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by Audria Larsen |

Party Like It’s 1955 O

NCE UPON A TIME, two stylish sisters from East Grand Rapids navigated a boisterous social scene, cloaked in fashionable garb. From parties to proms, Doris and Janice Cole wore garments that have since become iconic of mid- twentieth century styles.

“It really is a microcosm of early and middle 1950s dresses,” said

Veronica Kandl, curatorial research manager at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Impeccably preserved, Doris and

her mother, Helen, are the ones re- sponsible for keeping and storing the dresses. But, it was Doris who donated 18 party dresses along with mementoes like invitations to soirees, yearbooks and even photos of the sisters clad in the very outfits on display. Of the 18 garments donated, 13 are on exhibit. “They bought the majority of

them here in Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids at some of the local department stores that were popular then, like Steketee’s and Jacobson’s,” Kandl said. Beyond the fashion

element, part of the allure of the exhibit lies in the personal details pre- sented. While some tidbits have been lost to time, Doris recalls a number of specifics. Like a lovely green and white number on display was a party dress she wore at the very first dance she attended. Or the modest outfit she wore to a graduation party in her teens. The exhibit also speaks to certain cultural shifts of the time. “During the 1950s, it was after the war and the whole rise in teenag-

ers started,” Kandl said. “And proms were on the rise. By the ‘50s they became this established thing.” Although many events were public functions, private dances were

prevalent, with parents hosting gatherings at social clubs or even hotels and country clubs.

While teenagers were becoming a dominant social force, the end of wartimes signified the end of fabric rations, which in turn affected the

fashion of the times. Many of the dresses feature a lot of fabric and fancy touches like tulle and synthetics. And, the very ‘50s shape was “designed by the garments you would wear underneath,” Kandl said. “You still get the emphasis on the bust and a really small waist … Girdles were worn

at the time. I suppose people can kind of relate [with the ad- vent of] Spanx.” As Kandle

described, the style of the era was very “feminine

and frothy.” Many of the pieces are dreamy and evoke images of

soda shops and young couples sharing malts. It was a “return to femininity,” with the strapless styles “geared more towards younger girls” and seen as

demure. Although the exhibit is running for many

months, with school back in session, it is a fun time to peer into a former era and compare the gowns

and casual skirts with what

you find on a dance floor these days. Interestingly, some of the shapes

have been recycled and renamed over the years. One of the dresses features a harem skirt. That popular trend resurfaced in the 1980s and is now known as a bubble skirt. And, guess what? You can find this same style in stores today. n

Other Eclectic Events | by Audria Larsen

Pulaski Days 2011 Grand Rapids / Oct. 7-9 /

Pulaski days are for everyone … even if you are Dutch or vegetarian. For one beer-and- kielbasa-soaked weekend each year, the Northwest side and Northeast side of Grand Rapids celebrate polish heritage with events going on at 15 halls and clubs. A free shuttle bus safely ushers revelers all over town and you can even purchase red Pulaski thongs (and t-shirts, too) at certain stops. As the stated objective asserts, the event seeks “to bring together people of all nationalities.” Let’s drink to that.


Tiny Treasures Muskegon Museum of Art / Through Feb. 19 /

Tiny Treasures is an exhibit featuring a variety of artistic disciplines but all on a small scale. Experience Miniature boxes and cases by the Mabel Nano Keating Collection, petite engravings by Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt along with tiny paintings created by John Singer Sargant and others. This showcase encourages an intimate experience with art as viewers get up close to diminutive yet meticulously created works.

ALL DRESSED UP: 1950S STYLE Grand Rapids Public Museum Through February Free with General Admission , (616) 456-3977


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