Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Picking the Right Dress for The Big Day

(Above:  Selfie in a donated wedding dress and veil.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Next week is a very busy and exciting time!  I'll be in the Pickens County Museum of Art and History in Pickens, SC installing The Big Day, a solo show focusing on both the lasting love of marriage and the socioeconomic pressures of pulling off a show-stopping wedding. The reason for this exhibit is Steve and my fortieth anniversary (September 12, 1981!)  I started this over a year ago, before the pandemic hit.  Yet from the beginning, it was my intention to collect forty wedding dresses.  After all, "the dress" is generally one of the most important elements for a wedding.

From the start, I envisioned a day trying on all the donated and found wedding gown.  I intended to snap a selfie in each dress.  This meant setting up a suitable location, a "set" that might look like a bridal boutique.  I used the pipe-and-drape system originally purchased for The Cocoon.  Of course, I never actually bought the drapes!    I made them! That installation is all about vintage household linens.  The "drapes" were panels of of dish towels, tablecloths, doilies, evening gloves, crocheted baby bonnets, antique sleeping gowns, napkins, quilt tops, and everything else.  (Currently, that installation is in Lake City at ArtFields.)  Thankfully, I own another set of vintage drapes.  I purchased them at auction for a one-night-only event for Saint Anastasia, a piece that is currently traveling in a SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associate) show called 3D Expressions

Up went the pipes.  Up went the vintage curtains.  Then, I realized that I couldn't really capture a selfie that adequately showed off each wedding dress.  Another set was needed.

In another part of the house, another set was created using an extra large mirror, two pieces of 48" x 96" foam-centered board, and an amazing amount of lace yardage that had been donated to me for the simple reason that "she knew I loved lace".  Aiming my phone's camera into the mirror got another view.

It took all day one Saturday to repeatedly get dressed, snap a selfie in front of the mirror, walk to the other set for a close-up selfie, have Steve take a picture of me in our living room, and get undressed for the next gown.  Frankly, it was as exhausting as I remember the weekend when my mother and I visited all the bridal shops in western Pennsylvania! 

Like the 1980 shopping trip, I tried on lots and lots of dresses that didn't fit me.  Back then, here were plenty of promises about alterations, hemline lengths, subtle shades of white/off-white, and conversations about how a lengthy train would be gathered and hooked up to allow for dancing.  There was talk about preservation services that would clean and seal my dress in an acid-free container.  I didn't opt for that ... thank goodness ... because this past year I've purchased four different gowns still in these sealed containers.  Not one cost me more than ten-dollars.  Years later, styles change, divorces occur, and daughters have different ideas about their one-and-only wedding attire.  Kept for decades, these dresses just didn't have lasting value despite their high costs and conservation efforts.

So ... I tried just to have a lot of fun in these dresses. After all, each one represented a special day, hopes for a happy future, and an ethereal beauty.  Each dress got picked for The Big Day!  I was actually surprised at how every dress ... no matter how tacky it might be considered in today's world of fashion ... was pretty in some unique way.  I'm nearly sixty-two years old but felt much younger, as if on the cusp of a new adventure. 

Maybe I felt that way because I knew some of the dresses weren't for a first walk down the aisle but for a new life with a new husband.  Weddings are the beginning of a new adventure.  After forty years of marriage, Steve and I still talk about our future escapades, the places we want to discover, and the ideas we want to share. Our lives really are an adventure, and it started when we got married.

Between one "set" and the other, I had to walk through our living room.  It only made sense to have Steve snap one more picture of me in each dress.  Using PhotoShop, I've been eliminating the living room.  Thus, there are three pictures of me in every one of the wedding gowns.

Ernie the Cat had to get involved too!  The photos have all been printed.  Each is just a 4" x 6".  I purchased seventy doll-clothes hangers with clips.  In the exhibit, all these little coat hangers will be mounted on a wall, a visualization of trying on multiples of gowns!

Toward the end of the day, I finally came to my own wedding dress.  It was the second dress I tried on in the first store visited.  I still like it.  I'm too fat for it though!

I am too big for most of the wedding dresses.  It was hard to take a selfie in a strapless gown that couldn't get zipped up!  Some selfies were taken while I was sitting on the floor, sort of inside the open dress!

 I wasn't too fat for one dress.  This one is special.  It is quite large.  I've taken out the entire back seam (in all three layers ... satin, gathered tulle, and lining!)  At the exhibit, this gown will be suspended in front of three, large mirrors.  I've put elastic loops on the sides to accommodate various heights.  The idea is that viewers will be able to stand behind the dress, wrap it under their own arms, and snap their own selfie.  I'm hoping that a little of the fun I had on a full day of "playing" with these special dresses is shared with others.  The silliness is obvious.  Hopefully, the subtle truth about a wedding dress will hang in the air.  It really doesn't matter what garment is worn.  They all have some charm but they aren't the thing that lasts!   


Margaret said...

What a wonderful project! If I'd known about it, I'd have sent you my wedding dress, which I made in 1975 -- I was married in August of that year. It's 100% off-white polyester, including the lace sleeves, and it has a built in train (not too large). The sleeves are narrow and at each wrist is a row of three pearl buttons, going up the forearm, that came from the ones my maternal grandfather used to sell. I can't fit into it anymore...and have pondered cutting it up. My daughter didn't wear it, and I have no granddaughter to which to pass it on. So it hangs in a garment bag in my closet...for now.

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

I never had a true wedding dress but it was "white with red trim and red buttons" and it was about as mini as it could get in the early 1970s! I had my hair done at the local salon in the morning, off the cuff as such and the lasses were shocked that I was getting married that very arvo in the registry office in town. A slap dinner at a steak house in central city (Perth, Western Australia) back to work on Monday. A month later a strange train trip/tour to the southern coast of Bunbury! Where we ended up sleeping in a single bed!!! The following year we we swanned off to Singapore and stayed somewhere rather posh...
There was no family in attendance, his in the UK and mine back here in NZ...we separated in the early 1990s...
Did I ever want a full on married in white/ivory day? I've no idea but I don't want to repeat either type of performance :-)

Shannon said...

This is so fantastic! I love all the pics of you in the wedding dresses and the fantastic (!!) idea of the wrap-around interactive wedding dress!