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Wedding Belles: 3 Generations, 15 Dresses, 8 Decades

An exhibit opening Saturday at the Hillwood Museum showcases exquisite wedding and bridesmaids' dresses worn by Marjorie Merriweather Post and her mother and daughters. Accessories include a jewel-encrusted Cartier purse.

Long before the U.K. had Princess Diana and Princess Kate and their wedding dresses, we had Marjorie Merriweather Post—business woman, society hostess and patron of the capital city's art scene—and her four wedding dresses—unique works of art in satin, velvet, fox fur trim, organza and yards and yards of lace.

And starting June 18, Post's four wedding dresses will be on display at the Hillwood Museum, along with those of her mother, Ella Merriweather Post (who wore a dove gray, bustled Victorian gown for her November 4, 1874 wedding), and of her three daughters: Adelaide Close Durant (who, in 1927, wore a flapper-inspired, possibly Bergdorf Goodman-designed, tea-length dress with a four-foot train of antique lace veil worn by a Hapsburg bride in 1881), Eleanor Close Gautier (who wore a lovely bias-cut, periwinkle blue, satin-and-crepe chiffon gown in 1933), and Nedenia Hutton Rumbough (stage name Dina Merrill), who wore a white satin dress from Saks Fifth Avenue, New York, and carried a jewel-encrusted Cartier purse to her wedding in 1946.

All of these gowns are on display at the exhibit, along with bridesmaids' dresses, mother-of-the-bride dresses, and even a travelling dress with cloak that the young Marjorie Merriweather Post wore to travel from her first wedding ceremony (when she was 18) to her honeymoon. 

The dress for her first wedding (to Edward Bennet Close in 1905) represented the height of Edwardian fashion, with a lacy, high-necked bodice, "underneath (which) was all silver tissue, so it had the most luminous look," Marjorie Merriweather Post wrote. Long, trailing orange blossoms (a traditional accompaniment to wedding dresses at the time) were embroidered, their stamens sewn in gold thread.

The second dress (for her July 7, 1920, wedding to Edward F. Hutton) is a little lighter—made of periwinkle organza that has since faded to the natural color of the cloth, silk and lace, and with a shorter hem length, it epitomized the classic tea dress of the early 1920s.

Majorie Merriweather Post's third wedding (to Joseph E. Davies) took place on December 15, 1935, and for it, she chose a stylish peach velvet gown trimmed with dyed-white fox fur by Bergdorf Goodman. By 1935, she was a widely-admired woman of society, and her dress suggested the height of Hollywood glamor. Her youngest daughter, as the maid of honor, wore a pale blue, empire-waisted gown, also on display.

For her last marriage, to Herbert May in 1958, she wore a pale blue, silk and lace dress with a shorter skirt and a ballet-style neckline.

The dresses are tastefully arranged around the Adirondack Room of the museum. The textures of the soft white furs in the dresses and accessories contrast nicely with the softer shine of the satin dresses and shoes, and the sparkle of the occasional Cartier purse. 

The exhibit also includes family photos and even a short family video of Adelaide Close Durant's wedding. (You won't want to miss the scene in the film in which three-year-old Nedenia Hutton, cute as a button in a little white dress with tiers of fur-trimmed ruffles all around, trods over her big sister's antique lace wedding train.)

The exhibit was co-designed by Estella M. Chung, curator of American material culture and historian for the museum, and by Howard Vincent Kurtz, associate curator of costumes and textiles. There are over 175 dresses and over 300 accessories in the museum's collection.

The museum is located at 4155 Linnean Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a $15 suggested general admission, a $12 suggested admission for seniors 65 and older, a $10 suggested admission for college students, a $5 suggested admission for children ages 6 to 18, and no suggested admission for children under 6.

The exhibit will close at the end of the day on New Year's Day, January 1, 2012.

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