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Clague Museum exhibit shows evolution of wedding dresses

These dresses, from the 1930s and 1940s, are part of the bridal gown exhibit on display at the Clague House Museum through October.

By Kevin Kelley


Many women, it is said, begin thinking about their wedding before they even start dating, when they are still little girls.

Lysa Stanton, president of the Westlake Historical Society, was no different.

“I began planning my wedding when I was 6,” she said. “Just about every Halloween I was a bride.”

Stanton, who recently worked as an event and wedding planner, has organized an exhibition of 14 wedding dresses now on display at the Clague House Museum, home of the historical society.

Entitled “Wedding Dresses Through the Decades,” the exhibit opened in July and will continue through the end of October.

The dresses on display date from 1860 to 2003. Two have been property of the historical society for many years. Others were donated to the organization for its annual yard sale, but Stanton chose to keep them rather than sell them.

The changes in style among the dresses show how societal changes during parts of three centuries influenced women’s bridal gowns, Stanton explained.

One-hundred fifty years ago, a woman simply wore the best dress she owned to her wedding, even if it was a work dress.

“You wore what you had,” she explained.

The concept of purchasing a special dress just for the wedding ceremony did not take hold until the 1930s, she said.

Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom get credit for the setting the tradition, in 1840, of a bride wearing a white dress, Stanton said.

The dresses from the 1920s and 30s reflect the style of the “flapper” girls of the era, Stanton said. Around this time, silk became a popular fabric, Stanton said, until a shortage of the material developed during World War II because it was needed for military parachutes.

A 1980s wedding gown reflects the puffy style popularized by Princess Diana’s 1981 marriage to Prince Charles, Stanton told West Life. Today, the strapless style is popular, she added.

“They’re each individually beautiful,” Stanton said, whether simple or elaborate.

Two dresses are matched with tuxedos from the same time period but not from the bride’s groom, Stanton said.

“Tuxedos don’t really change,” she said.

The historical society owns additional bridal gowns but does not have enough mannequins on which to display them, Stanton said. She’s keeping a waiting list of people who want their dresses on display next year when Stanton plans on repeating the exhibit.

According to Stanton, the exhibit has been very popular.

“It doesn’t matter what year, what decade or what century it’s from,” she said. “The wedding dress has an appeal.”

The Clague House Museum, located at 1371 Clague Road, and “Wedding Dresses Through the Decades” are open the fist and fourth Sundays of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. The museum and exhibit are also open by appointment, which Stanton said works well for groups. The exhibit is free; donations are accepted. To contact the Westlake Historical Society, call Stanton at 440-808-1961.



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