New exhibit explores "Weddings in the Heartland: Apparel, traditions, memories"

AMES, Iowa -- Adoring fans have been flocking to the "Princess Diana - A Celebration of Life" exhibit now touring the country to get a glimpse of the famed ivory silk taffeta and lace wedding gown worn by the late princess in July 1981 -- the centerpiece of the exhibit. It's coming to Kansas City's Union Station in March.

But Midwesterners can view some equally stunning wedding garments and get in touch with their romantic side before Valentine's Day. The "Weddings in the Heartland: Apparel, traditions, memories" exhibit opened this week and runs through April 16 in the Mary Alice Gallery at the Textiles and Clothing Museum in Iowa State University's Morrill Hall. There will be an opening reception this Sunday, Jan. 30, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

The exhibit contains 19 wedding garments dating from the late 19th-century to the present that display the Midwestern culture and trends of their day. Among the exhibits is a delicate European lace mantilla veil and ivory wedding dress worn by Elizabeth Hoffman, executive vice president and provost at Iowa State. The veil, passed down through Hoffman's family, was a gift to her great-grandmother from the last Russian empress, Tsarina Alexandra Romanov. It remains a meaningful heirloom that has been worn by at least six brides in Hoffman's family, and is part of an ongoing narrative that links each generation. Hoffman designed and constructed the wedding gown herself.

Stories like that capture the theme of the exhibit.

"This exhibit is not just about the garments; it's about the women who wore these dresses and the stories they have to tell," said Janet Fitzpatrick, manager of the textiles and clothing collection and curator for the exhibit. "It's as much about the bride and groom as it is about the clothing they wore. Many of them had strong connection to the university and the state of Iowa, which makes the exhibit significant."

Fitzpatrick says the exhibit garments range from an 1898 blue, worsted wool-and-taffeta handmade frock with plaid ruffles, to a nontraditional brown, tiered flapper-style garment from 1928, to couture Matthew Christopher gowns. The Matthew Christopher gowns were donated by designer and Iowa State alum Matthew Sobaski, who will serve as the guest designer for Iowa State's annual student-run Fashion Show on Saturday, April 9, in Stephens Auditorium.

"From the choice of fabric to the color and shape, each gown tells a story and is symbolic of its time period," Fitzpatrick said. "The flapper-style dresses of the 1920s represent the new nontraditional woman of that time period, whereas in the 1940s many women were getting married in suits because access to fabric was limited due to the war. The post-World War II dresses show the boom of the wedding industry, when elaborate gowns became a sign of affluence."

"Weddings in the Heartland: Apparel, traditions, memories" can be viewed during regular museum hours Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., with extended hours Feb. 13 and 20, March 6 and 27, April 9 and 10 from 1-4 p.m., and April 16 after the Veishea parade until 3 p.m.

For more information, contact the Textiles and Clothing Museum at 515-294-7474, or To contribute your own wedding story, visit the museum's Facebook page by searching "Textiles and Clothing Museum 'Iowa State University'".