MTSU plays role in Oaklands’ historic wedding-dres...

MTSU plays role in Oaklands’ historic wedding-dress exhibit

“Wedding Dresses Through the Decades,” an all-ages exhibit featuring real wedding dresses, vintage photographs, antique china and the stories behind their owners, is open for its final weekend at Oaklands Historic House Museum through Wednesday, Feb. 15.

The exhibit, presented in partnership with Middle Tennessee State University’s Department of Human Sciences, is the first of its kind to take place at Oaklands, but organizers say they doubt it will be the last.

Two of MTSU’s faculty members have contributed their own wedding dresses to the exhibit. Professor Deborah Belcher, interim human-sciences chair of MTSU’s Department of Human Sciences, included her 2008 wedding dress, with its sweetheart neckline and mermaid skirt, and reception dresses to the exhibit, while Dr. Beth Emery, a professor in the same department, provided both her 1977 Gunne Sax dress and own hat, as well as part of her husband Chuck’s wedding suit.

The differences between Emery’s 1977 dress and Belcher’s 2008 dress, which served as the final piece in the series, are many, but each dress in the exhibit is an example of its own time in U.S. culture. The first dress in the exhibit is from the 1870s, and as the years pass, so do the changes in the dresses. Those changes don’t range from simple and austere to modern and embellished with the years, however, as one might assume.

Changes in politics, culture and the economy can be noted upon viewing the dresses.

“You’re going to find that many of the dresses from the ’30s and ’40s, right before World War II, are very different than what we see on television, with all the different dresses that are so very huge, and ball gowns,” Belcher explained. “They’re more like very smart suits.”

Belcher also added that dresses from that time period would feature “subdued colors,” unlike the pure white of the traditional wedding gown.

Displayed inside Oaklands’ Maney Hall, the many white dresses and related accessories fill the circumference of the room, standing out against sage brocade wallpaper and antique wooden floors.

Visitors may enter through the gift shop, from where they’ll be led to adjacent Maney Hall and will sign in to visit the free public exhibit, with the option to leave a donation for the museum’s “Adopt-an-Artifact” program. Regular museum tours will be available at regular rates.

The exhibit will be available in its final days during the museum’s business hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m.

For more information about the exhibit, visit or call 615-893-0022. A photo gallery of some of the dresses on exhibit also is available at the Oaklands Mansion Facebook page at