giving away their dresses, including to the museum, Ost noted. That explains why I didn’t see 1980s dresses reflecting the royal influence of Princess Diana’s wedding gown. I was married in 1982 and my $80 wedding dress definitely did not have beads, sequins, puffy sleeves or a long train like that of the princess.
As I studied the gowns, grouped by time periods, it was easy to see the period influence. In the glass encased Depression era dresses, conservatism shows in neck lines, fabric choices and style. I spotted a 1931 gown that looks a lot like my maternal grandmother’s, a simple style I considered wearing on my wedding day until discovering I was considerably taller than Grandma Josephine.
In the 1960s, bridal gowns reflected “anything goes,” according to a posted sign. How true of that decade.
Three dresses from the 2000s are also included, specifically sought out for the exhibit. Owatonna native and fashion designer Scott Nylund created the gowns. They are luxuriously stunning with laces from Paris, a brooch from the East Village of NYC and fabrics of silk chiffon and silk duchess satin.
You’ll find other wedding related items displayed, including an invitation, napkin, cake topper, photo and hand-sewn apron from volunteer Char’s 1959 wedding.
Many wedding portraits are interspersed with dresses as is information about traditions like dowries, engagement rings, feeding of the wedding cake and even the bunny hop.
The display gets as personal as Jason and Angie’s wedding vows hand-printed on recipe cards.
It’s clear the organizers of this exhibit invested a lot of time in gathering and sharing of information, from the genealogy associated with each dress to the descriptions of the dresses right down to the type of fabric, neckline, sleeves and more.
Once all that research was completed, the crew faced one more challenge. “We did contortions to get some of those dresses on (the forms),” Char said, noting that perhaps corsets also should have been shown.
It was then that I suggested a follow-up exhibit, Wedding Traditions of Steele County II. I loved the exhibit that much.
FYI: Wedding Traditions of Steele County will be on display until the spring of 2017. Museum hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursdays; and from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays. Closed on Sunday. The history center is located at 1700 Austin Road on the southeast side of Owatonna. Admission is charged. While there, you can also peruse an exhibit on disasters in Minnesota and in Steele County.
On Thursday, June 9, the history center will host Toss the Bouquet: The Wedding Professionals Spin from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Wedding industry leaders will share their thoughts on wedding trends and also talk about wedding planning details.
Check back tomorrow for Part II in this series on the Wedding Traditions of Steele County exhibit.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling