“I don’t go out and solicit the dresses,” Archivist Peter Chinnici said. “They usually come to me.”
Chinnici opens the door to the underground archive storage unit, room P209. Scattered among scrapbooks and banners are about fifty Marlborough Graduation dresses dating back to 1911, with the most recent from 2002.
Though most alumnae hold onto their dresses for many decades, others donate theirs to the School, in some form or another.
“There was a woman in Long Beach whose mother had died,” Chinnici said. “When she was going through her things, the woman found her mother’s Graduation dress from 1937, still in its original box, all folded up.”
Coordinator of Community Outreach Miranda Payne ’94 long ago bequeathed her dress to Chinnici’s archive here on campus. She said her 1994 dress had a sweetheart neckline with puffy sleeves that went down to the elbow, was “so white it looked blue” and was topped off with a sash, which was purple in the front and tied into a bouquet of flowers in the back.
“I think it was such a traumatizing experience,” Payne said. “And I really didn’t need to see that dress again.”
Though the Graduation dresses, for the most part, have always been long and white, small intricacies in the design change from year to year. Before the School instituted yearbooks, each graduating senior had a “memory book” where she could record details of the fabric, dressmaker and design of her dress.
The Class of 2012 chose their Graduation dress in October, keeping in mind both earlier dresses and modern inspiration and styling. (Traditionally, the exact cut and style of Graduation dresses remain a surprise to the rest of the School until the day itself).
“We basically did a couple of mockups of what looks good, though there are a couple of darts you can’t get ride of,” Senior Class Co-President Chloe’12 said. “We agreed that it should be as simple as possible and recognized that it was going to be flattering on everyone.”
Though it takes up some space in a closet, keeping your own Graduation dresses is something most girls said they think they will do—at least for a few years.
“I’ve never really thought about it all that much,” Rebecca ’11 said. “My plan has been to keep [my dress] as long as I can. We’ll see what happens.”
Past Graduation dresses are brought out for alumnae events, and were used last March in the Marlborough Student Charitable Fund (MSCF) fundraiser fashion show at the Wilshire Ebell, “Decked out Through the Decades.”
“I don’t have the eye for fashion or the terminology to talk about it,” Chinnici said, explaining that he didn’t understand at first why so many almunae would want to hang on to their dresses. “[But] it speaks to this whole theme of community. Now I understand why they don’t want to give it up. It’s something that’s tangible.”