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New exhibit at The Rooms flaunts NL’s fashion-forward brides of the past

There’s a saying that a wedding needs something new, something borrowed and something blue.

The Rooms’ latest exhibition has it all covered.

The exhibit, Tying the Knot, is all about the history of “the big day” in Newfoundland and Labrador. The oldest item on display is a 200-year-old wedding dress. Guests can also peruse old rings, a bowler hat, cake toppers and a fox pelt.

“People often think of [Newfoundland] as being on the edge of the world and not being connected to the outside world,” curator Maureen Peters said.

“When in actual fact – through the fashion that is expressed in these dresses – we are on the cutting edge. We are, like, super fashionable.”

Each item is paired with a description of its provenance and the couple it belongs to, she said. Most items were sourced from The Rooms’ existing collection.

A 1990 dress donated by Gina LeGrow might be the most eye-catching item on display, with its massive sleeves, numerous beads and a train that drapes several feet on the ground.

Peters explained that LeGrow saw a dress in a magazine and wanted to make her own. Ultimately, it took LeGrow 60 to 80 hours to complete.

A wedding dress with volumous sleeves and lots of beading.
Gina LeGrow made her own 1990 wedding dress, and spent between 60 to 80 hours on it. (Elizabeth Whitten)

“It just kind of shows how much people put into their weddings, and how much people want to have this really special day,” said Peters.

“And it is very indicative of the time period of 1990.”

On the other end of the spectrum is the oldest dress in the exhibit. It belongs to Sarah Adamson and dates to 1823. It’s a soft pink color with an empire waistline and puff sleeves.

Meanwhile, Elaine Hyde had a simple dress with a hood, instead of a lace veil, made by a local seamstress for her small wedding in 1972. But Peters says this was still considered a glamorous dress.

The artifacts Peters has dug up suggest people in Newfoundland and Labrador were active participants in the world of fashion. They also reflect contemporary socioeconomic situations, she says. Wedding dresses of the 1950s and 1960s were larger, for example, as a reaction against the wartime restrictions of the 1940s.

The 1980s and 1990s were also about more lavish weddings, she said, which was reflected by LeGrow’s bedazzled wedding dress and long veil.

“It was kind of like the time where weddings came into their own,” said Peters, as long as people could afford these more elaborate events and venues.

“And the wedding culture really kind of came into its own, and has continued in that trend since then.”

Not all weddings are white

While a bride these days is typically decked out in white, Peters said the trend of a white dress and veil was kicked off by Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding to Prince Albert, which she called the “celebrity wedding” of its time.

It ushered in generations of women buying white gowns for their own ceremonies.

A dark purple dress with black lace.
The wedding dress was worn by Emmeline Baird in 1903. It was made in darker colors, possibly so she could wear it again for other occasions. (Elizabeth Whitten)

Still, not everyone gets married in white, and Tying the Knot has some examples. Peters pointed to a 1903 silk and velvet wedding dress of Emmeline Baird and was made for her wedding day but was in practically darker colors, perhaps so it could be worn as a regular dress.

She also showed off a brightly colored and embroidered Afghan wedding dress on display. Peters said it was a gift to a Newfoundland soldier from the 2000s and was given to him by an interpreter.

“What we wanted to show is the breath of the collection that we have,” she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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