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Timeline of Wedding History

Before you indulge in wedding fantasy, consider for a moment how different things were in America at the time some of these dresses were worn, and throughout the long history of weddings.

Over time, the expense of an ideal wedding has been, and remains, beyond the means of many Americans. Before the days of mass clothing production and David's Bridal, a custom made white dress was a luxury afforded only to few. Part of the original appeal of the white wedding dress was its aspect of conspicuous consumption. Some desire a white wedding dress as an ultimate symbol of leisure, a dress that can remain white because the wearer need not labor in any way, a dress that can be cleaned by others, a dress that will perhaps only be worn once.

How much romance can counteract the fact that it was as recently as 1981 that the Supreme Court decided that it was illegal for a husband to control marital property without his wife's consent? Or that marital rape was still legal in some states until as recently as 1993? Can it be seen as merely coincidental that white has been considered the symbol of purity, and the most beautiful color for a bride, when the ban on interracial marriage in many states was not superseded until a Supreme Court ruling in 1967?

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of marriage up for debate right now is the issue of same-sex marriage. While the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage is continuing to grow, at the time of this exhibition DOMA and Prop 8 still stand.

*Postscript: After this exhibition closed, the Supreme Court handed down their decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, invalidating DOMA and dismissing the appeal regarding Prop 8, validating the lower court decisions to reject it. 

- by Arden Kirkland (Vassar class of 1993)