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Longtime Artesia teacher Lou Smith is pictured on her wedding day in 1959. (Photo Courtesy Artesia Historical Museum)

“Vintage Wedding Dresses from Our Collection” is on display through April 1 at the Artesia Historical Museum and Art Center.

The exhibit showcases 19 historic wedding dresses dating from 1844-1970 and includes photographs and a wedding gift table.

Contrary to popular belief, brides have not always dressed in white. This tradition began in the mid-19th century and took over by the 1900s. Prior to that time, brides used a wide variety of colors and styles for their dresses — our three oldest dresses are blue (1844), gray (1874) and burgundy (1897), and were worn by three generations of brides from one family.

The exhibit shows how wedding fashions have evolved through the years and been affected by war, textile manufacturing practices, and family traditions — some dresses were handed down to be worn by a mother and her daughter (or granddaughter), and others were remade so that a bride could use her mother’s wedding dress fabric in a more modern style.

Weddings were (and are) popular social events, and early celebrations could include luncheons, dinners, tea parties, card parties, dances, and of course, bachelor and bachelorette parties and bridal showers.

Our exhibit has a gift table showing the wide variety of wedding gifts made to Artesia brides through the years, ranging from doilies to a lovely manicure kit to one of the first electric toasters to a bridle!

The problems of storing wedding dresses and the eternal question of “Why isn’t anyone smiling in those old photos?” are also covered in the exhibit, and there’s lots of wedding trivia, too.

The exhibit is open during regular museum hours: 9 a.m. – noon and 1-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 1-5 p.m. Saturdays. Groups are requested to call ahead for an appointment, and after-hours tours are also available by appointment by calling 748-2390.