SHREWSBURY: WEDDING GOWNS IN SPOTLIGHT

The exhibit includes a 1908 wedding dress made of silk messaline satin “in a formal Gibson Girl style,” according to the catalog. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

The Shrewsbury Historical Society plans an unusual unveiling this weekend.

Or perhaps it’s more apt to call it a veiling, because the subject is wedding dresses across more than a century and a half of American life.

Wedding dresses from the Victorian era to contemporary stylings are on display. Below, the 1911 wedding dress worn by Edna Bennett, whose granddaughter, Judi Bunchner, restored the gowns for the exhibit. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Slated to run for two months, the exhibit features restored bridal fashions from the Victorian era into the 1980s.

Among them are dresses worn by local women, including one made and worn by former Shrewsbury mayor, the late Emilia (nee D’Achille) Siciliano, at her 1957 marriage to Samuel Siciliano.

Then working as the head designer for a New York fashion house that produced lingerie and nightwear, Siciliano’s creation drew inspiration from the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film ‘Funny Face,’ the exhibit catalog says.

The dresses, donated by residents or on loan to the Historical Society, showcases a progression of styles, according to promotional material for the event.

“You will find delicate hand-embroidered tulle, intricate patterns of hand-tatted lace; then machine-made netting and lace, and ready-to-wear gowns,” it says. “The gowns reflect influences from World War I, World War II, the Jazz Age, and beyond.”

Among them: the dress worn by longtime Shrewsbury historian Elinor “Babs” Riordan at her wedding to Patrick D’Aloia in Red Bank in May, 1949. Here’s the catalog description:

This gown of white satin has a lace-trimmed scoop neck and gathered bodice. The long leg o’mutton sleeves end in a princess point to the hands. The back of the skirt and train feature 9 layers of flounced lace. There are 31 satin-covered buttons down the back.

There’s also one from 1915, described as an “Edwardian-style dress [that] has a youthful silhouette with lovely eyelet, broderie Anglaise, cutwork, and pintucking from the waist to the tiered skirt.”

The original owner is not identified, but Robin Blair chose it for her September, 1977 garden wedding to Frank Fetter in Fair Haven, the catalog states.

All of the dresses were restored by Judi Bunchner of Tinton Falls, founder of the Fibre Arts Guild at Allaire Village who is also a docent at the society-run museum and a collector of wedding wear.

Among them is dress worn in 1911 by her grandmother, Edna Bennet, at her wedding to Charles Russell Allen. Here’s the catalog description:

This Edwardian Era (early 1900s) summer cotton, lace and embroidered wedding dress is an expression of the changing style of a new century, an age of industrialization and innovation. Women’s roles in society were rapidly changing with World War I and the suffragette movement. Women’s fashion became more relaxed with shorter skirts for ease of movement and no more confining corsets.

Dresses worn by Buncher’s mother in 1942, and Buncher herself are also included –hers complete with the original rose bouquet, with the flowers repainted  a vivid red.

“All families have histories, and weddings are probably the most beautiful events that will ever happen for most of them, other than the births of children,” Buncher told redbankgreen this week.

She said she hopes exhibit visitors come away with a sense of the excitement of those events, as well as an appreciation for the history they embody. She notes that she had to custom-make all the mannequins for the display, because “the dresses are too small to fit the modern figures.”

The exhibit opens to the public on Saturday, October 3, and is viewable (under COVID-19 social distancing protocols) on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., through November 28. Other times are available by appointment at ShrewsburyHistoricalSociety@gmail.com.

The display is being held in lieu of the society’s annual fundraiser. Contributions are welcome.

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