Legacy of the Plains exhibit features bridal wear throughout history

May 29, 2018 GMT

GERING — Olivia Garl straightens a groom’s jacket after she adjusts it on a mannequin. It’s more than 100 years old, but it has been well-cared for and she makes sure it’s in its best presentation form for the new temporary exhibit at the Legacy of the Plains Museum.

Summer is one of the most popular times for a wedding and the museum’s temporary exhibit hall is filled with wedding dresses from the past 130 years. Summers are also the busiest time of year at the museum and Garl hopes the exhibit will bring back memories for everyone.

“And the Bride Wore...” is open to the public through August and contains a display of wedding dresses from the late 1800s to today.

“One of the things we wanted to do is show the changes over time,” said Garl, Legacy’s curator.

Garl, staff and volunteers spent a month planning and researching the exhibit. The idea came after several discussions about what would best go in the room for the summer. Volunteers and visitors have expressed interest for some time about weddings. So, Garl and her team went through the museum’s collection and picked one item from each decade to represent fashion styles of the time. Most of the dresses have never been on display at the museum before.

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Though the decision of what to display was made in January, it took about 30 days between April and May to get everything ready.

“It’s quite a process to put it all together,” she said. “We have a lot in storage and wanted to pick dresses that had unique aspects to them.”

A dress from 1935 was chosen because it is one of the few that is not a shade of white. Some of the dresses are on loan simply because the museum did not have a dress from that decade.

“The dresses were the biggest part of the exhibit and we had to present it really well,” she said. “This is honoring all of the people who will come in and say, ‘I remember this.’”

Fashion has changed a lot since the beginning of the 20th century and you can see it as you look around the room. There are changes to fabrics and embellishments, but they are all easily recognizable as wedding dresses.

“The 1990s was the epitome of big, puffy sleeves, but, by the 2000s, it is more simplistic,” she said. “Today, a bride can wear whatever she wants and more people are getting away from the white dresses.”

Garl made labels for the room, but had to go back and redo them once she realized they were too small. The new labels are more simple with information about who wore it and the date. A brochure provides all the details for visitors to read as they tour the room.

Historically, the 1890s in western Nebraska saw all white for gowns. The change in color occurred between 1890 and 1900, she said. Towns in western Nebraska were still fairly new and didn’t always have access to the latest fashion trends. The collection, however, shows the transition in ideas, thoughts and styles over time.

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“It was all about ‘What is the ideal for me to show off on my wedding day?’” she said. “Should I be more conservative and cover my arms or should it be something simple, but show a lot of skin?”

The answer depends on the ideas in America at the time. Garl said she is fascinated by the psychology behind wedding dress fashions and how those ideas changed over time. Designs are affected by economic factors, but also where a society’s ideals are at during any given time. A careful look at the designs reveal some of what was the prevailing wisdom of the time.

“The ’40s and ‘50s are a lot alike, but the ‘60s are fuller with more volume,” she said. “The ’70s is simpler, but plays in with the lace.”

Visitors to the exhibit will also learn about different wedding myths, such as why is the cake white and why does the bride toss her bouquet. They will learn about cake pulls from Victorian times, which had silver charms on a string placed into the cake. Each charm had its own meaning. A baby carriage meant you would soon have children while a spinning wheel meant you were going to be an old spinster.

Many traditions reveal something personal about the bride and groom.

“Personally, I like how the dresses do follow some tradition, but there’s a huge amount of symbolism of the bride’s personality,” Garl said. “It all boils down to their personality and it shows through the little things from the flowers to the cake.”

On their way out, visitors will get to stop at the Wall of Weddings, which depicts the happy couple on their wedding day.

“It’s a nice, final touch to see other couples and goes back to being able to see the personality of the couple in that little moment of time,” she said.

On June 9, the museum will host a historical wedding fashion show from 11 a.m., to 2 p.m., with a light lunch after the show. Prices vary based on seating. Tickets are $25, $20 and $15 for end of the catwalk, front row and back row, respectively. There are a limited number of seats available.

For more information, contact the Legacy of the Plains Museum at 308-436-1989.