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Powell discusses bridal history during Saturday lecture

March 16, 2015

Crowd-listens-during-Powells-presentation
A crowd listens during Powell's presentation.

Wedding folklorist and costume historian Cornelia Powell impressed a large audience Saturday with her knowledge of bridal history and the origins of wedding traditions enjoyed today.

Using the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey” as inspiration, Powell traced bridal fashions throughout the centuries during a public presentation at Historic Senior Hall. Most wedding costumes that she showed have roots to royalty. White gowns, for instance, became standard with Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. Following the Great Depression and World War II, however, women returned to the more economical tradition of wearing their Sunday best.

Enter Princess Diana’s wedding in the 1980s.

“Diana’s wedding shifted the world of weddings,” Powell said. “Diana rescued the white wedding.”

For most of her presentation, Powell speculated as to what some of the matriarchs of “Downton Abbey” might have worn at their own wedding, combining royal fashions of the time with the characters’ styles on the show.

Powell has written several books on bridal customs and has interviewed the designers for “Downton Abbey.” The show is so fashion-focused, she said, that the wardrobe team creates between 150 and 200 costumes per episode.

Close to 100 people attended the presentation, which was followed by a trip to the Historic Costume Gallery in Lela Raney Wood Hall. This semester’s exhibit features bridal attire through three centuries. It’s open noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays; 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

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