Gown exhibit takes museum visitors on historical wedding journey

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published July 7, 2015

 The Clawson Historical Museum’s Forever a Bride — Wedding Gowns of Clawson Women exhibit is open to the public now through the end of August. Admission to the museum, located at 41 Fisher Court, is free. The building is open from 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays.

The Clawson Historical Museum’s Forever a Bride — Wedding Gowns of Clawson Women exhibit is open to the public now through the end of August. Admission to the museum, located at 41 Fisher Court, is free. The building is open from 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays.

Photo by Victoria Mitchell

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CLAWSON — When Mary Dooley married in 1928, she was adorned in a moire satin gown with beaded shoulder detail.

The skirt was held out with panniers worn on the hips, and her netted veil was decorated with handmade shell flowers.

The dress was donated by the Dooley family and is featured in the Clawson Historical Museum’s exhibit, Forever a Bride — Wedding Gowns of Clawson Women.

Generations of wedding gowns are carefully placed and purposefully styled throughout the museum for attendees to view throughout August.

The dresses — ranging from handmade to intricately adorned — take visitors on a trip of design trends from the past and teach about former wedding customs.

One dress belonging to Mabel Davis Hodges shows that in 1893, brides didn’t yet wear white. Instead, Hodges wore a burgundy silk taffeta gown with a lined, boned bodice and separate skirt.

Clawson Historical Museum Curator Melodie Nichols said another interesting fact is that the current tradition of being married in a church didn’t begin in the city until the 1920s, as ceremonies were held at home. Nichols said the first church wedding happened at the Clawson Methodist Church in 1923.

The same burgundy dress that Hodges wore for her wedding to Giles Hodges was also worn by her daughter during the 1930 Clawson Post Office Golden Jubilee.

The exhibit additionally features three unique war-era gowns.

“During the war, you would see a lot of photos of women wearing suits,” Nichols said, adding that suits were more the norm, so to have full gowns is exciting for the museum.

Museum attendees may browse through advertisements in the style of “Mad Men” urging loved ones to “Give her a Hoover and you give her the best,” a decades-old etiquette book, and a 1926 newspaper column appearing in the Daily Mirror offering tips on how to catch a husband.

Nichols is in the process of enhancing the exhibit and asks community members to email or hand-deliver copies of their wedding photos for display in the museum.

“All we ask is that they give us a picture, the names of the participants and a date,” Nichols said. “I just think it would be fun to have everybody’s wedding included.”

Each dress donor provided a wedding photo of their family member wearing the gown, which is included in the exhibit.

“The dress is beautiful, but it is the family and story to me that makes it interesting,” Nichols said. “This is probably the most important dress a woman chooses.”

Nichols said she wanted to host the exhibit for quite some time, and it wasn’t until the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Clawson Women’s Club donated $250 to purchase the dress forms and mannequins that the exhibit became possible.

Women’s Club First Vice President Eva Burns said the organization has supported the museum since it began back in the 1970s.

“We have donated funds to tune the piano, purchase drapes, wallpaper and other items as needed through the years,” she said. “We feel that keeping the museum available to the public to show our history is very important. The low city budget does not always allow funds for displays of artifacts that have been donated by citizens.”

Burns said the wedding gown display was done simply, so the main attraction is the gowns and the history behind them.

“Having them posing for wedding pictures and checking the mirror before the ceremony is very lifelike,” she said. “There are dresses from three generations of families in town, which are part of our rich history.”

The museum, located at 41 Fisher Court, is open from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays, except holidays. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.clawsonhistoricalsociety.org.

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