Saturday, June 23, 2018

Heritage Village, private collector showcase vintage wedding gowns


June is the month for weddings, and Heritage Village marks the occasion with two events that show how bridal fashion has changed through history.

Heritage Village has wedding dresses from 1890 to 1930 on display in the history park's House of the Seven Gables. The exhibit, "Here Come the Brides," runs through Aug. 4.

"The dresses out at Heritage Village are from private donations the (Pinellas County) Historical Society has received over the years. Before they were on display, they were kept in storage, and it's nice to have them out,'' said RoseMarie Kafer, president of the Historical Society. "We're excited because I think the ones we are showing are the best of what we have.''

And this Saturday, about 35 wedding dresses from the private collection of Leigh Anne Brown, a vintage clothes collector, will be displayed as Brown presents Portrait of a Bride: An Evolving Silhouette.

To some, checking out wedding dress styles might seem like an odd history lesson, but to Brown, it has been that and more.

"Actually, when I first started collecting wedding dresses, it was a history lesson to some degree, but then it really morphed into an exploration of the women's movement,'' she said.

The Saturday program is Brown's way of sharing with others her perception of how the American bride has evolved from the Victorian era to the present.

"It's a great way to talk about the social, economic and political events that surround the women of each time period,'' she explained.

Brown's presentation, which will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Magnolia Room of the Pinellas County Extension Services (at the Florida Botanical Gardens), is a fundraiser for the Pinellas County Historical Society.

Brown acquired her first antique wedding dress about 16 years ago. "I bought a Victorian wedding gown and I displayed it in my dining room and then switched it out with others that I went on to buy,'' she said.

A few years later, during her church's vow renewal celebration, Brown was asked to coordinate a wedding gown display. She used 12 of her own gowns and borrowed about 40 from friends.

"As I was reveling in the beauty of the dresses set up around the perimeter of that room, I kept hearing people say things like, 'Oooh, that one was like my grandmother's,' and, 'This dress is just like the one in that family portrait,' '' she said.

One of the gowns she is most excited about showing off is a World War II-era gown made from a U.S. military parachute.

"It was created in about 1945. Guys returning home brought their parachutes, and most were silk. They'd give them to their sweethearts for a dress,'' Brown said.

Although Saturday's event will certainly include its share of fluffy white dresses, parasols and veils, the American bride didn't always approach her wedding so luxuriously, Brown said.

"When you think of pioneer life, in the 19th century, for example, a white gown would've been too impractical," Brown said. "A woman would wear her Sunday best, she'd wear blue or green, but never red, the color of a harlot, or black, the color of mourning.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.

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Published: 06/13/18