Ball gowns on parade at gallery

The haute couture of Nevada has a chance to be on display every four years at the traditional inaugural ball for newly elected governors.

The dresses of 10 of the state's first ladies were on display Wednesday evening as the exhibit "Silver Ladies in Golden Splendor" was previewed at the Joseph Anderson Gallery in the Nevada State Library & Archives.

"This is wonderful," said first lady Dema Guinn. "I just love Nevada history and now everyone will get a chance to see this."

Guinn's dress begins the display. The hand-worked embrodiered top is complete with beads that were dipped in silver to give them an antique look. The dress was made in London by Eavis & Brown. Guinn purchased the one-of-a-kind gown at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Fran Macias of Minden said she was surprised to learn of the collection.

"I no idea this was here," Macias said. "I wish we could wear the fashions from 'Gone With the Wind' - the hoop skirts and the corsets that you pulled on."

"The grace and glamour are gone," Judy Brusa said. "But the gowns here are exactly how people dress at the ball. Not just the first lady, but everybody that comes to the ball.

"This is special. People don't normally get to see this. It's usually in an area of the museum where it can be seen by appointment only."

The exhibit will remain at the Anderson Gallery through January and can be seen for free each day between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. It will then travel to Las Vegas where it will be on display for four months at the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society.

The exhibit will be brought back every four years to coincide with the gubernatorial elections.

The collection is included as part of the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center of the Nevada State Museum.

Gowns on display Wednesday were worn by Nevada first ladies beginning with Ida Pittman's two-piece, white brocade dress. The long bodice is accented by the matching belt and a slightly flared skirt. Pittman wore the dress in the 1940s. Her husband, Vail Pittman, took over as acting governor in July 24, 1945, until Jan. 6, 1947, when he began his first term as an elected governor. He served until 1950.

Jacalyn Laxalt wore a brocaded empire waist gown in 1967 featuring a low-cut back and a contrasting orange vermilion silk cummerbund. The dress was made by Emma Domb.

In 1951, Marjorie Russell, founder of the textile center, wore a lavender tulle gown with a fitted bodice that is boned like a 19th century corset. The fullness of the skirt was created by adding several layers of tulle, tulle ruching, a bias-cut acentate and by the use of panniers on each hip.

A few years later, in 1959, Bette Sawyer donned a spaghetti-strap beige gown embroidered with metallic thread. The slim shoulder treatment is balanced by the ballerina-length skirt. The ensemble was created by Contessa Originals of Reno.

The textile center is opened only by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling 687-6173. The collection can also be viewed via the Internet at

The center is a place for studying historic costumes and textiles.

Including the inaugural gowns, the center has 10,000 artifacts.


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