We’re continuing to highlight some of the wedding dresses in our current exhibit ‘Happily Ever After.’ Today, our curator, Ashley Webb, will be looking at a classic 1950 dress. If you’re new to the site, be sure to check out the posts on our 1858 dress, our 1918 dress, as well as the origins of the tuxedo and an 1860 frock coat. To see more in this exhibit, stop by the History Museum of Western Virginia Tuesday through Saturday 10-4, or Sunday 1-5.
In the initial inventory of the wedding dresses in the History Museum’s collection, I took measurements and took stock of which dresses would need custom mannequins. When I was measuring and preparing a mannequin for this exquisite 1950 dress, I was so sure it would fit on one of our modern forms. I thought I could easily make the slight modifications at the chest and hips to give her the curvaceous 1950s hourglass figure made popular by film stars and models like Betty Brosmer and Evelyn Tripp.
I was very, very wrong about the dress fitting on our ready-made, department store mannequin. The donor’s waist, a dainty 26 inches, was entirely too small to fit over the wide, modern shoulders. Human bodies are way more forgiving, and instead of forcing the dress over (very tempting when you’re down to the wire,) which would have compromised the lace around the top, I resorted to creating yet another mannequin from scratch (more on the creation of these custom mannequins at a later date!)- my last one-a few days prior to the opening.
This dress, worn by Elnora “Pat” Maxey at her marriage to Marion “Pony” Paitsel, is a perfect example of a combination of popular styles of the time.
The satin positively gleams, and the French lace adds an extra element to the simple A-line dress.
Sweetheart necklines were popular throughout the 1950s, and were almost always defined, but slightly obscured, by lace. Elizabeth Taylor popularized this style as an 18 year old at both her first wedding to Conrad Hilton in May of 1950, and in her role in Father of the Bride, which opened the following month.
In fact, the dress Elizabeth Taylor wore at her wedding to Conrad Hilton was created by Helen Rose, the costume designer for Father of the Bride– a gift from MGM studios. But Elnora’s dress most resembles the dress of Elizabeth Taylor’s character, Kay. The button down lace front with the peter pan style collar is almost exactly like Kay’s.
The most iconic lace dress of this time period, ironically, was also designed by Helen Rose: royal wedding dress of Grace Kelley when she wed the Prince of Monaco, in 1956. As with all the copycat designs after the royal wedding between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the 1950s bridal market had the same effect. Elnora’s dress, however, was six years ahead of this curve.
The front of the skirt also contains a beautiful lace overlay.
In addition to the beautiful lace, this dress boasts a pretty hefty train, sitting just under 4 feet (the length of the skirt from the waist is 83 inches long), making the back of this dress absolutely glow with the contrast between the silky white and the lace ‘V’ to the waist.
This dress was purchased at the downtown Roanoke department store, Lazarus. Elnora, when donating her dress to the museum, commented that her mother made her bridesmaid dresses, in alternating pink and purple dresses, but Lazarus made the bridesmaids’ fascinators, as well as letting the group borrow four hooped petticoats.
Elnora and Marion were married on November 22, 1950, at Melrose Christian Church in Roanoke. Immediately following the reception at Elnora’s parents’ home, the couple “left for a northern wedding trip.” You can see their wedding announcement below.
Thank you to the Virginia Room for researching and finding the wedding announcement in the Roanoke Times & World News. And as always, thank you to our sponsors!
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