White wedding gowns have been popular in the West for less than 200 years. Who is to say you cannot wear your favorite color on your wedding day?
“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” is an exhibition exploring the history and significance of wedding dresses. The exhibition, in the terrace level display cases at the Human Ecology Building, is open to the public and runs through July 31.
Kennedy Rauh ’17, who received a Charlotte A. Jirousek Undergraduate Research Fellowship, curated the exhibition. Rauh said she “started this project in my sophomore year after being pretty interested in designing wedding gowns.”
The fellowship, named in honor of the late curator of the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection and associate professor in the College of Human Ecology’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, enabled Rauh to conduct research using the CCTC collections as inspiration for the exhibition.
“I evaluated all the pieces in the collection, and there was something a little bit more interesting about the nonwhite wedding gowns, so that’s why you see them here,” she said.
The exhibit spans Victorian England and Ottoman Era Turkey to the modern runways of New York City, telling the story of evolving fashion in a changing world and the influence of powerful members of society. Queen Victoria, for example, spurred the white wedding gown tradition when she donned one to marry Prince Albert in 1840.
According to Rauh, prior to the Victorian Era, weddings were simple ceremonies at the bride’s home, led by a clergyman. The bride would wear her best dress, usually the same one she wore on any other special occasion.
“During World War I, women got married in service uniforms or made clothing out of upholstery fabric or anything that was convenient.” she said. “Postwar, in the ’20s, we see a surge in more luxurious fabrics, such as silk and lace.”
Hayley Paige ’07, a head designer at JLM Couture, loaned the exhibit two wedding dresses from her collection, as well as runway footage, photos and concept sketches.
From the display, audiences “can really get a full effect of the whole process from sketch to runway and now to case,” said Rauh.
Paige began her fashion career by interning at Elle magazine while attending the FSAD program. After showcasing her 10-piece bridal collection at the annual Cornell Fashion Collective runway show as a senior, she was approached and hired by Jill Stuart, beginning her professional career in the fashion industry.
The display showcases Paige’s “Avelon” dress, which was inspired when she was hunting for authentic ginger jars and listening to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on her phone.
According to Paige, “I wanted that feminine artistry in the embellishments and used an injection of blue bird to add a little extra edginess … so she can ‘put on her red shoes and dance the blues.’”
In a celebration steeped in tradition, Rauh, through the exhibition, provides audiences with a diverse perspective on what brides have worn and can wear on their big day. From her research into the collection, she has concluded that brides should ultimately stay true to themselves when choosing a dress.
“Bridal attire can be whatever you want. Of course it is your special day, but showing your personality through your dress or suit is important,” said Rauh. “Consider wearing your favorite color or colors or maybe even a T-shirt and shorts – you do you.”
Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.