McNeil Wedding Dress, Whatcom Museum Collection

Wedding dress from the Whatcom Museum collection;

Wedding dress from the Whatcom Museum collection;

Delicate and graceful, this wedding dress is composed of cream-colored lace with peach satin-covered buttons extending down its back. The gathered skirt and flared sleeves create a medieval silhouette—a style likely inspired by Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 when she married HRH the Duke of York. Hallmarks of the era include the scalloped, dropped waist and relatively unshaped bodice with a low, sweetheart neckline, and ankle-baring hemline. Worn by Josephine McNeil, the garment was styled simply with a veil, bouquet, and prayer book for her walk down the aisle.

Harkening to the onset of a new, liberated era in regard to women, the dress could represent the liveliness and dynamism of the period. A barrage of socio- economic changes following World War I (1914-1918) forever changed the roles and rights of women in society and produced the iconic flapper image. Both the wild rebel of the night as well as the fashionable figure of the modern woman, the flapper is the dancing, fun-loving woman whose cropped hair and variable hemline are archetypal of the Jazz Age. Less complicated in construction and style, the simplicity of the flapper dress rendered it more accessible to women of all classes. In addition, the more “masculine” or unisex fit of the dresses—loose and angular rather that fitted and contoured—appealed to the growing equality between the sexes, championed by women’s rights advocates.

Fully embracing of all things modern, the 1920s woman woke to a world full of choices. She was free of corsetry, restricting layers, and many of the corresponding social barriers that kept her in the domestic realm. Women gradually joined the workforce, played sports, and traveled where their Edwardian mothers had been more associated with the previous century than the vivacious spirit of the 20th. This wedding dress embodies many of these ideas in style, while the elegant, handcrafted form is truly a work of art.

— Emily Zach, Western Washington University Curatorial Intern