Published: July 11, 2017
June Burns Bové earned an MA from New York University in costume studies. For 20 years a contract employee of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, June is textile conservator for Yeshiva University Museum and has been an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Graduate Studies of Fashion Institute of Technology since 1991, where her specialty is costume exhibition. She has consulted for many museums and institutions and in 2011, the Costume Society of America named her a Fellow of the Society.
On Sunday, July 16, from 2:30 to 4:30 pm, at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, Conn., she will give a talk, “What to wear? How the Bride Decides,” exploring the fashion and social history of the wedding dress.
This salon includes a talk, refreshments, and a tour of the first floor of the mansion; $15 for members, $20 for nonmembers per session. RSVP by Thursday July 13. The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum is at 295 West Avenue. For information, www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.com or 203-838-9799.
What kinds of stories do antique and vintage wedding fashions tell us?
That depends upon who is asking the question. If it is a family or even one family member, it is a very personal query. This was my mother, grandmother, or great, great- and this is what she looked like. The gown will appear to be elegant or strange depending upon the sensibilities of the inquirer. The fashion historian will look at the style, the fabrics, the workmanship and will attempt to find as much history as possible. From these observations, a picture of the social milieu, the economic circumstances and the taste of the bride will emerge.
From flowy to streamlined to flouncy silhouettes and hats to veils, what are some of the biggest trends in the evolution of bridal gown design?
The wedding day is a very special milestone in the lives of both bride and groom. The apparel for the occasion is, in Western dress, the current fashion, modified by religious requirements. The importance of the day means that even those not usually much interested in the latest fashion will look to high fashion, even if they never again take a serious interest in very fashionable dress. Therefore, the trends in wedding attire echo the trends in high fashion.
Where did American women, circa 1910s-1940s, get their fashion inspiration?
The quick answer is, of course, the great designers of the French haute couture. And that is certainly partially true. Lanvin’s robe de style, for example, is the inspiration for many American wedding dresses. Yet there is in these decades, more and more, an American look. World War II temporarily halts the French influence, and American designers become known by their names: think of Claire McCardle, Hattie Carnegie and many others.
From Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride to Grace Kelly’s wedding, how have celebrities influenced bridal trends?
Well, think of Queen Victoria. She didn’t invent the white wedding dress, but because she chose to wear white and lace, brides all over the world, and for many generations, emulated her. People look to royalty, actresses, the socially elite for confirmation of what is the latest. They have seen the fashion pages in newspapers and in magazines directed to women; here is their model to follow.
What project has been your biggest challenge as a textile conservator and how did you overcome it?
The largest project was probably curating the first Scaasi retrospective at the New-York Historical Society. This was a very large exhibition with about 300 mounted figures. It is not really a question of overcoming. It is a question of dealing with pressing realities. The exhibition was a success, but I have derived more satisfaction in figuring out the complexities of a very difficult mount for one fragile dress.
Tell us about your specialty of costume exhibition and some of the current projects you are involved in.
Everyone has an opinion about clothing because everyone wears clothes. Mounting dress for a museum exhibition means working as a member of a team to present the clothing in accordance with the theme and purpose of the exhibition. Beyond that, the articles of dress are artifacts and must be preserved for the future, not just for the present exhibition. I build an understructure over an appropriate mannequin that supports the artifact from the inside, achieving the correct fashion shape. An understanding of human anatomy is necessary, as well as a knowledge of what human beings have done in that period to modify the anatomy. Currently I am working on the design of a mannequin to display late Nineteenth Century Korean traditional armor.
Which designer do you most admire and why?
To tell the truth, the favorite is most likely the one whose creations I am dealing with at the moment. But to look over the historical periods, I have to say that the genius of Madeleine Vionnet never ceases to intrigue me. She had a mastery of all the dressmaking skills, but it was her way of creating three dimensions from a flat piece of cloth that always amazes me. She designed garments that respected the female body and flattered it. Today her clothes are usually shown on slim, elongated mannequins, but the photographs of her creations on models in her atelier and pictures of her famous clients show that her clothes were not just elegant on normal-sized women; they were very sexy.
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