Weddings in the Heartland


January 24 – April 16, 2011

Curated by Janet Fitzpatrick, lecturer, Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management

“The most important day of one’s life.” That’s how many people would describe their wedding day. A day filled with tradition and memorable moments: from repeating the vows, to cutting the cake, to tossing the bouquet. And the dress – the selection of the “perfect” dress makes the day complete. The apparel included in this exhibit highlights those “perfect” dresses, through examples of wedding fashions from the late 1800s to a gown from a 2009 designer collection. The traditions kept and the memories made may vary, but the celebration of the joining of two lives is universal.

As revealed in this exhibit, not all wedding dresses are white. The 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria, when she broke with tradition and dressed all in white satin, is often associated with making the white dress a popular choice for brides. While the practice became a symbol of affluence and later an accepted tradition, some brides continued to be married in more practical attire. After the wedding day, many wedding dresses moved to the status of “good” dresses and were worn again.

Midwestern culture and fashion trends

backdetailThe gowns here symbolize the Midwestern culture and the fashion trends of the periods represented, from the fitted bodice, long skirt and bustles of the late 1800s, to the emphasis on a draped silhouette and simpler lines started around 1910, to the shorter hemlines of the 1920s. A wedding suit from the 1940s reflects the restrictions placed on material goods during a time of war and the sense of patriotism associated with personal sacrifice. Gowns from the years following the war represent a return to affluence and the rapid growth of the wedding industry. The wedding trends of late 1960s and 1970s allowed many brides to express their individuality as expectations were relaxed regarding appropriate wedding attire. The contemporary gown exemplifies the popularity of the strapless wedding dress and inclusion of intricate structural details. While some of the dresses here were purchased ready-to-wear or from bridal salons, many were made by the bride and members of her family or sewn by a local dressmaker especially for the occasion.

Iowa and ISU connections

Selecting gowns to include in this exhibit was a challenging task. The Textiles and Clothing Museum’s collection includes over fifty wedding gowns and other wedding related apparel. All of the dresses here represent brides with connections to the university or whose weddings took place in the state of Iowa. The most recent gown on display was designed by Matthew Christopher Sobaski, a graduate of the Apparel, Merchandising, and Design program who went on to a career in the bridal industry establishing his own successful line of wedding gowns. While the gowns themselves reflect our shared history and material culture, it is ultimately the experiences of the individual brides and grooms that we celebrate in this exhibit.