For wedding dresses, the late 19th Century was a time of change in terms of what was considered proper for a wedding. In the 1870s, weddings tended to be small affairs held at home with little or none of the trappings that we today associate with weddings. But at the same time, marriages among the wealthy elite began to grow into large scale affairs that were meant to be more of a public spectacle/social “happening” than an intimate affair centering around getting married.
John Henry Frederick Bacon, The Wedding Morning, 1892
Also, with the rise of the mass market consumer culture, companies offered a wide variety of wedding goods to include wedding rings, wedding dresses, specific wedding gifts, et al. In order to stimulate demand, efforts were made to generate business by creating traditions and then marketing them, spurred along by the increasingly elaborate weddings staged by the wealthy. In many cases, marketing centered on the idea that an elaborate wedding was essential towards maintaining social status. Of course, this was the ideal and not always followed; it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that the bridal industry truly began to take shape and develop into what we know today.
Charles Dana Gibson, The Night Before Her Wedding
The 1890s saw a continuation of wedding dress trends that developed during the 1870s and 1880s. Wedding dresses still came in both colors and white but the trend towards the white wedding was we understand it today continued, spurred along by the development of a mass consumer economy.
Wedding Party, c. early 1890s
Below is an interesting example of a non-white wedding dress in a gray-green. This dress was made by a Mary Molloy, a local dress maker in Saint Paul, Minnesota for Martha L. Berry (nee English) for her wedding day on July 6, 1891:
Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)
The above wedding dress is fairly restrained and it’s obvious that it was meant for use long beyond the wedding date. The construction appears to be mostly likely silk with silver beading; the lapels are wide so as to permit an elaborate silver beading pattern. Also, there is further beading along the bottom of the bodice. Finally, one can see a small, vestigial bustle.
Turning towards more specific wedding dresses, here is an example from 1892 that was made by the Fox Dressmaking Company of New York (a concern that was actually run by four sisters, catering to an exclusive clientele):
Wedding Dress, Fox Dressmaking Company, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.115.1ab_F)
Rear View & Train
Close-Up Of Bodice
Close-Up Of Left Upper Sleeve
Close-Up Of Trim Design
Close-Up Of Neckline
Close-Up Of Fashion Fabric; If one looks very closely they can see that the stripes are straight and that embroidery has been added to create a swirling effect.
The base fashion fabric for this dress consists alternating stripes of silk satin and faille in an ivory/gold. The difference in the weaves of the satin and faille makes for a difference in lusters and this in turn gives the dress an interesting visual effect: while the satin gives a right, lustrous appearance, the faille provides a duller luster, each one complementing the other. Considering that most weddings during this time were held in the morning (and especially society weddings), a dress completely made of satin would probably been too bright thus the faille tones it down a bit. Of course, this is just conjecture on our part. 🙂
In contrast to the sleeves and skirt, and train, the bodice is covered in lace and pearls combined with silk ribbon ruching along the neckline and ribbon trim along the hem of the bodice. The pearls and lace definitely take center focus, drawing the eye of the viewer. Combined with the fashion fabric, this dress reads opulent and it’s certainly the rival of Worth and Doucet.
Wedding dresses could also be restrained such as this one made in 1896 by the House of Worth:
Wedding Dress, Worth, French, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.1)
Close-up of the bodice.
Close-up of the upper left sleeve and shoulder.
Close-up of the lower sleeve.
Here we see the height of wedding fashion for 1896 with the characteristic leg of mutton sleeves. The dress is constructed from an ivory silk brocade with a minimum of lace at the cuffs and pearl trim on the neckline. The look is relatively restrained with clean lines. The dress gets its impact from the symmetrical floral leaf pattern running down the front of the dress and skirt, a look facilitated by the one-piece princess line design. The sleeve design is reminiscent of late Medieval styles.
The above has only been a small sampling of what is out there but we think that it provides some interesting wedding ideas. At the same time, it also demonstrates that wedding traditions are never set in stone, as much as the marketers would like us to believe, but rather they are constantly evolving.