A mini-exhibit called "The Prettiest Dress I Ever Had" opened May 3 and will be displayed through July 31 at the Harvey County Historical Museum.

Harvey County Historical Museum Curator Kris Schmucker said the exhibit was inspired by the donation of a blue floor-length formal gown from the 1950s worn by Carol Sterling Geiger. The dress was given to the museum by Geiger's niece.

"The woman had pictures of her (aunt) wearing it and I thought that was such a pretty dress," Schmucker said. "She said the only jewelry she wore with it was earrings because the dress was the showstopper."

Schmucker included other formal gowns from the 1920s through the 1970s that would have been worn at prom or other formal functions in Harvey County.

It is interesting, Schmucker said, to see what was considered formal in rural areas for the young ladies of the day.

The variety of dresses shows museum visitors not only how much smaller people were decades ago, but also how fashion has changed throughout the years.

The earliest dress in the exhibit is an orange chiffon beaded flapper-style dress from the 1920s with the box the dress came in. The dress was purchased at Gordon's Clothes of Charm in Newton, which was run by Irene Gordon Holstein, according to Schmucker.

"You know that's handmade; it's so intricate and delicate," said Harvey County Historical Museum Director Catherine Goodwin.

A pair of floral dresses from the 1930s were worn by two sisters. One sister wore her dress to her senior formal while the other wore hers for her eighth grade graduation.

Some of the newest dresses in "The Prettiest Dress I Ever Had" are two 1970s-era ankle-length dresses — one a cream polyester gown and one a white lace gown.

The exhibit also includes several formal accessories including a sequined hat, elbow-length gloves with pearl buttons and a beaded purse.

"It's just a fun exhibit," Schmucker said.

Women often keep dresses they wore to special occasions as a way to remind themselves of that time.

"They looked beautiful in this dress and they wanted to keep it and pass it down," Goodwin said.

The Harvey County Historical Museum, located at 203 N. Main St. in Newton, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every first and third Saturday. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://hchm.org or call 316-283-2221.