Bridesmaid dresses have been a staple of weddings for over 100 years and even today are a fixture for most weddings. For the typical wedding involving two or more bridesmaids, it is standard for the bridesmaids to be wearing dresses of a uniform style and color, thereby providing a canvas for the the bride to show brightly (after all, it is HER day… 🙂 ). However, the bridesmaid dress is often of a style that pleases nobody and in recent years there’s been a lot of resistance to the idea to the point where they’re being dispensed with for some.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, wedding customs evevolved and by the early 1900s, the typical wedding that we know today had taken form to include the distinct bridesmaid dress. Here are some examples:
Judging from the dress and hat styles, this was probably taken sometime around 1910 or so and what’s striking about it is that the bridesmaid dresses s are fairly uniform. While they appear to be of one style and made from the same material, there are variations in the trim on each woman’s skirt.
And here’s a few more from roughly the same time:
In this picture, the bride is almost indistinguishable from the bridesmaids except for the hat.
It’s an interesting to see that uniform bridesmaid dresses were a thing a hundred years ago. In future posts, we’ll look a little further back so stay tuned! 🙂
hile the the 26th Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibition at the FIDM Museum was a bit of a disappointment, there were some items in the Museum’s permanent collection that made up for it immensely. One such item was an evening gown designed by Gustave Beer circa 1912 – 1913:
Gustave Beer, Evening Gown, c. 1912 -1913; FIDM Museum
The gown is constructed from a gold silk charmeuse combined with a jeweled applique floral pattern. The silhouette is the loose Classic Grecian inspired nouveau directoire style with empire waist. In contrast to the tightly sculpted structural styles of the 1890s and early 1900s styles, this dress was draped, relying only on the garment itself to create its lines. While corsets are still utilized for foundation wear in 1912-13, it was now submerged, masked by the flowing lines of the dress. Here are some more views:
Three-Quarter Front Profile
Close-Up Three-Quarter Front Profile
Here we get a better look at the decoration and trim. Jeweled netting sweeps over the dress from the waist down, serving to emphasize the decorative pattern on the dress front.
This somewhat blurred picture (unfortunately, other visitors kept getting in the way) give a side view of the dress, emphasizing the slender, cylindrical silhouette of the dress while at the same time showing off the train.
The train itself is magnificent and it’s a piece of art in itself, serving as a canvas for an elaborate jeweled/embroidered floral pattern. The outside border is especially striking and very reminiscent of classical design motifs. This dress was a definite bright spot in our day! 🙂
For Paul Poiret, the war years were a professional void. Recalled to military service in 1914, Poiret spend most of the war serving in a number of positions centered around the provision of uniforms. for the French Army. To read his autobiography, it’s evident that the war years were both financially and professionally unsatisfying. However, Poiret was able to keep his hand somewhat by creating designs that were to be licensed for production in the United States. Below is just one design that appeared in the March 1916 issue of The Women’s Home Companion:
And here’s some more details:
Suitable for sorts of afternoon and informal evening occasions, this costume designed by the couturier Paul Poiret can be made at home from a Woman’s Home Companion pattern. The price of the pattern is $1.50; its number 2990 and it is cut in 36, 38, and 40-inch bust measures. It may be ordered from the Pattern Department, Woman’s Home Companion, 381 Fourth Avenue, New York City.
The illustrator has done an excellent job of presenting this design in the most optimal manner, portraying a simple, one-piece unstructured garment with a relatively short skirt and pleated hem. With it’s simple lines reminiscent of his earlier Nouveau Directoire and Classical Greek inspired styles, this dress was a reflection of the the changes fashion was undergoing during the second decade of the 20th Century.
Poiret’s signature hobble skirt is gone, replaced by something far more free-flowing and practical. Spurred by the impacts of the war, fashion had evolved to more practical styles and it would seem that Poiret was adapting. Of course, this also could simply have been his effort to keep his name out in the market (and supplement his meager Army pay) by churning out quick and simple designs. It certainly poses some interesting questions in that it’s clear that Poiret was quite capable of designing practical garments in spire of his learning towards the more fantastical.
This is an area that bears further examination and hopefully we’ll be able to unearth further examples to post here.
With the shift towards unstructured fashions during the 1910s, it appeared to many that the corset’s days were numbered as a major fashion item. Leading the way, designers such as Paul Poiret and Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix introduced styles that harkened back to Classical Greece and the Directoire, styles that were diametrically opposed to the tightly structured s-bend corset/pouter pigeon silhouette of the early 1900s. However, while garments themselves were no longer structured to follow the lines of the corset, the corset still lived on in modified forms such as the ones pictured in this advertisements published in the August 15, 1914 edition of Vogue Magazine:
Now the emphasis was on styles that were free and unrestrained yet at the same time, the body was still structured. What is also interesting is that the advertisement refers to a style created by Margaine-Lacroix, a designer who had recently acquired notoriety for a series of skin-tight body contour dresses that defied convention. However as seen below, many of Margaine-Lacroix’s designs were squarely within the major trends of the time:
Margaine-Lacroix, Dress, c. 1908 – 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.32)
Flat Detail View
As with fashion in general, foundation garments were also changing but their effect was somewhat more muted and in another ten years, fashions would evolve into even more unstructured styles. Stay tuned for more as we bring forward various bits and pieces of fashion history for your please. 🙂
In the course of researching something completely different, I came across some fashion advice that was attributed to Paul Poiret in the September 24, 1913 edition of the Los Angeles Herald:
…”select your gown according to the temperature, your mood, your temperament, whether you are at the seashore, in town or in the country, because gowns express every motion or condition.” M. Paul Poirot, the great Paris costumer, who is the creator of the tight skirt and other Innovations which were regarded as equally audacious when they made their advent, so declared today and added; “The simplest thing always looks the most original and I always strive for simplicity above everything…”
Poiret’s advice is timeless (although we could take issue with the always strive for simplicity part) and it could just as easily been said by any number of designers part or present. However, what is unique is that what a person wears does express every motion or condition, a fact that’s been noted by both designers and psychologists. 🙂