Every object at the History Museum of Hood River County has many stories to tell.
That’s particularly true for the museum’s current exhibit, “Bridal Gowns of the Past.” The featured gowns, all worn by Hood River brides between 1840 and 1992, chronicles not only changing fashion, but women’s roles.
“Each of the gowns on display has an interesting story to tell, whether it is about the bride who wore the dress, the historic styling or fashion of the dress, or the tailoring and actual construction of the gown,” said Executive Director Lynn Orr.
Some, like the 1844 satin gown worn by Amanda Giffin, feature ruffled petticoats — which could be removed and laundered or replaced, said Orr, a necessity in a time of dusty sidewalks and streets. Others, like the 1930s satin gown worn by Katherine Volstoff, were designed to show off a woman’s shape.
“The 1930s were all about individual women and form, and demonstrate the change in the times,” said Orr.
Museum volunteers Roberta Schweller and Dottie Gilbertson helped devise the installation, selecting the garments, writing the educational panels and labels, and coming up with the design concept, said Orr. Thanks to the breadth of the collection, the museum has “lots of leeway and options to investigate all types of gowns” from many different eras, she said.
One of the challenges of the exhibit was not only how to safely display the vintage dresses — several examples of “shattering,” or disintegration, can be seen, especially on some of the older gowns — but how to best showcase each dress and the era in which it originated.
Some of the gowns are worn by mannequins, while others are visible only through a glass case. Signs remind visitors not to touch any of the displays. That’s because as fabric ages, it becomes fragile, said Orr. All of the gowns include placards that give the history of the piece and explain its significance; in one case — the muslin gown of Anna Wagner, worn in 1906 — also includes the couple’s marriage certificate, itself a work of art. (See photo, above.)
And Orr’s favorite gown?
“My favorite gown is the earliest,” said Orr. “The dress, worn in 1844, is in the high-waisted Empire style. The soft patterned satin with detailing, such as covered buttons and beribboned sleeves, is divine!
“And the material is now so fragile that can only be exhibited laying flat in a display case. This particular garment underscores the importance of careful exhibition and handling practices, following standard museum procedures. When not on view, the garments and accessories are all nestled in acid-free tissue, in specially procured (and expensive) acid-free archival boxes, and stored in a climate-controlled environment.”
Museum staff is always happy to talk with potential donors — be it wedding gown or other object.
“Proposed gifts are evaluated regarding appropriateness to our mission to tell the story of Hood River and its inhabitants, condition, uniqueness and/or generic importance,” she explained. “For example, a wedding dress that was worn by a Hood River bride or simply represents a particular fashion moment would be of interest to us. Deciding issues would be condition and whether the dress duplicates or is a lesser example of a style already in the collection.”
The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 10 are free.
Afternoon Tea July 13 at The History Museum
In conjunction with the bridal gown exhibit is the Afternoon Tea on Thursday, July 13 from 3-5 p.m. at the museum. Seating is limited and reservations are required; a few tickets are still available.
The tea is a fundraiser for the museum’s exhibition program.
Tickets are $25 per person; to reserve, call 541-386-6772 or stop by the museum at 300 E. Port Marina Drive in Hood River.
“The concept of the tea came about because all brides love to go looking for the prefect dress with their mother and/or friends,” said Orr. “And looking at bridal gowns from times past creates a delightful and social afternoon.”
In addition to the tea, a demonstration by hat designer and milliner Patricia Shypertt is planned.