Wedding Dresses of the 1890s

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)

Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

Side Profile

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):

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Wedding Dress, Fox Dressmaking Company, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.115.1ab_F)

Side View

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.

Maker’s Label

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)

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.



Wedding Dresses of the 1880s

We now continue our journey through the world of wedding dresses with a look at the 1880s. By the 1880s, we can see the white wedding dress tend beginning to gain momentum as the epitome of fashion. Style-wise, wedding dresses in the 1880s followed the overall basic style of the 1880s characterized by the sharply-defined “shelf” bustle. To start, we just can’t seem to get away from the late 1870s/early 1880s…

Revue De La Mode, 1880

Now, we must admit that the dress that the bride’s companion is wearing steals the show with the elaborate embroidered design on the bodice but we digress… 🙂 Both dresses reflect the slender, upright silhouette characteristic of the Natural Form or Mid-Bustle Era.

Moving on into the 1880s, we see the bustle once again develop. Below is a fashion plate from the November 1883 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Peterson's Magazine, November 1883

Peterson’s Magazine, November 1883

The above wedding dress (second from the left) is described in Peterson’s as follows:

The wedding dress of white satin and white brocade; the underskirt is of white satin and has a full quilted trimming of the same around the bottom; the front is of brocaded satin and velvet; the train is long, slightly looped at the back under the panniers, and plain. The Princess corsage and panniers are of the satin, the later trimmed with lace and garlands of orange-blossoms, and looped with broad white satin ribbon. The plastron on the front of the orange is of white crepe-lisse edged with lace; orange-blossoms at the throat and on the head; long tulle veil (Peterson’s Magazine, November 1883, p. 440).

Orange blossoms were a common floral element for weddings, popularized by Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert. In terms of style, the wedding dress draws from the prevailing styles of the early 1880s, in this case a day dress with bodice designed to give the effect of a jacket being worn over shirt or waistcoat.

Here are some more interesting fashion notes in regard to wedding dress styles of the early 1880s from page 2 of the November 11, 1883 edition of Truth, published in New York City:

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From the above article, it’s evident that there were a wide variety of choices for the bride in choosing wedding dresses with white satin, white brocade, and white velvet taking the lead. Lace shawls were often worn and there are the ubiquitous orange blossoms.

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Florence Folger on her wedding day, December 14, 1887; Nantucket Historical Society ( P8740); Florence Folger married William A. Webster at Springfield, Massachusetts.

And at the same time, other colors were used for wedding dresses…

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Wedding portrait, c. late 1880s – early 1890s.

This portrait was taken in Minneapolis sometime either in the late 1880s or early 1890s. The only thing that could be construed as being white is the bride’s long veil. Interestingly enough, the bridesmaid’s dress appears to be more properly “wedding” with the lighter color. But, nevertheless this is a good example of the common day dress being pressed into service.

Wedding dresses could also be recycled…

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Wedding Dress, 1888; Missouri History Museum (1969-044-0000-(a-b)); Dress worn by Emma Johnson on her wedding day, October 17, 1888.

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The above wedding dress belonged to Emma Forbes (nee Johnson) who was married to Alexander Elias Forbes on October 17, 1888 in Des Moines, Iowa. As a side note, Emma Johnson lived from August 8, 1853 and died on December 2, 1905 at the age of 52. She was buried in St. Louis, Missouri and her grave can be found HERE.

Turning to the dress itself, the base fabric is an olive green satin trimmed with a brown/bronze colored silk running down the front of the bodice to create the effect of a robe. Running parallel on each side are strips of a patterned brocade that is also present on the sleeve cuffs. The most interesting thing is that dress was a re-worked dress from the 1850s that had been worn by Emma’s mother on her wedding day 38 years before on the same date. It’s a too bad that there are no better photographs available from the Missouri History Museum. Overall, it’s an amazing effort and definitely the 19th Century version of carrying on a family tradition.

Moving towards the later 1880s, we see the continuation of earlier styles. Here is an interesting example that was worn by Anna L. Stoner (nee McAfee) at her wedding on June 27, 1888:

Wedding Dress, 1888; Ohio State University, The Historic Fabrics and Textiles Collection (HCT.1999.19.1a-d)

Side Profile

Close-Up of painted flower panel.

This dress is constructed from an off-white novelty (a novelty weave is defined as any weave which varies or combines the basic weaves, plain, satin and twill). Running down the sides are silk satin panels with painted flowers. Below is a picture of Anna long with a wedding invitation:

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It’s amazing what one turns up when simply looking for dress examples… 🙂 Overall, this dress is interesting both for the use of wool woven in a novelty weave and painted flowers on silk satin panels. This would suggest that this was an economical version of the idealized wedding dress; usually some form of silk was the fabric of choice for the entire dress and the flowers would have either been embroidered as part of the fabric or attached as separate fabric flowers.

The above has been just a brief survey of wedding dresses during the 1880s and as was the case in the 1870s, wedding dresses might have taken many forms but the silhouette essentially followed the main style of the decade.  We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview and stay tuned was we go into the 1890s.



Wedding Dresses of the 1870s

When we think of a wedding dress today, we usually envision a bright eggshell white dress trimmed with lace. However, this has not always been the case and this was especially true during the 19th Century; the concept of an all-white dress solely dedicated to being used on only the wedding day was relatively limited to the more wealthy women because of the expense. The reality was that wedding dresses came in a variety of colors and styles, often dictated by finances, availability of materials, and location. In many instances, the wedding dress was simply a woman’s “best dress” and was worn on formal occasions long after the wedding itself.

Wedding Dress1

The color white has not always been associated with weddings per se in Western culture although is has been associated with purity. For example, during the Middle Ages, white was actually considered the color of mourning. During the 19th Century, the association of white with weddings (e.g., white weddings) is said to have begun with Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert on February 10, 1840 when Victoria wore a white (or more properly a cream-colored) wedding gown. In regard to the dress, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary:

I wore a white satin dress, with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design. My jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace & earrings & dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.

With Queen Victoria’s choice of a white wedding gown, a trend was started (at least among the more wealth) which slowly developed over the remainder of the 19th Century. In regard to this trend, the August 1849 edition (page 440) of Godey’s Lady’s Book stated that:

Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.

We have now come to that subject which is said to engross the thoughts of a young lady from the time she comes out until she is married. The choice of a wedding dress!

Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one. Now and then a fashion of light silks or satins comes in vogue, but is not generally adopted. White, then, let it be, if it is the simple muslin of the pretty country girl, who needs no foreign ornament, or the satin and Brussels lace, or the silver brocade of a Parisian countess. This, be it understood, if one is married at home. Of late, it has been quite common to be married in a traveling dress, and have the same tears shed for the ceremony among the bride’s friends, answer for the parting. A bridal tour being considered, by some ladies, quite as indispensable as a wedding ring.

Below are some examples of wedding dresses as depicted in fashion plates. Although the plates coloring depicts the dresses in pure white, in reality, the color chosen was often more of a cream or ivory.

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, November 1875.

Magasin Des Demoiselles, 1876

Turning to the dresses themselves, here is one example of a late 1870s wedding dress:

Wedding Dress, c. 1878; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.83.231.20a-b)

Wedding Dress, c. 1878; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.83.231.20a-b)

Allowing for age and museum lighting, the color of the dress is of a shade of off-white, especially when compared to the accompanying veil.

Below is an interesting wedding dress dated from 1874 that done in a polonaise style in a silk gauze:

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Wedding Dress, English, 1874; Victoria & Albert Museum ( T.68 to E-1962)

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The above dress belongs to the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and according to the Museum website, the bride that originally wore this dress was Lucretia Crouch, who married Benjamin Seebohm at the Friend’s Meeting House in Clevedon, 10 September 1874.  Both the bride and groom were Quakers who, as a rule, favored mainstream styles of clothing at this time.

The dress itself was made of a cream-colored silk gauze with narrow narrow opaque stripes and trimmed with cream silk embroidered net lace. A three-quarters length bodice with flared sleeves and attached draped polonaise overskirt bordered with lace. The bodice fastens with hooks and eyes in the centre front and with a ‘V’ neck. The underskirt is full-length and is constructed from the same silk gauze edged with three flounces of lace with edges of lace attachment to the bodice and skirt of silk satin rouleaux, and an additional row of rouleaux on the sleeve edges. The bodice front and polonaise overskirt are trimmed with silk satin ribbon bows. There is also a belt sash of silk satin lined with cream silk which has a fastener in the center front that is camouflaged with a satin bow. Finally, a large silk gauze and net lace bow supported with a stiff cotton gauze interlining and is attached to the back of the belt.

Now on the flip side, consider this:

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Wedding Dress, 1874; Chicago History Museum (1946.31a-d)

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This dress is constructed of a green silk taffeta and was worn by  by Mrs. Robert S. Elder, née Harriet Newell Dewey, mother of the donors of the dress, to her wedding in 1874. What is nice about the above example is that the provenance of the dress is firm and as such, it does demonstrate that other colors were used, even while the trend towards white was gaining momentum.

Here is another example of a wedding dress from 1879:

Wedding Dress, 1879; from antiquedress.com

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This dress style is in a princess line constructed of silk featuring two contrasting colors, blue and white. If you look closely at the pictures, the white portions appear to be of a silk damask (the detail shows up best on the sleeve). This style is characteristic of the late 1870s with a minimal bustle although it still has a train.

The provenance of this dress is excellent (I double-checked it on Ancestry.com), it was worn by a Hattie Ray (nee Pagin) at her wedding to Hugh G. Ray on June 5, 1879 in Frankville Township , Winneshiek County, Iowa. There is no doubt that this dress was a more practical style of wedding dress that was suitable for wear as a “best dress.”

Here is a dress from 1872 that is interesting in that while it’s a wedding dress, it’s a relatively simple one with somewhat minimal trim. Yes, it’s still pretty busy by today’s standards but by the standards of the 1870s, not so much. 🙂

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Wedding Dress, 1872; Metropolitan Museum of Art (35.78.1a, b)

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The above dress is relatively restrained compared to regular day dresses of the early 1870s and the train is fairly simple. Probably the greatest extravagance is the fringe running along the mid-front of the dress and flowers.

Below are two more examples, one from 1878 – 1879 and the other from 1880. Both of them are interesting in the use of asymmetrical trim and especially the 1880 dress.

Wedding Dress, c. 1878 – 1879; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.339.2)

Close-Up of the hem/guard.

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Wedding Dress, 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (34.95.1)

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Close-Up

While an all-white wedding dress was considered to be the ideal, it’s evident that wedding dresses of other colors were used, either by themselves or combined with white. However, it as a trend, the all-white wedding dress was gaining ground and especially since it was a status symbol. Weddings have traditionally been more than just a ceremony to mark the start of a formal relationship, it was also an occasion for families to display their status and respectability, concepts which were of the utmost importance to Victorians. The wedding ceremony, and the wedding dress by extension, were essential to the family and the bride demonstrating that they were respectable elements of society. Granted, this was the ideal but it was a major driver of social behaviors.

Finally, the development of the wedding dress is a prime example of how fashions have been traditionally transmitted, starting with those of higher social stature (such as Queen Victoria) and then slow spreading downward in society. In the case of America, while it often stated that it was a less structured society with much social mobility, when it came to fashion the same situation applied only with industrialists and businessmen taking the places of aristocrats (ok, that’s a broad oversimplification but it works here).

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Wedding Dress, 1875

So, on a more practical level, if one is searching for recreating a wedding dress from the late 19th Century, there are a wide variety of choices that are available and one does not have to settle for some shade of white. Also, in terms of style, one has choices in that a day dress, evening dress, or even ball gown style can be adapted for use.

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Wedding Dress, 1871; The rug certainly adds an interesting ambience to the picture.

We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview and stay tuned for further installments taking wedding gowns into the the 1880s and 1890s.



Stepping Back To 1878…

And for a change of pace, we step back a few decades to circa 1878 with this wonderful Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form day dress that’s identified as a wedding dress1This dress is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection and on their web site, the dress as identified as a “Wedding Ensemble”, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/156665. Unfortunately, they don’t provide any information on how they arrived at that conclusion so this has to be taken with a grain of salt.:

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Below is a nice close-up showing details of the fashion fabric and some of the details.

Side Profile

This dress is constructed of an embroidered wine colored stripped silk satin for the overskirt and bodice combined with a purple silk satin for the underskirt, bodice front and cuffs. Finally around the cuffs, there’s a think band of the purple silk sating that’s been pleated and finished off with white lace. In terms of silhouette, this one is cylindrical, characteristic of the Mid-Bustle Era and has no train. The bodice is a cuirass style, falling over the hips. The decorate effect on the underskirt hem is interesting, employing a combination of pleating, ruching, and use of the stripped fashion fabric in the form of vertical tabs running along the upper hem.

Now, as for the dress being a wedding dress, this is a very possible. Unfortunately, there’s no documentation posted online at the Met Museum website and we can only assume that there is documentation but that it didn’t make it online for reasons unknown. But nevertheless, this dress could have been used as a wedding dress in that during the late Nineteenth Century, the use of white as THE wedding dress color was not a rigid convention; a wedding dress was often a bride’s best dress and was meant for wear long after the wedding. Moreover, the idea that one would have a specific dress to be worn only on the wedding day and then put away was also not the norm and in fact, was simply not feasible for most people, not to mention that it was viewed as wasteful. The idea of the one-use wedding dress would start to develop towards the end of the Nineteenth Century but only by the very rich.2For a more complete discussion of wedding dresses, check these posts HERE, HERE, and HERE. Ultimately, this dress presents a classic late 1870s/early 1880s day look and works for a variety of social occasions. 🙂

The Josephine…

Most of our Lily Absinthe Bridal designs tend to be ethereal and soft…this is our “Josephine”, a soft blue corset with an even softer sheer skirt, embroidered with lace and flower petals, worn over a pretty pale blue soft petticoat with oodles of ruffles. Her chapeau is designed and made by the talented Shurie Southcott of Lady Bird’s Hatberdashery. ♡