'Tying the Knot' presents 150 years of bridal fashions now at the Western Reserve Historical Society

Brides from each decade and their stories

CLEVELAND - Some brides wore high-end couture wedding gowns. Others made their own dresses in a range of colors.

"Tying the Knot" at the Western Reserve Historical Society is a gorgeous collection from 150 years of weddings, encompassing a full range of wedding attire for brides. The dresses come from the organization's extensive costume and textile collection.

Senior Registrar Danielle Peck said this exhibit is the first in some time to draw on the collection, and an effort to spotlight its strength. A great deal of planning went into the exhibit, determining "which brides to feature, which helped the exhibit layout of one bride from each decade, and all of the corresponding pieces from the collection: grooms wear, bridal party attire, flower girls, shoes, accessories, everything," said Peck.

The exhibit opens with a Charles Frederick Worth gown made for Euclid Avenue socialite, Alice Wade Everett. Worth was one of the first major designers, and had salons in Paris and New York. Peck said the bride was able to "purchase this gown in Worth's New York Salon. It is just exquisite. The fabric, the cut, the details, pearl insets, it's a very complicated piece and just gorgeous to see."

Visitors to the exhibit will also see wedding photos of many of the brides, and details about the brides, the dresses and where they were purchased. It's also remarkable to see the tiny waistlines, and the many layers of undergarments that helped create a particular silhouette.

One dress stands alongside the elaborate combination of undergarments worn with it, including what was called a "lobster tail," a stiff foundation attached to the corset waist that lifted the back of the dress to create a full silhouette.

"We call it sort of a precursor to J-Lo," laughed Peck.

A 1920's silver lame dress with crystals and sequins dazzles, one example of the hand sewn details in the collection.

"Women had excellent seamstresses and they just made one of a kind pieces, maybe based on current fashion trends from New York that made their way to the Western Reserve," said Peck. And what truly stands out for her is "the detail, and how well these gowns have held up - some of them for over a century."

The treasures in the exhibit are both big and small. The bridal shoes and accessories are a delight. And there's even a souvenir cake box from the wedding of a United States president. The custom Tiffany box containing a slice of wedding cake was presented to Julia Walworth Severance of Cleveland. Julia was a bridesmaid in the high profile wedding of Frances Folsom and President Grover Cleveland, which was held at the White House in Washington on June 2, 1886.

"Tying the Knot: Cleveland's Wedding Fashions, 1830 - 1980" continues in the costume wing of the Western Reserve Historical Society through Feb. 14, 2013.

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