Since I got married over the weekend, I thought I’d present to you something you’re probably not used to seeing: a wedding dress in brown (no, I’m not wearing a dress at my wedding!). If this doesn’t conjure up visions of Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke, nothing will! I think it is interesting about traditions that have passed, and exactly why they became traditions.
|Ellen Curtis (1850–1923, US), Wedding Dress, 1879. Brown silks. © Cincinnati Art Museum.|
When Queen Victoria (1819–1901 Britain) got married in 1840, she set a style of wedding dress (white for “purity”) that has endured to the 21st century (Say Yes to the Dress, etc.). Before that time, a bride simply wore her fanciest dress, regardless of the color. Wealthy women who could buy a new dress usually wore brown or green. These colors were traditional, symbolizing fertility. I guess purity and fertility as symbols of a wedding dress seem rather old-fashioned to us nowadays, but the white wedding dress has really stood the test of time. Think of Billy Idol’s White Wedding!
The bustle was the descendant from the crinoline (hoop skirt) of the 1850s and 1860s. It was a collapsible cage covered in linen that was supposed to make sitting easy. If one looks at furniture from the period, there were many chairs designed to accommodate the bustle and train, i.e. with shorter legs, wider seats and typically no arms. While the style seems a bit outlandish to us, it harks back to women’s dresses of the late 1600s which also took on outlandish proportions.
Ellen Curtis was a dressmaker in Cincinnati. She wore many of her own designs, such as this wedding dress, advertising her beautiful sewing ability in order to sell her dresses. Such a complicated outfit would have been made to order after a fitting. Can you imagine a shop full of outfits like this on hangers in different sizes??
Here are some other atypical (to what we’re used to in the 21st century) wedding gowns from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute (an AWESOME collection), including an odd short dress from the 1930s:
|United States, Wedding Dress, 1776. Silk. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Edith Viele, 1949. 2009.300.731|
|United States, Wedding Dress, 1871. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Miss Emma E. Batchelor, 1958. C.I.58.5.1a–c.|
|United States, Wedding Dress, 1879. Silk. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Thomas W. Hotchkiss, 1939. 2009.300.3017.|
|United States, Wedding Dress, 1884. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Mabel A. Lawrence, 1949. C.I.49.26a, b.|
|United States, Wedding Dress, ca. 1868. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Ward Burgess, 1952. C.I.52.29.1a–c.|
|Madeleine Vionnet, Wedding Dress, 1938. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Anthony Wilson, 1979. 1979.344.7.|
If you want to get lost in wedding gowns, check out the Metropolitan Museum’s entire collection that’s online.