Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A historical look at weddings in Steele County, Part I May 3, 2016

This sign marks the exhibits currently showing in the Steele County History Center through spring 2017.

This sign marks the exhibits currently showing in the Steele County History Center through spring 2017.

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.

This section highlights dresses from the 1910s and 1920s.

This section highlights dresses from the early 1920s.

Nearly two dozen wedding dresses take center stage in this exhibit created by three volunteers and a museum staffer over some six months.

The exhibit team carefully researched the genealogies of the brides and grooms.

The exhibit team carefully researched the genealogies of the brides and grooms.

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.

The dress and matching feathered hat worn at this 1923 wedding are in lovely brown tones.

The dress and matching feathered hat worn at this 1923 wedding are in lovely brown tones.

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.

"Something blue" is woven into this crocheted ring bearer's pillow.

“Something blue” is woven into this crocheted ring bearer’s pillow.

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.

Fuller and lacier dresses defined the style of gowns in the 1950s.

Fuller and lacier dresses defined the style of gowns in the 1950s.

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.

This photo shows the details on a 1950s dress.

This photo shows the bead and lace details on a 1950s wedding dress.

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.

Margaret Ringhofer wore this dress at her August 25, 1931, wedding. It reminds me of my Grandma Josie's bridal gown.

Margaret Ringhofer wore this dress at her August 25, 1931, wedding. It reminds me of my Grandma Josie’s bridal gown.

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.

Wedding dresses from the 1960s.

Wedding dresses from the 1960s.

In the 1960s, bridal gowns reflected “anything goes,” according to a posted sign. How true of that decade.

These three dresses were designed by Scott Nylund, a 1995 graduate of Owatonna High School. He once worked for music superstar Beyonce'.

These dresses worn by Maggie, Genny and Anne were designed by Scott Nylund, a 1995 graduate of Owatonna High School. He once worked for music superstar Beyonce’.

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.

The invitation to the wedding of Charlene Newman and Stuart Ost is displayed in a case.

The invitation to the 1959 wedding of Charlene Newman and Stuart Ost is displayed in a case.

Char and Stuart Ost's 1959 wedding cake topper.

Char and Stuart Ost’s wedding cake topper.

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.

Portraits, too, tell a story about styles, traditions and even photography.

Portraits, too, tell a story about styles, traditions and even photography.

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.

Even handwritten vows are part of the exhibit.

Even handwritten vows are part of the exhibit.

The display gets as personal as Jason and Angie’s wedding vows hand-printed on recipe cards.

Volunteers worked hard to assure that descriptions of the dresses were accurate, team member Char Ost said.

Volunteers worked hard to assure that descriptions of the dresses were accurate, team member Char Ost said.

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.

Some dresses could not be fully closed on the fuller forms.

Some dresses could not be fully closed on the forms.

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

 

Shopping vintage in Minneapolis: I never thought my daughter would find her wedding dress in a (former) garage April 16, 2013

The unassuming exterior of Andrea's Vintage Bridal, housed in a former garage.

The unassuming exterior of Andrea’s Vintage Bridal, housed in a former garage.

IN THE UNLIKELIEST OF PLACES—an old auto garage—in the definitively hip and cool Lyn-Lake Neighborhood south of downtown Minneapolis, my first-born bride-to-be daughter set her heart on finding the perfect gown for her late September wedding.

On Saturday, Amber, her sister Miranda and I arrived for our 10 a.m appointment at Andrea’s Vintage Bridal, located in an unassuming block building angled into a corner of West 26th Street and Aldrich Avenue just off arterial Lyndale Avenue.

Inside Andrea's you'll find a wide selection of vintage dresses, shoes and accessories.

Inside Andrea’s you’ll find a wide selection of vintage dresses, shoes and accessories.

I was expecting a Victorian venue for this vintage attire. But, instead, I found the sweet surprise of this garage transformation from grease under your nails to manicured nails, from rags to lace. I expect if I’d peeked under one of the many scattered area rugs, I may have uncovered a faint oil stain.

The mismatch of expectations and reality seems fitting for a bridal shop that rates as anything but ordinary in the wedding fashion business.

Nikolina Erickson-Gunther consults with my eldest daughter.

Nikolina Erickson-Gunther consults with my eldest daughter.

“No one in the world is doing what we do—focusing on redesign (of vintage bridal gowns),” says Nikolina Erickson-Gunther, who runs the shop with her mother, Andrea Erickson.

Dresses from the 20s and 30s.

An example of Andrea’s bridal gown offerings, divided by vintage year.

From pre-1920s antique to 80s glam and everything in between—sleek 30s, lacy 50s, early 60s ballroom and those oh-so-cool hip flower child late 60s and early 70s—Andrea’s continually stocks around 350 gowns for those future brides, like my daughter, who appreciate vintage and a dress that is anything but the latest trendy style. You would be hard-pressed to find a strapless gown here.

Nikolina, her mom and associates specialize in customer service that focuses as much on individualized attention as the vision of how a bridal gown can be redesigned. Because these are one-of-kind finds, brides-to-be shopping Andrea’s need the ability to envision the transformation of a pulled-from-the-rack bridal dress into the perfect gown.

A sweet vintage dress, left, and Nikolina reflected in shop mirrors.

A sweet vintage dress, left, and Nikolina reflected in shop mirrors with racks of bridal gowns.

Working with vintage-attired and vintage-obsessed fashionable Nikolina, it’s easy to imagine any dress customized to fit a bride’s body and style. Nikolina, who holds a degree in film and 10 years experience as a make-up artist, possesses a commanding knowledge of fashion and style that exudes confidence.

Andrea's focuses on redesigning vintage wedding dresses.

Andrea’s focuses on redesigning vintage wedding dresses.

Under her tutelage, it was easy to envision sleeves and high necklines removed, lace tacked, straps added and more as Amber tried on about a half dozen dresses before finding hers, one that needs few adjustments. Because I am sworn to secrecy, I cannot share her pick. But suffice to say, she will look stunningly elegant on her wedding day.

That it should have been so easy for my girl to find “the dress” not only pleased, but surprised me. I was not expecting this.

And for someone like me, who really dislikes clothes shopping, Andrea’s offers a relaxing singular customer-focused experienced. Nikolina wasn’t darting between future brides trying to make the sale during our two-hour appointment. She settled Miranda and me onto a comfy cream-colored sofa outside a dressing room and dubbed us “the queen and princess” when I asked her to define our roles. Then she continued in her sole role of adviser and visionary to Amber.

Pierre

Pierre

Shopping for a bridal gown can become emotionally-charged, Nikolina says. And that perhaps is the reason her mother brings Pierre, a white poodle, to the shop. Pierre, Andrea’s unofficial therapy dog, accompanies her to her other job as a licensed counselor. Now I am not much of a dog person, but even I was drawn to the charming Pierre who mostly lounges on the floor. Nikolina advised us, if we had food in our bags, to keep them close or Pierre would rummage for the treats. I kept my purse close, having stashed several granola bars inside.

Poodle decor in the shop.

Canine art, in lamp and painting.

A kitschy poodle clock in a window display.

A kitschy poodle clock in a window display.

While a dog in a shop can ease tensions, so can the loving rapport between Andrea and Nikolina, evident when Andrea several times calls her daughter Pickles, a sweet childhood nickname. They work well together with Nikolina leading the gown fittings and Andrea occasionally offering input.

Andrea Erickson, bridal boutique owner and therapist.

Andrea Erickson, bridal boutique owner and therapist.

Nikolina returned from Boston to Minneapolis to help her mom run this organically-grown vintage bridal boutique, opened some half-dozen years ago. Andrea’s desire to offer brides an alternative wedding dress shopping venue and experience stems from her own frustrations in 2004 as a middle-aged bride-to-be seeking a gown different from what other brides were wearing. She eventually settled on a custom-made dress.

A view looking toward the front door.

A view looking toward the front door.

Soon thereafter, Andrea began collecting vintage wedding dresses, eventually opening Andrea’s Vintage Bridal and creating, as her daughter says, “a space that was different.”

Andrea's sells an assortment of vintage merchandise that includes jewelry, displayed here.

Andrea’s sells an assortment of vintage merchandise that includes jewelry, displayed here.

On this Saturday morning the old auto garage at 723 West 26th Street proves the ideal venue for my bride-to-be eldest who often shops thrift stores and appreciates vintage.

It is not lost on me either that her father, my husband, works as an automotive machinist, an unexpected historical link that brings this entire vintage wedding dress shopping experience full circle for our family.

Shopping Andrea’s Vintage Bridal was simply meant to be.

My daughters leave Andrea's Vintage Bridal after Amber, right, finds her "perfect" wedding dress.

My daughters leave Andrea’s Vintage Bridal after Amber, right, finds her “perfect” wedding dress.

FYI: Regular store hours at Andrea’s Vintage Bridal are from 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Gowns are shown by appointment. Click here to reach Andrea’s website.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Need shoes? Andrea's sells those, too.

Need shoes? Andrea’s sells those, too.

Plenty of shoes from which to choose.

Plenty of shoes, and gloves, from which to choose.

Vintage dresses, vintage signage.

Vintage dresses, vintage signage.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The search is on for the “perfect” wedding dress April 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:32 AM
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My mom's dress came from the Lorraine Shop in Mankato. You'll see my mom's name, Arlene, written on the box cover.

My mom’s dress came from the Lorraine Shop in Mankato. You’ll see my mom’s name, Arlene, written on the box cover.

I HAD HOPES, when the boxed vintage wedding dresses were stashed into the back of the van for the 120-mile trip from Vesta to Faribault, that one would fit my newly-engaged daughter.

My Aunt Marilyn's bridal gown was shipped from New York to the Lorraine Shop in Mankato for 77 cents in 1961.

My Aunt Marilyn’s bridal gown was shipped from New York to the Lorraine Shop in Mankato for 77 cents in 1961.

She’d asked that I bring them—her grandma’s and her Great Aunt Marilyn’s bridal gowns—back for her to try on.

Aunt Marilyn's dress with the slim waist.

The bodice of Aunt Marilyn’s dress with the slim waist.

But, alas, no matter that my daughter is tiny, she was not slim enough to be buttoned into Marilyn’s 1961 bridal gown. Besides, she thought the skirt too pouffy.

Just like the back of my aunt's dress, my mom's bridal gown closes with a long row of buttons.

Just like the back of my aunt’s dress, my mom’s bridal gown closes with a long row of buttons.

And, although my mother’s 1954 dress was not quite as narrow, the fit was still too snug for comfort on my 27-year-old. But mostly, the bodice lace was itchy and comfort counts on your wedding day.

My parents, Vern and Arlene, on their September 25, 1954, wedding day.

My parents, Vern and Arlene, on their September 25, 1954, wedding day.

So the bride-to-be has moved to Plan B, scheduling an appointment at Andrea’s Vintage Bridal in south Minneapolis. I am delighted with my daughter’s first shopping choice. I can easily envision my girl wearing something from a bygone era. It fits her down-to-earth style and personality.

Several times she’s expressed her desire to find a gown different from the norm and, most definitely, not a strapless one. I’m totally with her on that. At way too many weddings, I’ve watched brides tug at their strapless bodices to keep everything up and in place.

No matter what dress she eventually chooses, I am confident it will be the right choice for her. Not me. Not her sister. But her, my darling precious bride-to-be eldest daughter.

SHARE YOUR WEDDING dress story with us, or tips on how and where to find the “perfect” bridal gown. And, if you have a vintage bridal dress…

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling