Saying “I Do!” With New Friends

For our our August meeting, Sew Chicago took a field trip to the Chicago History Museum for a docent-led tour of their exhibit, I Do! Chicago Ties The Knot. Also joining us for our field trip were Chicago ASG President, Connie Goldberg, and some of the members from the Madison ASG group. The Madison group was just recognized at the national ASG convention for its incredible growth this past year. Congratulations, Madison ASG! And thanks for taking the train down to join us on our field trip!

The Chicago History Museum’s costume collection is the second largest in the country; only the New York Metropolitan has more. (Once again, we’re the second city.) This special exhibition displays wedding and courting fashion and accessories through the centuries — all worn by Chicagoans. The exhibit examines cultural attire and includes some menswear, although more would have been nice. There are beautiful examples of courting fans; watch fobs made from locks of hair; a Ukrainian dress; an Indian dress and a beautiful peacock blue Romantic Goth, [edited] aka Steampunk, dress that reminded me of something Mina Harker in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would wear.

Silk satin wedding corset, c. 1880 (Image source: Chicago History Museum)

I Do! Chicago Ties the Knot also examines how America’s wedding industry emerged, and how Marshall Field & Company (now Macy’s) along with other retailers embraced a set of common customs and traditions from the past to create a new romantic ideal for weddings. Marshall Field’s created the wedding industry by establishing the wedding registry and realizing that a bride is not just a customer for a day, but for a lifetime. Marshall Field’s invented the phrase “give the lady what she wants,” which was their guidepost for customer service.

Another Field’s factoid: Field’s was the first retail store to add a restaurant, or “tea room” as it was known then, within the store. This was so the lady shopping did not have to leave the store to return home to have her lunch — it was considered unladylike for a lady to have lunch at a restaurant unescorted by a man. With the tea room inside of Field’s she could stay in the store and continue shopping afterward. That restaurant is their famed Walnut Room.

Wedding gown, 1880 & 1942. Silk satin, lace, glass beads, and net. Worn by Annie Louisa Libby when she married William French Burrows, 1880. Worn again by granddaughter, Ruth Libby Burrows when she married Lawrence Dawson, 1942. (Image ©Chicago History Museum)

Besides the detail of sleeves, insets and bodices, it was interesting to see the varying sizes of the brides through the years. Estimating on the height and fullness (or lack thereof) of the figures, some of the brides couldn’t have been more than 14 or 16. The other observation is in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, based on the corsets and dresses, women were either teeny tiny things or were quite voluptuous. Some of those corsets certainly had their engineering inside them to hold up some…umm…endowments. Unfortunately, the Chicago History Museum does not allow photographs. However, below are some images that the Chicago History Museum has released on their Flickr photostream and their press release image sheet.

Wedding Gown Detail, 1970

Wedding gown, 1970. Synthetic satin, net and lace appliqués, pearls. Made by N. A. Hanna, Inc. Wilmette, IL (Image source: Chicago History Museum)

Wedding Ensembles

Wedding ensembles worn by Kathryn Hill and Vivek Venugopal, 2009 (Image source: Chicago History Museum)

Wedding Ensemble Detail

Detail of wedding dress worn by Kathryn Hill and Vivek Venugopal, 2009 (Image source: Chicago History Museum)

Wedding Gown, 1955

Wedding gown worn by Jane Easter when she married John William Straub, 1955. Sold at Marshall Field & Co. (Image source: Chicago History Museum)

Afterward, we had a lovely lunch to both reflect on the exhibit and to get to know our newest Sew Chicago members and our new friends from Madison.

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