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The Green Silk Dress

When I give tours of the Heritage Collection storage area, I show examples of everything from Ball jars to artwork to furniture to clothing. More often than not, the piece of clothing that gets the most oohs and aahs, sometimes even from the men, is an evening gown and matching coat from the Jackie Kennedy era. Both pieces are made of heavy silk dyed a bright spring green. They are heavily beaded and sequined. The ensemble was tailored by George Chen & Co., Ltd. of Peninsula Court Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Mildred Gay purchased the outfit in the early 1960s, and, as a testimonial to style and quality, wore the dress and coat on formal occasions for several decades, always with matching shoes and handbag. Even her earrings matched the beading. Mrs. Gay was born in Muncie in 1896 to a blacksmith and pool hall owner and his wife. She may have gained her love for fashion while working at McNaughton’s and its successor, Ball Stores. Her first husband, George Griffith, co-owned a company that manufactured and sold porch furniture, tables, and other furniture pieces. After his death at age 30, Mildred remarried, was widowed again, and then married Russell Gay.

In 2014, Kayla Wiles, a fashion major at Ball State University, interned in the collections department cataloging and photographing clothing. As a requirement of her internship, Kayla wrote a short paper about the fabric, style, and owner of one outfit in the collection. She chose this ensemble because, as she said, “While it is not the oldest, or the most elaborate piece in the museum’s collection, it is a stunning example of the elegance and thoughtfulness epitomized by 1960s style and dress.” I agree. It is, as Kayla said, “… a testament to Muncie’s once glamorous and thriving past.