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'I Do! I Do! Part II' in Pasadena features historic wedding dresses

August 29, 2013|By Nika Soon-Shiong
  • A wedding gown worn by Julia Joyce Cahill, foreground, and a dress worn by six brides at Manzanar are among the bridal attire on display at the Pasadena Museum of History.
A wedding gown worn by Julia Joyce Cahill, foreground, and a dress worn by… (Terry Miller / Pasadena…)

It is difficult to imagine that before 1950 the bridal industry did not exist. The growth of what is today a $70-billion dollar industry is reflected at the Pasadena Museum of History’s exhibition “I Do! I Do! Part II.”

August marked the opening of the second installment of the museum’s survey of wedding fashion. While Part I exhibited the most beautiful dresses between 1850 and 1950, Part II presents dresses from roughly 1950 to the present, chosen for the way they define specific styles of the era.

The exhibition follows themes throughout the decades, such as the influence of royalty and film, the growth of the bridal industry itself and more recently the progression of same-sex marriage. To find the dresses, curator Ardis Willwerth reached out to bridal shops, designers and the local community.

“I did a lot of research about the styles at the time and what looks or materials were most popular. Our criteria was: Does the dress tell the story of the fashion industry and the development of the bridal industry?” Willwerth said in an interview.

“What was fashionable and beautiful in the 1950s is not necessarily what we think of today. Most of the dresses were in good shape, but we also worked with a local business, the French Hand Laundry. They sponsor the exhibition and cleaned and pressed everything that was necessary.”

The elaborate gowns represent trends such as the 1950s’ military style and preference for synthetic fabrics, 1970s’ mini dresses, and the big sleeves and elaborate embellishments popular in the 1980s. Featured designers include Carolina Herrera, Monique Lhuillier, Alexander McQueen, Oscar de la Renta and Vera Wang.

While each dress comes with a personal story about the bride’s wedding, one gown in particular stands out.

“We have a gown that was made in Manzanar, the Japanese concentration camp, in 1944. Five other brides borrowed the same dress and between 1944 and 1950 got married in it. It is a wonderful story,” Willwerth said.

The gown was worn by Chiyomi Marumoto Ogawa and by five other women who all resumed their lives in Pasadena after internment. Photos of the brides were taken by Toyo Miyatake, fellow prisoner and famous photographer.

The endurance of the wedding dress is a testament to a garment that, throughout the years, has not lost its symbolic importance.

“The white wedding dress has become the American dream. It’s what every bride wants that affirms prosperity,” Willwerth said.

"I Do! I Do! Part II" is open from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through Nov. 3. General admission is $7, $6 for students and seniors. Members and children under 12 years old enter for free. The Pasadena Museum of History is at 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena.


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