Saying Yes to the Dress


Gift of Mary and Sidney Green. SCC 9.26.

Gift of Mary and Sidney Green. SCC 9.26.

This lovely bridal gown—worn first by Eva Selbin in 1912, then altered for use by her daughter for a second generation of wear in 1936—has found new life once again… as the newest addition to the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values.

We were excited to help bring this treasured family heirloom in our permanent collection back into the galleries. As we prepared to display it, we checked in with our Senior Curator, Grace Cohen Grossman, who had studied the object in depth when the Skirball presented the exhibition Romance and Ritual: Celebrating the Jewish Wedding. Grace pointed out details of the garment. “The style of the silk satin dress with high collar and asymmetrical bands of lace is typical of the Belle Époque period, prior to World War I,” she explained. “It has a romantic, ethereal look.”

But it is no simple matter to take an object from collection storage and place it on view. Often preparations begin weeks, sometimes months, in advance during the curatorial research and conservation phases, before museum staff can even consider an installation date. Once that work is done and an object has been prepped for display, the installation itself is no piece of (wedding) cake!

So how does it happen?  It begins with a mannequin…

Mannequin… which must be vacuumed and prepped for display. This includes measuring it for proper fit, making adjustments to its height and waist size, and removing the arms to facilitate the dressing process.Prepping the mannequinProp accessories, like shoes and slip, are added first to minimize handling of the dress once draped onto the mannequin. To keep things simple, the “wig” comes off!

Prepping the mannequinA textile conservator, like Ann Svenson (whose hands are shown here), is typically present to assist in the event that unexpected changes or repairs need to be made.

Ann Svenson prepping the dressThe gown is made of silk satin and is now 100 years old. While stable enough for display, it’s very delicate! Great care must be taken in its handling. We Skirball registrars work with the conservator to lift the dress over and onto the mannequin. It takes many hands to deal with such a fragile garment.

Prepping the dress

Prepping the dress

Prepping the dress

Prepping the dressOnce the dress is in place, the mannequin’s arms must be carefully reattached, followed by the addition of formal gloves. Now this is what you call a fitting.

Fitting the armsDressing the mannequinDressing the mannequinDon’t forget the wig!

Dressing the mannequinAnd she is ready for display.

WigTransporting a fully dressed mannequin from collections storage to the museum gallery—a walk down the aisle, so to speak—also requires many hands for stabilization.A Walk Down the Aisle...The existing display must be removed… so that the new bridal gown can take center stage in our Life Cycle gallery.

Featured on the left: Man’s marriage dress, Bokharan, nineteenth century. Gift of Jay D. and Beatrice B. Frierman. SCC 25.186.

Featured on the left: Man’s marriage dress, Bokharan, nineteenth century. Gift of Jay D. and Beatrice B. Frierman. SCC 25.186.

Once on the mannequin, we were able to appreciate more fully the style of the gown. Grace explained that it illustrates what was in vogue at the time. “Women’s fashion at the time shifted away from elaborate draping and embellishment to relatively more practical clothing with fewer frills and flounces. The new ready-to-wear phenomenon in clothing manufacture, embraced by young working women, featured the skirt and a shirtwaist—which became emblematic of their newfound freedom and independence. Eva’s dress, with its popular middy collar and vertical shirtwaist style, reflects this transitional period in fashion.”

InstallationIn total this installation took three hours from start to finish.  In the museum world, that’s not half bad!

Wedding dressBe sure to tour Visions and Values on your next visit to the Skirball and see this blushing bride. The gown will be exhibited until the end of May.

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Exhibitions, In the Collection, Museum and tagged , .

About Catherine Aurora

Catherine Aurora has been at the Skirball since January 2008. As assistant registrar, she assists in caring for the museum permanent collection and loaned objects to be displayed in exhibitions. Outside the Skirball, Cathy spends her time chasing after a rambunctious toddler and perpetually has a Nick Jr. cartoon theme song stuck in her head.

About Cynthia Tovar

Cynthia Tovar has been at the Skirball since June 2011. As registrar, she is responsible for the museum collection: cataloging, monitoring and preserving our shared cultural heritage for generations to come. Cindy also manages the logistics of bringing Skirball exhibitions to life; coordinating with Skirball curators and designers on permanent collection objects and loaned items that will be displayed. When not working with artifacts and art, she enjoys hiking with her husband and two dogs and attending other art happenings in our great city of Los Angeles.

One thought on “Saying Yes to the Dress

  1. Love the Dress! the wig – not so much ! why not something more natural? the process of exhibiting is interesting.

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