In 1982, Eve Faulkner and her husband, Rick, bought a large 1906 home in Upland to foster-parent teenage girls. To repay their church for helping with the girls, the Faulkners began holding weddings in their house to raise money. One thing led to another, and soon Eve was putting on weddings for others, too.
Faulkner's interest in holy matrimony didn't stop there. Brides often asked about Victorian romantic traditions, and she became fascinated with the lacy, beaded satin bridal gowns worn from 1835 to 1935, and the stories of the women who wore them. Around 1990, the attic of the Upland home became the largest private wedding collection in the Western United States. The museum traveled to different local venues during the late 1990s, and, in 1999, the Faulkners moved into a pink 1894 cottage in Old Towne Orange and turned the first floor into the temperature-controlled House of Victorian Visions Bridal Museum.
Decorated with pink walls, wood floors, lace and velvet curtains, chandeliers and images of Queen Victoria, the museum houses 50 wedding gowns and hundreds of artifacts. Tours run $5 to $7.50 and feature a history lesson given by Faulkner or a costumed docent.
The elaborately constructed gowns (some with detachable bodices and detachable high necks) were a Victorian bride's best dress and were made for wearing on other occasions. "Before Queen Victoria, brides would wear any color," Faulkner says, noting that the antique white satin worn by the queen at her 1840 nuptials started the tradition of bridal white.
Faulkner has gowns from London, Paris, Shanghai and America, including some worn during the Civil War, and dresses from the Banning, Hatfield and McCoy families. Faulkner also displays gowns from the flapper era to point up how radically fashions have changed. (The museum's restoration expert and gown designer, Elaine Hartley, has also created wedding gowns for celebrities.)
Faulkner won't discuss how much she pays for the garments, which she funds through teaching and speaking engagements. Her husband, a newly retired LAPD sergeant and watch commander, jokingly asks her if the museum will ever turn a profit. But for Faulkner, that would merely be icing on the cake. The point is the dresses and their connection to the past. "When I buy a dress, I ask for something of the bride's--pictures, letters, shoes. Each dress has a story to tell," says Faulkner, who hopes one day to open a women's museum in Orange County.
"Women in aviation, education, women who crossed the Rockies . . . I wasn't at all into fashion before I started doing weddings, but I started learning how what happens in the world affects how we dress, and, in turn, the way women dress sets the moral temperature of society."
House of Victorian Visions Bridal Museum, 254 S. Glassell, Orange; (714) 997-1893; open Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; www.victorianbridalmuseum.com.