Struck by Cupid’s arrow and looking for a unique and idyllic way to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart?
Look no further, as the fourth annual 100 Years of Romance, a showcase of 20 wedding gowns and ceremonial memorabilia from 1880 to the 1990s, plus vintage Valentine’s Day cards, will be featured at Clouds Hill Victorian House Museum.
Each decade will be represented in its own vignette in 12 of the 27 rooms in the historical house, which was built in 1872 on 28 acres of land at 4157 Post Road. While viewing the garments, visitors can also see the home’s architecture, interior design and furnishings.
“We want to show as much of the collection as possible,” said Director Wayne Cabral. “And we want to show people the house, too.”
Owner and caregiver Anne Holtz, as well as Cabral, will lead guests through the rose-themed gallery and divulge facts about old-fashioned weddings.
For instance, it was considered highly unlucky to be married on Saturday, and the best day to share nuptials was Tuesday. Also, Queen Victoria had the first white wedding cake, which was three feet in width and measured at nearly 14 inches in depth or thickness, with an elaborate ice sculpture on top.
“It was the 1840s so you have to wonder how they kept the ice from melting,” Holtz said.
Further, the most expensive wedding in the world took place in Dubai in the 1980s and cost $25 million. Also, the largest number of people that got married at the same time was 2,000. The nuptials occurred in Japan.
Additionally, during World War II a majority of wedding gowns were made from parachute silk, as all of the companies that manufactured clothing were made to work for the government to produce parachutes.
But, those are just a handful of tidbits they teach patrons. Moreover, the gowns show guests a stitch of the past with their intricate, or simple, details.
Three of the dresses belonged to Holtz’s mother, Anne Crawford Allen, the world’s first female fire chief, and her grandmother, Helen Slater Reed. The dresses date back to 1940 and 1894, respectively. The third is a dress Allen wore at a wedding she participated in as a child. Along with it will be an antique cardboard booklet that was given to her the day of the wedding, in which she filled out information about the day.
Other gowns have been donated to the museum. Lloyd and Helen Essex gave them his mother’s dress, as well as her shoes, which she wore in the 1920s. Holtz said Essex’s mother was married at what was then Godfrey Farm across from St. Gregory’s Church on Cowesett Road. The dress will be on display for the first time this year.
“I figured it would do more good there than sitting in my chest at home,” said Essex, who used to work at the house doing restoration work. “I think it’s good that Anne is doing this because it’s updating people on what things were like years ago. I’m pretty sure her mother would like it, too.”
Cabral said while he’s not particularly interested in fashion, the dresses from the early 1900s captured his attention. When he looks at them, he said he feels amazed.
“Seeing the gowns from the 1900s and 19-teens is very interesting,” said Cabral. “There was incredible fashion in the 1920s. It was a major change from 1910.”
Interestingly enough, Cabral’s wedding garments will also be showcased. His tuxedo, as well as his wife’s gown from 1983, will be on display.
“She’s always taken really nice care of her dress,” he said of his wife, Christine. “It’s wonderful because she saved everything, even the napkins from the reception.”
Before she was able to collect the gowns from each decade, Holtz recreated some of them for the gallery. She got her hands on a partial dress from the 1880s, having only the bodice, which covers the body from the neck to the waist, plus one of the underskirts, and used materials to design the rest of it based on photographs or magazine advertisements.
She also made classic-like gowns that resembled those that were worn in the 1900s to 1910.
“We used it in the show until we eventually got a 1909 dress, so we now have an authentic one,” Holtz said, who recreated a gown from the 1930s, as well. “It’s interesting because it had exceptionally plain details, with just a silk ribbon that went across the front and came up to a mandarin collar neck. It had long sleeves that come to a point and they carried calla lilies, which were huge in the 1930s.”
But, where did she get the materials to do all this? Surprisingly, she was able to find gowns from the 1950s and 1960s at Building 19 for $5 each. A friend called her a few years ago and told her about the sale and she raced there and purchased seven.
“They must have bought out a bridal salon,” Holtz said. “These are high-end vintage gowns.”
Most of them needed to be cleaned, so Holtz took them to dry cleaner Majestic Cleaners and the staff told her to simply throw them in the washing machine.
“She said, ‘These were only $5 apiece, so if you ruin one what difference does it make?’” said Holtz. “I went home, threw them all in the washing machine and they came out beautifully. I washed all seven of them and didn’t lose a single dress.”
In addition to the antique gowns and textiles available to view, Holtz also recreated the veils and bouquets. The floral arrangements look exactly like they did in the photos.
“You’re not just seeing the dresses, you’re seeing the flowers and the original photography,” Cabral said. “It’s the complete package and the visuals give you a real piece of history.”
The event will be on Feb. 12 and Feb. 19 from noon to 4 p.m. The cost is $20 for each couple or $12 per person and proceeds go to the museum, which is a non-profit organization.
Holtz and Cabral said if anyone would like to donate their wedding garments, they’ll be happy to accept them, however, they have plenty from the 1960s and 1970s and are in need of gowns from 1900 to 1920 or earlier than 1880.
“Those are the ones that are tough to get,” Cabral said.