With 12 wedding gowns on display from various eras and textual displays of history placed throughout, the exhibit showcases how cultural changes throughout history have contributed to the progression of bridal fashion over time.
Nikki Saputo-Menn, the curator of “The Big White Dress,” says that “the exhibit is really about women, history and the way women have felt about marriage since the 1800s. The culture is reflected in their gown choices for each time period.”
For instance, the first gown displayed at the entrance was black, a color typically associated with mourning and opposite of the white dress that society is used to seeing now. Weddings in the 1800s were a private, sort of somber affair.
When asked why she made the ironic choice to start with a black dress, Saputo-Menn explained: “Back then, marriage made women a little apprehensive. Women were scared they were going to be miserable, lonely, and stuck by themselves to raise the kids by themselves. They were brought up to fulfill their wifely duty, also expected to succumb to their husband’s desires… They were repressed in their life, but also in what they wore.”
The exhibit then illustrates the infusion of the white wedding gown at the turn of the 20th century. During the early 1900s, the “women’s suffrage movement led to a feeling of women empowerment, and it’s seen directly through the clothes,” says Saputo-Menn.
The bridal fashion throughout the 1920s and 1930s was indicative of the liberation for women in society. Exemplified by the dresses on display, the hem line rose, sleeves started being worn as detachable, satin made its debut, and the flapper fashion and Hollywood glamour was introduced.
After showcasing the gowns of the ’80s style lace, fluff and puff, and accordion hem trends, the shift to simplicity occurred. A 2005 dress demonstrates the breakaway from frills, and the switch to simple, romantic, and chiffon styles.
Ending the exhibit are dresses from 21st century weddings. With the inclusion of same-sex marriages, the diversity in the marital tradition is seen with varying choices between dresses, and stunning pantsuits, etc.
The final dress flawlessly mirrors the most popular bridal trend of today – bohemian with a modern flare. The BHLDN by Anthropologie gown illustrates how the modern-day bride is free from tradition and picks their gown based off of personal taste.
Many of the dresses on display are borrowed from the museum’s Historic Clothing Collection and the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation.
The Big White Dress
When: The exhibit runs through July 1.
Where: Women’s Museum of California, 2730 Historic Decatur Road, Suite 103,