A Night to Remember – Formal Wear

Exhibit Featuring Vintage Formal Wear

The Emerson partnered with the Gallatin History Museum to curate two exhibits that explore the origins of school and social dances as well as vintage fashions. These exhibits compliment this year’s Celebration of the Arts theme and the Emerson’s 25th/ 100th anniversary.

Lobby Gallery
December 8 – January 26, 2018

About the Pieces

The Emerson existed as a schoolhouse from 1918 to 1992. To honor the roots of the building and commemorate the future of the organization these exhibits were formulated.

On display in the Weaver Room are historic photographs from school and community dances that took place around the Gallatin Valley. The Lobby Gallery is showing Vintage Formal Attire courtesy of the Gallatin History Museum and individual community members. Please join us in reveling in our past and rejoicing in our future this holiday season!

The Stories Behind the Pieces

Dance cards date back to the 18th century, but were used as recently as the 1950’s. A gentleman could write his name in a prospective dance partner’s book to lock in his chance of enjoying her company on the dance floor. This was to ensure a woman was being properly accompanied throughout the evening and give men a chance to pursue the most desired ladies.

In turn, this tradition allowed for women to gracefully decline a request, by saying ‘her dance card was full’. Whether this was actually the case or not was private information. It was bad form to have more than three dances lined up with the same partner, however some men would ‘steal a woman’s dance card’ meaning she was taken for the evening.

The designs were often unique and clever as they were often kept as souvenirs. One such example is the Engineer’s Ball card, present in this exhibition, which is shaped like a mini wooden slide rule. Each card included the names of those who officiated the dance, as well as chaperones and, on occasion, the types of dances to be played. All small pencil would always be attached to the booklet so no one would be left without a means to write down a partner’s name. The phrase ‘pencil someone in’ comes from this era of dance cards.

Gallatin County High School Prom
Bozeman, Montana – 1937

Marguerite was born in 1919 in Iowa, but lived in the Gallatin Valley until her death on March 10, 2006. Prior to her marriage to Horace Fulker in 1942, Marguerite attended Monforton School and Gallatin County High School, graduating in 1938.

Throughout her life, Marguerite poured her talents and energy into several local organizations. She was active in 4-H, the Central Park and Middle Creek Extension Homemakers Clubs, the Columbia Sheep Association, the Gallatin Historical Society and the Montana Winter Fair. She was named to the Montana Winter Fair Hall of Fame in 1977.

The dress has satin stripes woven into the fabric. The short sleeved are puffed to accentuate the most popular silhouette of the era, which was tall and narrow. Dresses in the 1930’s were mostly formfitting, with a natural waistline and mid-length hemline. Cheaper, patterned fabrics like cotton, linen, crepe and taffeta became popular during the 30’s due to simpler design and financial hardship.

Gallatin County High School Prom
Bozeman, Montana – 1928

Mary Francis was born in Bozeman on December 6, 1910, to William Whitfield and Louise Accola Spain. William Whitfield Spain was a long-time president of Owenhouse Hardware Company in Bozeman.

Mary Francis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art from Montana State College in 1932. She earned a master’s degree the following year from the National College of Education in Chicago. Returning to Montana, Mary Francis taught second grade in Three Forks and at Irving Elementary in Bozeman. She married Bozeman attorney, James H. Morrow in 1935 and was an active member of Chapter AG, P.E.O., and the St. James Episcopal Church. She passed away at eighty, in 1991.

This dress has a scalloped him lined with pink taffeta. Down the front are three green taffeta medals with rhinestone centers and three pink velvet ribbons. Taffeta and low waistlines became popular towards the late 1920s/ early 1930s. It was an inexpensive fabric that looks costly and has a voluminous appearance with out much yardage due to its stiffness.

Skyview High School Prom
Billings, Montana – Circa 1950

Liz Johnson wore this dress to her junior prom in 2009. Liz didn’t like any of the current styles she was finding in stores, so I decided to go the vintage route. She loved the look and history of vintage dresses, so went to Montana Vintage Clothing in downtown Billings to see what they had. All three of the staff members that day ran around trying to help find the perfect dress for her. They even helped her pick out the matching earring and bracelet set to go with the dress! Liz’s date Ben, said he didn’t mind any color, except maybe yellow. When she found this dress, she knew she was getting it anyway.

Glasgow High School Prom
Glasgow, Montana – Circa 1988

Melissa was not having luck finding the perfect senior prom dress. None of the current fashions suited her style or the prom theme, which was Rock & Roll. A family friend still had her daughters’ prom dresses from the 90s so Melissa and her mother went over to take a look. One in particular caught her eye, fit like a glove and the price was right. This dress was originally worn in the late 80s then again in the early 90s.

This would be the third time this dress was worn to a prom and Melissa was game on to rock it again in 2012! She made a minor alteration by removing one of the two ruffled straps for an a-symmetrical look. The short skirt was perfect for dancing and the vibrant colors and texture of the 80s fit perfectly with night’s theme. Melissa could not have been more pleased to up-cycle this vintage dress and to show it off again, here at the Emerson.

Natrona County High School Prom
Casper, Wyoming – 1969

John and Patty have been together since Patty’s freshman year of High School. They courted for five years before marrying in 1971. They attended all school dances together including his senior prom the year this image was taken, 1967. John wore the white jacket, a style accustom to the era, again to her senior Football Ball in 1968. Patty always made her own dresses, which beautifully reflected the fashions of the 60s. The silk in this image was payment for housesitting for her neighbors who were traveling through Asia. John and Patty still live together on a ranch in Casper, Wyoming where they have been happily married for 46 years.