"Portrait of a Bride" Vintage Wedding Gown Exhibit to be Held May 9

Collector Leigh Anne Brown will present "Portrait of a Bride," her vintage wedding gown exhibit, at Laurel Oak Country Club on May 9.

By Heather Dunhill April 28, 2015

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Indulge this Mother's Day weekend with a snapshot of fashion history. Portrait of a Bride, an Evolving Silhouette is presented by vintage bridal enthusiast Leigh Anne Brown.  The in-depth program depicts the life of the average American woman as seen through a bride’s eyes from 1890 to the present, with an impressive display of vintage gowns.

This civilized exhibition and spring tea will be held on Mother's Day, May 9, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at Laurel Oak Country Club, sponsored by the Friends of the Sarasota County History Center. Tickets are $40; for more information call (941) 484-0769.

I caught up with Leigh Anne to find out more about what to expect from the exhibit--here's our fun Q&A.

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Such a stylishly clever idea--what inspired you to create Portrait of a Bride?

I have been an avid collector of vintage and antique clothing for more than 20 years. In the beginning I only collected Victorian and Edwardian clothing, not wedding attire. When I had the opportunity to obtain an 1890 wedding gown, I jumped at it and quickly fell in love with its beauty and style, and the focus for my collection shifted. My first [exhibition]--there was no program at that point--consisted of the 12 gowns that I owned at the time, along with some 50 other gowns that I had borrowed from various friends. The evening of the event was an eye opener for me, as I realized that other people truly enjoyed looking at the dresses and talking about their own wedding memories. Shortly after that event, I received my first phone call about bringing my gowns and giving a presentation on them and so the “show” was born.

However did you amass such a fabulous collection of antique gowns?

Believe it or not, more than 75 percent of the collection has been given to me by many different people over the years. One of the most common things I hear is, “I was saving this for my daughter to wear, and she won’t even touch it.” People give me their treasures, all the time. Recently I received a gown from 1872--it is the oldest gown in my collection.

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Tell us, any common thread to the customs and evolving silhouette of the bride over the years?

Each bride in each decade had her own customs and ideas of what grace and beauty should look like – from the corsets and bustles of the Victorian era to the flat-fronted short skirts of the Roaring '20s to the Diana-inspired princess gowns of the 1980s to today, where anything goes. Although Queen Victoria in 1840 introduced the idea of wearing a white gown to the world, it has only been since World War II that white has become the predominant color for Western brides. In fact, during the latter half of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century, white as a wedding color was only seen in a small percentage of brides, gaining in popularity as materials, trims and that all-important “disposable income” became more available to the rising middle class. Throughout history, blue has been the far more common choice, as it is a color representing faithfulness, purity, chastity and the Virgin Mary--all of those aspects that a young lady most wanted to espouse. Today we remember all of this with the old adage “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

And of course, regardless of when she married or how much money she spent, each bride has always wanted to look and feel her best on her day.

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Which era inspires you the most?

While my first love is still the Victorian Era, in terms of style, beauty and grace, I find myself more and more intrigued with the flapper of the 1920s. The more I learn about her as a woman, the more impressed I become. The flapper was a strong individual, combining education with occupation and a desire to achieve all on her own. As a group, women in the 1920s were moving forward in multiple areas of society, economics and politics [and inspiring] real change in the world. In many ways, if America had not been interrupted by 30 years of economic depression and war, by 1930 the woman that the flapper was becoming would have been the woman that today we commonly refer to as the “'60s woman.” Just think about that for a moment--what if that had happened? Who would the women of the 1960s have been, then? Who would their daughters and granddaughters be today? Just a thought…

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What do you find delights show attendees?

Beyond the initial impact of seeing the gowns on display when they walk into the room, I have found that it is the stories of these brides that people most enjoy. The program is not just fashion or just history. Instead it is a combination that allows for various anecdotes about the original brides to be told. I like to change out the gowns often, so that every time I give the program there is something different to see and hear. I always want to get the story of the average American woman out there–we’ve come a long way, baby! When it is all said and done, you realize that the dresses are not just changing their shape because some designer decided that “today skirts are wide; tomorrow they are skinny." There is always a reason behind it: economics, politics, war, education, family and societal expectations--they all combine to influence that young lady’s choice on her wedding day.

Tell us what to expect at the event on May 9.

There will be between 25-30 gowns on display from the Victorian era to present. Each gown is shown sequentially with date cards to give people an idea of what era they are looking at. I consider this my version of “show and tell,” and I encourage questions, comments and pictures from the guests. Many people have come to multiple shows over the years in order to see more of my collection and to share with me their own wedding memories. I love what I am privileged to do and am thankful for the opportunity to meet and share my passion with others.

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