Digital Exhibition: For Better and For Worse

Our digital version of our 2013 gallery exhibition, “For Better and For Worse: Sixteen Decades of Wedding Wear at Vassar,” is now online.

This digital exhibition includes photographs from the exhibition, three-dimensional rotating views of featured objects, personal photographs and stories shared by Vassar community members, a video slideshow of photographs with highlights from our oral history interviews, and the full length oral history interviews, with transcripts.


wedding outfits from the gallery exhibition "For Better and For Worse: Sixteen Decades of Wedding Wear at Vassar"
Three dresses with similar silhouettes, over a span of 16 decades.

In 2007, Vassar received a donation of four wedding dresses from the same Vassar family—three generations of dresses. Inspired by these four dresses, plus a fifth dress on loan to represent the fourth generation, we brought together a variety of other wedding wear and photographs from the Vassar community, and conducted a series of oral history interviews. The stories represented explore changing views of marriage over the last 160 years, including current views on marriage equality.

Even if you did get to visit the gallery exhibition in person, you may find that the digital exhibition gives you the opportunity to delve deeper into the stories represented in the exhibition. While we did have a brief video running on a loop in the exhibition, with highlights from our oral history interviews and a slideshow of candid photos, the digital exhibition also includes the full length oral history recordings, with transcripts. These stories, from the people who wore the outfits on display, speak to more than just what they wore, but also to the culture of the time in which they were married, and their reflections on changes over time, as some marriages endured and others did not.

Each object that was on display has its own page, with photographs, description, an audio player for the oral history interview, a link to the full transcript of the interview, and a mini viewer of the objectVR (a view of the object that you can rotate 360 degrees and zoom in upon). Under the mini viewer is a link to a full size viewer. If you have any trouble viewing any of the pages, or parts of pages, there is a page about “How to View this Exhibition” that may help, or please contact us so we can help troubleshoot.

We look forward to your feedback about the digital version of this exhibition! Please use the contact link on the menu above to share your comments with us.

For Better and For Worse – Photos

Now that our latest exhibition is over, and the wedding outfits are all safely tucked away in their acid free boxes, we have a moment to take a breath and share a slideshow of some photos.

From the picture list you can click on a thumbnail to view a larger image and use the arrows to go through the images.

This fall we’ll share a digital version of the exhibition, once we have our students back to help finish processing the rest of the photos. The online exhibition will include photos of the gallery and detailed photos of each object, along with stories threaded throughout, both as text and as audio from our oral history project.


Wedding Dresses from the Vassar Community – More than Just Pretty Dresses

As Vassar begins Spring Break, I’m finally able to carve out a moment to catch you all up with our plans for our next exhibition. We’re not sure of our opening date yet (we’re hoping to open during Senior Week as we did in 2010 and 2011, to be open for Commencement, by May 26) but we know we’ll be open for Reunion, which is from June 7-9 this year.

When considering what to exhibit, I realized that this would be the reunion year for several of our recent donors – and it will also be my own 20th reunion! In 2007, we received a donation of 4 wedding dresses from the same Vassar family – 3 generations of dresses from 4 alums. This grouping alone is fascinating, allowing us to compare the stylistic changes over 52 years in the culture of one family. The middle two dresses of the four were worn by Mary Lee Hartzell ’53 and Ellen McPhillips Baumann ’63. As this will be their reunion year, it seems like the perfect time to display their dresses, along with other interesting wedding dresses we’ve collected over the years.

I have to admit I’ve been hesitant to do a wedding dress exhibition. In my work with our collection, I try very hard to get students past the stage of “Oh! Look at the pretty dresses!” and into the stage of examining such objects as evidence of cultural history, evidence of women’s lives. With wedding dresses, it’s particularly hard to get past the “it’s so pretty” stage, and as hard as it is to get the students working on the exhibit past that, it will be even harder to get the exhibition’s fleeting audience past that.

So, can we find a way to use these “pretty dresses” to examine the changes in weddings and marriage over the last 159 years (the earliest dress we plan to show is from 1854)? Can we appreciate the beauty of these dresses, yet not let that blind us to the complications of the cultural ideals they represent?

As we develop this exhibition, we’d love to hear your feedback. We’re just starting to reach out to the donors of the dresses, and some students are hoping to conduct oral history interviews with the women who wore the dresses, or their relatives. The stories that they provide will determine how this exhibition unfolds. We’re also working on identifying the “missing pieces” – objects that are not in our collection, but that we’d like to seek as loans or donations, to diversify the exhibition. We’ve realized one of the easiest ways to do this is to collect photographs from members of the Vassar community, from a variety of weddings, to showcase diverse traditions and innovations.

So . . .

What did you wear to your wedding?

The Vassar College Costume Collection is seeking photographs and narratives from Vassar community members to showcase a variety of clothing worn for weddings. We are interested in images of both traditional and non-traditional weddings, from diverse ethnic and religious traditions, and we’re particularly hoping to include examples from same-sex weddings.

With your permission, we may display some of the photographs and stories as a part of our upcoming exhibition of wedding outfits, for this year’s Reunion. Email your photos to, or mail copies of your photos to the Vassar College Costume Collection, Box 734, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604. Please include a brief narrative about your wedding and what you wore. Please note that we may not be able to display all the photos received, depending on the number of submissions, and we will not be able to return photos that are mailed to us, but all photographs and stories will inform our research and will be greatly appreciated!

In the weeks to come, we’ll be sharing some of our research, along with some of our process for developing the exhibition. We’ll also be reaching out to you for more feedback – whether you’re an alum/current student/married/unmarried/etc., we’d love to know what you think about the traditions/innovations in weddings and marriage that these dresses represent.

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This work by Vassar College Costume Collection is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.