Bridal gowns are my happiest of client work! Most of my detail work is done by hand…truly made with love. 🙂
As a follow-up from yesterday’s post, here’s a little commentary on colors for bridesmaid dresses from the February 1883 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:
Quite a new departure has been taken recently in the adoption of colors for the dresses of bridesmaids instead of the repetition of the conventional white. Why it should ever have been considered necessary for bridesmaids to wear white does not appear. There is a pretty sentiment in the purity of the robes of the bride, but the bridesmaids ought to be differentiated in some way from their companion who is about to take a serious step, and separate herself forever from the old happy life. It ought to represent the innocence and joyousness of youth, the free hopeful spirit which is still theirs, and which would naturally express itself in tints and colors, in light delicate green, mauve, pink, and dull pale gold.
It’s interesting to note that it seems that having both the bride and all the bridesmaids all in white was a thing, at least in some weddings. The writer makes an interesting point in that visually, the bride should stand apart because of the significance of getting married. This is an interesting tidbit and just reveals that when it came to wedding dress protocol, things were a lot more mixed than what we’d expect.
Bridesmaid dresses have always played a role in just about any 19th Century wedding and especially during the 1880s and 90s. Today, we take a look at this circa 1883 example worn by a one Isabella Cameron Murray who was a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding on March 21, 1883 in Sydney, Australia. This dress is also somewhat rare in that its provenance has been firmly established and can be firmly dated to 1883.1For a full account of Isabella Murray and the significance of the wedding, the full story can be found HERE.
The bodice and skirt are constructed from a creme-colored merino wool fabric and trimmed with lace on the neck, cuffs, and skirt. The skirt is trimmed with four rows of ruching and the bottom hem has long box pleats. The skirt bottom has a hem guard that appears to be of a dark blue sateen and, according to the museum website, is also lined with the same dark blue sateen. Finally, the rear of skirt has a built-up train topped off by a large blue silk satin bow. Below are close-ups of the bodice:
The bodice is closed with pearl glass buttons and they’re fully functional.
And more of an extreme close-up. Note the twill weave pattern of the fashion fabric.
Another close-up of the fashion fabric:
And now for some side profile views:
The dress silhouette could be characterized as “transitional” in that while it still retains much of the cylindrical shape of the earlier Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era, there’s also a much more developed train that was no doubt support by some sort of bustle support. It’s not quite as extreme as the later “shelf bustle” styles of Late Bustle Era of the mid to late 1880s but it’s heading in that direction.
Below is a close-up of the ruching on the skirt front:
And finally, some of the lace trim:
This is definitely could be considered a more modest, practical dress based on the use of wool merino as the fashion fabric and the minimal trim and it would have seen a lot of use as a “best dress” after the wedding. Perhaps the fabric choice was more a function of not wanting to upstage the bride or simple economics but either way, it’s an interesting example of a dress worn for a formal occasion that’s not made of a silk satin and that alone makes it compelling to us. We hoped that you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of 1880s bridal fashion, especially as it applies to the often maligned “bridesmaid dress.” 🙂
The Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era only lasted a short five years but it provided an interesting counterpoint to the heavily bustled/trained styles of the early 1870s and mid to late 1880s and especially as it applied to wedding dresses. As noted in a previous post, the typical wedding dress came in a variety of styles and could pretty much be any better quality dress. However, at the same time, styles that were more specific to the occasion were coming into fashion and would later be associated with the “traditional white wedding.” Below are just a few examples of specific wedding dresses from the late 1870s, starting with this circa 1877 wedding dress:
This dress has a distinct princess line with no waistband and from the limited pictures, it appears that it opened down the front about half-way. The fashion fabric appears to be an ivory silk taffeta trimmed with gold silk satin along the edges of the train and large strips running along the front of the dress. Along with the silk satin strips along the front, there are rows of knife pleating. The area around the neckline is interesting in that there’s a yoke made up of built-up alternating strips of silk satin and taffeta topped off by a ruched neckline. Here’s a closer view of the upper part of the dress:
Below is a close-up of the yoke front and back:
And finally, a close-up of the sleeve with a double-row of knife pleating:
This dress is interesting but one can’t help but think that it’s incredibly ill-fitting. However, we believe that this is due to poor staging than to ay inherent flaw of the dress. No doubt it was supported by well-fitted petticoats and perhaps padding but unfortunately, there’s little information about the dress online. In any event, it’s an interesting wedding dress style.
Next is a wedding dress from circa 1878-1880 that combines what appears to be a gold silk jacquard floral patterned one-piece bodice and long trained overskirt with a separate gold silk satin underskirt:
This dress is similar to the first in that it has no defined waist band. Although not a “pure” princess line dress, it achieves a similar effect by combining a unified bodice and long trained overskirt of a gold jacquard floral pattern with a gold silk satin underskirt trimmed with a knife-pleated hem. The bodice is front-opening with a square neckline trimmed with a ruched silk satin neckband. Further accentuating the neckline are three narrow bands of silk satin. The dress is relatively unadorned with no lace and has a simplicity to it.
Finally, we have this circa 1878 wedding dress:
Compared to the first two examples, this one is more conventional, consisting of a separate cuirass bodice and skirt, all made of a gold/ivory silk satin. The bodice covers the hips and emphasizes vertical lines, aided by the use of style lines that place emphasis on the vertical plane. The skirt, on the other hand, emphasizes horizontal lines with circular ruching and pleating and ribbon bows. The hem consists of one row of deep knife pleating and with a line of ruching running along the top edge. Unfortunately, there aren’t any other photos that give views from the side or back so we can only speculate but it no doubt has a long train, standard for wedding dresses of the period.
Finally, here’s an exquisite example of of a circa 1878-1879 wedding dress from the Met:
In terms of silhouette, this dress follows the late 1870s style and like the previous examples, it emphasizes vertical lines and minimizes the waist; in this case there’s no defined waist band. This press isn’t a “princess line” strictly speaking, the bodice and skirt were most likely attached to each other and masked by the swagging. The fashion fabric on the bodice and main skirt appears to be an ivory silk taffeta, covered by asymmetric strips of gold silk satin with a floral pattern. Running on top of the gold silk satin strips are more narrow strips of a bengaline fabric with fringed ends. Finally, running along the entire hem are two rows of pleated ivory bengaline-like fabric. Below is a side profile:
The train skirt is square-cut at the end and continues the two rows of bengaline trim along with an added layer of fringed trim. Below is a close-up of the decorative trim:
This dress an interesting combination of vertical and horizontal lines with the bodice being relatively unadorned while the skirt is the complete opposite. The trim is asymmetrical, following a natural vertical spiral while at the same time filling the horizontal plane with detail.
The above four dresses are all from the same era but display different design elements. The silhouettes are similar but the individual details vary. However, the colors are pretty much the same- a gold/ivory (depending on the lighting in the photography and one’s particular computer monitor). What’s interesting about all three dresses is that even for their similarity, they still avoid the “white wedding” aesthetic that was to later dominate wedding dresses during the 20th Century.
Today we wander back to a more historical wedding dress theme, travelling (virtually) to Finland to take a look at this interesting wedding dress that was made in 1882 for a one Constance Sofia von Scharnhorst (nee Von Ammondt ):
This dress follows a fairly conventional early to mid 1880s silhouette; the “natural form” style was passé and was once again shifting towards a trained/bustle style. Although there’s not a lot of detail about specific materials, it can be safely assumed that we’re looking at a silver gray/gray silk taffeta and/or silk satin. The skirt and bodice front have detailed ruching along with silk satin cross-hatching running in a strip, spiraling up the skirt front. Below the satin strips is a duller-toned fabric, probably silk taffeta. The same cross-hatching is also present in the three-quarter sleeves and is reminiscent of Renaissance styles. Completing the skirt decoration is a strip of lace mounted below the cross-hatching. The overall effect is interesting in that while the basic gray color appears the same, the dull and shiny lusters of the various fabrics creates the illusion of there being different colors. Of course, we may be wrong since we only have two photos to go on but it’s still interesting. Finally, it must be noted that the hem consists of three rows of knife pleating. And here’s a more detailed view of the skirt:
As can be seen from the above detail picture, there’s a lot of decorative style effects going on here, perhaps too much, but it’s a wedding dress… 🙂 What’s also interesting is that the train is relatively plain compared to the main skirt. The overall effect is amazing and it just staggers the imagination thinking about all the hours that went into creating the various effects for the skirt alone. This is definitely a magnificent dress and we look forward to one day replicating this style, or a close approximation, for one of our clients. 🙂