Fashion show brings history to life

Fashion styles similar to those that will be modeled during the Historic Fashion Show at the History Center of Olmsted County.

The clothing styles of unknown times, 19th century French novelist Anatole France once said, "would tell me more about humanity's future than philosophers, novelists, preachers or scholars."

So, attendees of an upcoming Historic Fashion Show, Sunday at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center, will have a chance to learn about a time more than two centuries past, through the lens of women's fashion.

The show, a fundraiser for the History Center of Olmsted County, features costumes by historical designer Joy Melcher, maker of costumes and period clothing for Lincoln Center, Ford's Theater, and the New York City Opera, among other venues. Melcher is also a member of the Civil War Roundtable that meets at the History Center.

"I was not an academic," Melcher said. "I am a hobbyist."

The event takes place in the Ramada's grand ballroom and includes an afternoon tea with decadent desserts. Twenty-three models will be wearing designs ranging from the years 1800 to 1910.


Costumes will include apparel for young girls, a wedding dress, and a funeral or mourning dress. Fashions will progress down the runway decade by decade.

"You'll see a tremendous difference from before the (Civil) War to after the war," said Linda Willihnganz, of the history center.

Each model will wear original jewelry pulled from Melcher's collection of more than 500 original pieces. Mark Ryan of City Looks Salon and Spa will be styling the models' hair for the show. Hair pieces will be used.

"Women actually wore hair pieces" at the time, Melcher said. "They advertised them in newspapers and magazines."

"The cool part of this is she (Melcher) tells about the history as she tells about the dresses," Willihnganz said.

Melcher said, "You can see the procession of bodices and corsets. You can see the timeline visually in front of you. Both ends of the scale — women of all ages.

"Fashion really is dictated by very famous people who we try to emulate," she said. "Napoleon's Josephine was the Princess Diana of her day."

Changes in what was found to be appropriate and fashionable will be seen decade by decade, coming down the runway. Could it be as divisive and confusing as fashion can sometimes be today?


"I think people don't know what's appropriate anymore," said local image consultant Christine Lahr. "Hollywood in general has made it unclear as to what is appropriate. Makeup is confusing. How is she supposed to know a good everyday eye when all she sees in the magazines is a smoky eye?"

Event models include Sontes owner Tessa Leung, radio personality Tracy McCray, KXLT-TV's Mary McGuire, and Rochester Women editor Mariah Mihm, among others.

Melissa McNallan is a Rochester freelance writer.

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