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Victorian high style to be on display at high tea

Joyce Hollister, Staff Writer

Long dresses, bustles, big hats, gloves and button-up shoes once made up the must-have wardrobe for a lady of high fashion.

K.C. Brennan ought to know, for she has in her collection over 200 authentic gowns from the Victorian period.

Four of her Victorian gowns and the correct accessories to go with them will be the highlight of the first Carson Valley Historical Society Victorian Valentine High Tea and Fashion Show in February.

“I’m going to be walking around with the four Victorian outfits from that era depicting certain events – like a wedding dress from the 1860s and a pioneer dress that is actually 1850s style, but was made in the 1860s,” Brennan said.

The third dress will be from the 1870s, a grosgrain, maroon-colored gown, a very heavy, high-style English dress with meticulous detail. It had been owned and worn by a woman and her daughter in England when they opened their Victorian home for public tours.

“The lady who had it wore it a lot, then it went to her daughter,” Brennan said. The gown had suffered damage but had been expertly repaired. The outside of the dress is still authentic, though some of the interior parts were replaced by modern materials.

The fourth dress is a ball gown from the 1880s, made wool with a gold thread design.

“It is a stunning piece,” Brennan said. “It definitely was worn for special, special occasions and is very, very elegant.”

In addition, Brennan will show other Victorian feminine articles on a table at the event, including a bustle from the 1880s and a number of hats.

“Throughout the entire tea,” she said, “I will roam around and be answering questions.”

Brennan started her collection after listening to stories of the Victorian era by her great-grandmother.

“It was very interesting to me, so I started reading books,” Brennan said. She researched Victorian clothing and fabrics, and then became interested in women artists of the period. Brennan is an art teacher at Pinon Hills and Jacks Valley elementary schools.

Brennan buys her Victorian gowns and accessories, and she has two criteria: they have to fit her and not require repair, because she doesn’t sew. Since she wears them and some of the gowns are fragile, they suffer some damage.

Netti Sewell of Netti’s in Gardnerville has worked wonders with many of her dresses, she said.

“They really ought not to be worn,” Brennan admitted. “But I love to display them, and this is a way to display them. It makes it wonderful for people to see. In museums, they’re (old clothes) are in a closet, and you have to be invited to see them.”

Brennan and her husband Ric are form Florida and lived at the Lake for a couple of year before moving to the Foothills area. They rent an old house and have filled it with their collections of antiques.

Now her focus is on Western clothing, which can be hard to find, because the clothing was worn, for the most part, by working people, and thus didn’t last. She is also looking for Native American authentic clothing.

“I do have one plains Indian ceremonial dress, a jingle dress for a young woman,” she said. “I would really like to put that in a show, it’s a beautiful piece that is turn of the century.”

In addition to the 200 outfits, Brennan also has about 400 other pieces, from accessories to skirts without tops and blouses without skirts, furs, gloves, hats – and 60 pairs of Victorian shoes. The shoes fit her, but Brennan doesn’t wear them all because some are so fragile.

Brennan did many shows in Florida with her collection and would like to do a couple every year here. She charges to perform her fashion shows but uses the money she earns to purchase more Victoriana.

“If I can do that, I can go out and buy new stuff,” she said.

The Victorian Valentine High TEa and Fashion Show will be held at 1 p.m. at the River Bend Grille, Genoa Lakes Golf Course.

Tickets are $25 per person and will be sold only in advance. Raffle tickets will be sold for $1 each or six for $5, and the rand prize is an overnight stay at Sorensen’s, donated by Sorensen’s in Hope Valley.

Tickets are available at the Carson vAlley Museum and Cultural Center gift Shop, 1477 Highway 395, Gardnerville. for further information or to order tickets by mail, call Terri Hickey, 782-2164, or Roxanne Manfredi, 265-4328.