The FIDM Museum is in the final months of a major fundraising campaign to purchase the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, a private collection of 1,400 historic garments and accessories from four centuries. Each Friday, this blog will present exquisite pieces from the Larson Collection.
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection
Summer is wedding season, and the Larson Collection includes at least 16 wedding gowns plus dozens of bridal accessories from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Wedding gowns are well represented in museum collections; they are frequently saved for sentimental reasons, along with shoes, veils, bouquets, and other accessories and mementos. The ivory satin gown above came into the Larson Collection with its matching slippers and the letter in which the bride accepted the groom's offer of marriage!
Unlike many historic garments, wedding gowns can often be connected to a specific owner and a precise date. The satin gown trimmed with lilies of the valley, above, belonged to Queen Elisabeth of Romania, and undoubtedly appealed to Helen Larson because of its royal connections as well as its beauty and its excellent state of preservation.
But few of these gowns were worn only once; until the twentieth century, a wedding gown often did double duty as a bride's "best dress" for years after the ceremony. Indeed, for some gowns, like the embroidered cotton mull example above, provenance alone tells us that it was a wedding dress and not simply a formal dress. White was the fashionable hue of the early 1800s, and not yet irrevocably associated with bridal wear, as it would be by the mid-19th century. The wedding gown below was remodeled to wear as formal court dress; we can only guess at its original appearance. Today, brides often choose formal gowns with historic details like trains, hoop petticoats, lace, and corsets; historically, however, they have been much more in sync with the fashions of their times.
Helen Larson spent 50 years assembling her collection; now, it is in danger of being dispersed forever or absorbed into another private collection, inaccessible to students, researchers, and the general public. The FIDM Museum urgently needs your help to save the Larson collection. Please open your own pocketbook and make a contribution online or by mail, or join our #4for400 social media campaign to donate $4 (or more) by texting "Museum" to 243725. Donations are tax deductible; if your company has a matching gift program, your support will go even further. You can also help by spreading the word on social media, using the #4for400 hashtag. The FIDM Museum as until the end of 2015 to finish raising the necessary funds, so please join the campaign and help save 400 years of fashion history!