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Exhibit shows how Wichita women dressed in the 1950s

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, March 4, 2013, at 2:44 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 4, 2013, at 8:11 p.m.

If you want to see the kind of dresses upper-middle-class Wichita women wore in the mid-1950s, go to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

The museum on Tuesday opens an exhibit of 13 dresses sold around 1955 in the elegant Topaz Room of the Innes department store in downtown Wichita, on William between Market and Broadway. The building now houses the Finney State Office Building.

The dresses in the exhibit, despite being more than 50 years old, remain in pristine condition. They were carefully made with quality materials like silk satin, silk chiffon and wool crepe, in shades of black, blue and brown, said Jami Frazier Tracy, the museum’s curator of collections. They came with made-to-last buttons and extra stitching and details like satin-lined cuffs, satin piping and lace work.

Although the dresses came “ready to wear” in standard sizes, they were made in limited numbers and “were not stamped out on a factory line,” Tracy said. The styles are classic, form-hugging. They don’t look dated, she said.

The dresses cost about $200 each at the time they hung in the store, a lot of money in 1955. They were designed by the well-known Hollywood designer Howard Greer and were donated by the family of Anne Katherine “Pinkie” Phillips – daughter of Walter Innes and Laura Brown Innes.

The dresses are part of Wichita’s history. In 1927, Phillips’ father built the six-story Innes department store building. The store was known “to generations of devoted Wichita shoppers,” Tracy said.

In 1947, an eight-story addition was added, and it included the popular Innes Tea Room. The store was bought by Macy’s in the 1950s, then Dillard’s in 1986 before it closed in 1988. It later became the Finney State Office Building.

The exhibit shows how a well-to-do Wichita woman might have dressed up around 1955: She could have worn one of the dresses to a luncheon or a PTA or bridge club function and worn the same dress to cocktail party at night, Tracy said. Some of the dresses have a jacket; with the jacket, the dresses would have been proper enough during the day. Without a jacket, at night, they became a “gorgeous strapless cocktail dress,” she said.

If you want to see the kind of furniture, light fixtures and TVs and radios the same women might have used in their homes in their mid-century world, you can check out another exhibit at the museum: Furnishing the Atomic Age.

The museum, 204 S. Main, is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children and free for ages 6 and under. For more information, call 316-265-9314.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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