The wedding dresses will be placed on models in the vitrine, arrayed left to right chronologically: 1837, 1845, and 1850s. The back of the 1845 dress will be presented to the audience, showing the number of buttons. The 1837 dress should be positioned to draw attention to the sleeves. Modest spotlighting may also be used to emphasize these design elements. Positioning for the 1850s dress can be purely aesthetic, as the caption calls more attention to the color than any other design element.
The corset will also be placed upon a model, a torso suspended at an appropriate height (perhaps slightly higher than the actual torso of a woman of average height), and laced to a nineteen inch waist. Any spotlighting should draw visitors’ eyes to the lace trim and ribbon embellishments. The hat should be placed on a stand at a comfortable viewing height (perhaps standardizing on “eye level” around 5′ 4″, so shorter visitors do not need to crane their necks uncomfortably, and taller visitors do not need to hunch over too far).
Captions and historical information for exhibited items are drawn from classmates’ research and blogs.* I’ve tweaked captions where I wanted to emphasize some aspect of design or historical detail.
1837 wedding dress: This light ivory striped silk dress with multicolored flower needlework was worn at the upper class Appleton wedding in 1837. Long shirring, “ham-string” shaped sleeves were fashionable in the 1830s. Small, tight tops were also popular, in contrast to voluminous skirts. The waist is only 24 inches.
1845 wedding dress: White wedding dresses signaled elite status in the 1840s. The number of buttons down the back indicate that the bride required assistance dressing. The ivory fringes are unusual for wedding dresses, but they enlarge the skirt and create a fashionable silhouette.
1850s wedding gown: Here comes the bride, all dressed in…not white! A nineteen-year-old Mennonite woman, Fianna Grube, wore this fashionably handmade wedding gown when she married a neighboring farmer in 1856. The plain, simple aesthetic of Lancaster County’s Mennonite community is reflected in the gown’s design.
Corset: Emma Hendel wore this white satin corset beneath a white satin gown, adorned with lace and diamonds, for her 1885 wedding in Reading, Pennsylvania. The exquisite quality of this corset—likely designed to be worn only on Emma’s wedding day—reflected the magnificence of the celebration, described in the local newspaper as the most brilliant matrimonial event of the season.
Top hat: This 19th century top hat was worn by L. Llewellyn W. Jones at his wedding to Violet W. Andrews. The ceremony took place in January of 1896 at St. Mary’s P.E. Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The hat is made of silk with a curving grosgrain edge band. Note the tiny metal mesh air hole at top.
The text of the introductory panel will highlight the performance of social roles on a ceremonial occasion (in this case, one’s wedding day). The exhibit should be accompanied by a credit panel, which should minimally identify Clare Sauro, other Drexel staff members, Seth Bruggeman, Megan Kita, Brad Lin, Erin Shipley, and Kanako Yamana. A donor panel will include information drawn from Collection records. A “more information” panel or paragraph can direct visitors to a Web site, and should also be included in any printed matter related to the exhibit.
The wall opposite the vitrine should be adorned with archival images, including news coverage of the marriages of the Appletons, Fiana Grube, Emma Hendel, and L. Llewellyn W. Jones. Images of the venues, period photographs of the area, portraits of the participants, and details of the garments can also be used as informative elements.
Audio recordings will provide an alternate way of interacting with the costumes, an accommodation for the visually impaired, and a means of drawing visitors away from the cases while keeping them within the exhibit space. The text of each panel should be available in audio format. Additional verbiage may also be created: an expansion upon design elements mentioned in the caption panels, biographical details of the individuals who wore the costumes, descriptions of the preservation process, or details about the life of the objects in the Collection. Audio content may be delivered at the push of a button, via a headset, or via smart phone app.
Social media can be used to raise awareness of the exhibits and Collection. Information about scheduling or object details can be disseminated in this manner; it may also be appropriate to inject a bit of whimsy (e.g. wishing the Joneses a happy anniversary in January).
Supplementary information will appear on a Web site. This can include the text of the exhibit panels, audio recordings, photographs of the objects, archival images, and the object histories developed over the course of the semester. The Web resources, like social media, can be used to encourage visitor feedback, but most significantly will provide a persistent record of exhibit-related material.