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More than a century of wedding dresses at county museum
The Cape May County Museum is hosting an exhibit of wedding dresses through the end of September that feature a few things that are old, some new, a couple borrowed- and even one that’s blue.
“The Bride Wore White?” is an exhibit of 17 wedding dresses that were worn from 1873 to 2004. According to Pary Woehlcke, the museum director, many of the dresses were worn by Cape May County women and were chosen to represent styles worn over the last century.
“A year and a half ago, we had a fashion show of the clothing in the costume closet at the museum, and the very last article we featured were wedding dresses,” said Woehlcke, “It wasn’t until then I realized how many wedding dresses we had, so we wanted to have an exhibit.”
The oldest dresses are brown and deep green colors, which Woehlcke explained was common among brides before 1900. She said that because a pure white gown was so expensive, it was a rarity for brides to wear them. Instead, they often wore blues to represent virginity, in homage to the Virgin Mary, or green, for fertility. After being married, a bride’s wedding dress would usually become the dress she wore to church on Sunday.
Woehlcke said it wasn’t until Queen Victoria was married in 1840 wearing a white, lacy wedding dress that women began to wear elegant white gowns on their wedding day.
The dresses featured, Woehlcke said, were chosen to accurately represent the fashion of wedding dresses for their time. She added that starting with the oldest dress, which is from a Quaker wedding in 1873, the museum tried to feature a dress for every decade after, ending with one from 2004.
A few of the dresses, Woehlcke said, are the wedding dresses of women who work in museum, or their relatives. One such was Woehlcke’s mother’s dress, which she said neither she nor her sister wanted to wear because the fabric was heavy and the dress was out of fashion when they were married in the ’60s.
“I was a big hippie,” Woehlcke said, “I had no train, I had flowers in my hair, the whole bit.”
She and her sister donated the dress to the museum so it would always be taken care of. Now, it’s one of the dresses that represent the style worn in the early 1940s. Many of the dresses also have a picture of the bride who wore it also on display, and a large number of them are Cape May County women, Woehlcke said.
One of the most interesting wedding dresses is a blue velvet dress suit from World War II era. Woehlcke explained that many women married their fiancés quickly, before they went off to war, so brides opted out of elaborate dresses. Rationing, she added, also made it expensive and difficult to wear a traditional dress.
“People got married very quickly,” Woehlcke said, “So they typically wore outfits like this one.”
Woehlcke said that the exhibit has been very popular this summer, and laughed that the Royal Wedding earlier this spring has helped make it a success.
“People have come specifically to see the wedding dresses,” she said.
“The Bride Wore White?” will be on display until the end of September. The museum is located at 504 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House and is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. For information, call 465-3535 or see www.cmcmuseum.org.