Our visiting public has alway been fascinated and excited by the textile collection at Wistariahurst. As a whole, the textile collection is weighted heavily with garments made from Skinner silk fabrics. Wm Skinner & Sons Manufacturing ran their main manufacturing mills here in Holyoke, Massachusetts from 1874 until 1959. Skinner’s reputation for fine silk cloth, satin fabric, taffeta and silk linings was known world wide. This exhibition highlights bridal gowns in our textile collection–gowns with stories connecting them to Holyoke’s history.
As you wander through and examine these gowns, we challenge you to think about where the impulse to collect and preserve and treasure certain material objects comes from? Why are certain items chosen over others? How are emotions and feelings connected to clothing and accessories? How does being able to hold, touch, feel, smell and move a physical object connect you to a loved one? What cultural messages are communicated through the style, color, design and material. Do these signals change with the times? And finally, does seeing these dresses bring your own personal memories to your mind?
Highlighting a variety of colors, shapes, and patterns gives us unique examples of styles from across the past 150 years. More importantly, we want to share the personal stories behind these gowns. Whether made from the finest satin and lace for a bride of means, or sewn on a budget and shared by family members, these gowns tell stories about the people who made them, wore them, and preserved them. You will see some garments with stains, and tears. How did they get there? What were the circumstances when they happened? How did the wearer feel? So let your mind wander and wonder about the lives, and experiences of the people who wore these garments. Explore this exhibition and connect the threads to the stories and memories. Embrace our common connections through clothing.
Holyoke City Historian and Wistariahurst Curator
In the Great Hall
- Ivory satin gown with lattice-beaded shoulders
- Kilborne Bridal Gown
- Starlight satin with lace overlay
- Ivory satin wedding gown with tasseled embroidery
Sometimes collection items have multiple connecting stories. The bride who wore this gown, Charla Emerson Bidwell worked at the Holyoke Museum at the Public Library (now Wistariahurst) as an assistant curator back in 1949. In addition, her wedding to Edward Bidwell took place at Skinner Memorial Chapel here in Holyoke. Her bridal Skinner satin, ivory gown now is part of Wistariahurst’s textile collection.
Ivory Skinner satin gown with lattice-beaded shoulders, princess seems, and covered buttons and sleeves and back. Sewn-in garment label in neckline reads "Hope Thayer". Includes slip with lace-edged ruffle at hem; headpiece/veil; sequined headband with lace-trimming netting.
This gown was worn by Lucie Peck Kilborne Moffett when she wed George Briggs Kilborne, (great-grandson of silk manufacturer, William Skinner) and then altered and worn twice more for each of her two daughters, Kim Kilborne Patrick and Sarah Skinner Kilborne. Made of Skinner silk (not satin). The taffeta skirt has two petticoats to give the skirt a full look.
Worn by a mother (Beverly Ann) and daughter (Lara) decades apart, this dress is made of fabric sourced from the Skinner mill by Elizabeth Skinner Beverly’s mother-in-law. She bought enough Skinner Starlight satin for two wedding dresses and gave Beverly her portion of fabric when she got engaged. The dress was hand-made by Beverly’s mother Gertrude King Ramstrom of Haydenville, MA for her 1966 wedding. “Not a machine stitch in it,” remembers Beverly. When Lara got engaged they took the dress out of storage and found a seamstress to alter it for Lara’s wedding in 1990. Lara is a descendant of Thomas Skinner, William Skinner's brother.
Lace bodice with scalloped, pearl-edged neckline and long sleeves over heavy taffeta-like skirt.
Post World War II wedding celebrations often had modest budgets. Many brides took advantage of the availability of Skinner fabrics manufactured and sold here in Holyoke. Shirley Lacinski had Philamene Swords (who worked in the Holyoke mill) purchase the material directly from the Skinner mill. The entire dress and bridal cap cost a mere $50. Shirley Lacinski of South Hadley and Wallace Sawyer of Holyoke were married November 11, 1950.
Candlelight ivory Skinner satin gown with tasseled embroidery, princess waist, long sleeves, train, and back zipper.
In the Gallery
- Gold-colored taffeta 3-piece wedding outfit
- Two-piece brown wedding suit made of Skinner satin with belt and collar
- Two-piece, satin wedding outfit with leg-of-mutton sleeves
- Wedding gown with floral brocade in silver and gold threads
- 1930s ivory satin wedding gown
- Silk crepe bridal gown
Garments and clothing are the most intimate items a human can possess. Textiles are worn close against one's body. The evidence of this closeness is often shown by stains, creases and fabric wear. The bodice of this outfit has significant staining under the arms indicating perspiration. From these stains we know for sure this dress was worn. This is one of the oldest gowns in the collection. Worn by Esther Stiles when she wed James W. Meacham
Fitted, boned bodice jacket with lace-covered green buttons; white collar with embroidery and cut work; waxed wool underskirt with full bustle, modified train and green trim at hem. Overskirt with a train and gathers in back to emphasize bustle effect. Ruffles at hem and cuffs.
Minnie Bryant Parsons wore this wedding suit in 1887. Here 135 years later it is in nearly pristine condition thanks to the loving care taken by Minnie's daughter Florence G. Parsons. In 1978, when Florence was 91 years old, she donated the suit to Wistariahurst to continue its preservation. She told us the outfit was made by a friend of Minnie's for her wedding. Minnie J. Bryant married George D. Parson on November 17, 1886 in Rock Valley.
Jacket is fitted and boned with gem-like metal buttons; leg-of-mutton sleeves; fitted styling. Skirt has box-pleat trim at the hem and darting. Collar is adorned with decorative flowers and closes with a hook and eye.
Wedding gowns often echo fashionable trends and this gown with its leg-of-mutton sleeves is an example of a once fashionable style popular in the late 19th century. This outfit was worn by Maria L. Kirtland who married Isaac E. Sawyer October 13, 1893. Their grandchildren donated the gown.
Two-piece suit of candlelight ivory silk satin. The bodice is boned with a high neckline; leg-of-mutton ruffled sleeves; very full skirt.
Faille (pronounced "file" or "fail") is a woven fabric with a slightly glossy finish. The term Faille comes from the French language referring to a cloth head covering worn by the women of Flanders. Brocade is a heavy decorative woven fabric with a raised design. It is usually a floral pattern and is often woven with gold or silver yarns and is produced on a Jacquard Loom.
Ivory faille fabric decorated with stripes of floral satin brocade done in silver and gold metallic threads. Train has wide bands of lace and net ruffles. Sewn in waist cummerbund and 3/4 length ruffled sleeves.
The sleek lines of this gown are reflective of the Art Deco influence of the time. Gone are the cinched corseted waists and heavily structured skirts. Note the extensive buttons down the back. In earlier centuries, buttons on the back of a dress were intended to give the appearance of wealth, because a woman wearing such a garment implied one could afford servants to help her dress. Irene met Norman at a dance in the Stardust Ballroom of Mountain Park. They were married on August 19, 1935 at Our Lady of perpetual Help in Holyoke.
Long-sleeved ivory satin bridal gown with extensive buttons down the back with bridal veil netting with rolled crown of pearls.
This gown stands out from the rest because of its sleek and delicate styling indicative of the fashion of the 1930s. Apricot crepe silk is a unique color for a bridal gown. Although this gown did not come with much of a back story, there are some small stains on the skirt and train, a few missing pearl buttons and a tear under the back, right sleeve--all indicating that this dress was worn and used by its owner Helen Chapin Read of Holyoke.
Apricot crepe silk with sheer layered yoke and capped sleeves. Layered wrap skirt with short, weighted train. Tassel ornamentation.
In the Music Room
- Two-piece deep ivory wedding gown Skinner satin with bustle
- White satin bridal gown with mandarin collar and 72" train
- Cream satin wedding gown with lace and sequins
- Skinner satin wedding gown with court length train
- Jacquard satin bridal gown
- Silk chiffon gown with French lace
This gown was worn by Eleanor Luce when she married Wilbur Munyan Purrington on June 9, 1887. Eleanor was sister to architect Clarence Luce who designed this Music Room. Both the Luce and the Skinner families were neighbors in Haydenville, Massachusetts prior to the flood of 1874. In fact, Eleanor's other brother Franklin Luce, later worked in the Chicago Sales office of Skinner Mills and he put this outfit to use promoting and marketing Skinner fabrics.
Fitted jacket tapers to pointed, bottom edged with pearls; boned tiara collar and square neckline trimmed with pearls; long sleeves have split cuffs edged with pearls; lace scarf is sewn in at the neck. Skirt has front pleats and a thick layer of pleats in back that form the bustle; the attached long train is trimmed with lace at edges.
Described in the Holyoke Transcript this bride wore "a white satin gown, having a mandarin collar, long sleeves pointed over the wrists, a peplum of French rose lace and a train edged in lace." This gown was made by the bride's neighbor Viola Moquin, who was a seamstress. Worn by June E. Aiken on her marriage to Richard E. Young on May 30, 1950.
Ivory Skinner satin bridal gown with mandarin collar neckline, fitted bodice, with lace skirting, full skirt and court length (72") train edged in lace.
This gown features an elegant train. A train is extra fabric extending from the back of the gown. Long ago a train would indicate the wealth of the family, as more cloth cost more money. This gown incorporates an interesting system to raise the train through several attached loops and buttons in order to raise and gather the train so it is more manageable. Worn by Roberta Quagliaroli when she married Frank Perotti on October 21, 1961.
Cream satin wedding gown with lace and sequin overlay on bodice and sleeves. Some sequins appliquéd on the skirt. Bodice back has satin buttons with loops. Long juliet sleeves taper to a V at the wrist.
Margaret "Peggy" Skinner, (William Skinner's great grand-daughter) reaped the fabric benefits of being an heiress to a portion of the Skinner Manufacturing empire with this exquisite satin, silk gown with a court length train. The gown is made of a heavy weight satin appropriate for a January wedding, and the train gathers up into a buttoned bustle at the back. She was married to Dr. George Armistead, Jr. at the Skinner Memorial Chapel, and her parents lived at "Dogwood Estate," 1155 Northampton Street here in Holyoke.
With train bustled
Jacquard leaf-patterned, ivory, Skinner satin wedding gown with covered buttons down front center, train, exaggerated bustle at back. Dirt stain on the train.
Written up in the Holyoke Daily Transcript as "One of the Most Important Events in Local Social History," Pearl Coburn's wedding was quite a large event with 800 wedding invitations sent and the newspaper devoting two full columns to cover the details of the affair, including complete descriptions of what was worn, who attended and the gifts given. Worn by Pearl Coburn on her wedding to David Walton, Jr. on June 15, 1904.
Accordion pleated white silk chiffon gown with exquisite French lace. Lace covers the bodice, neckline, skirt, train and makes up the long, buttoned cuffs. Shoes, stockings and extra ribbons.
Special Thanks to:
Seth Kaye Photography