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:
Wedding Dress, c. 1877; Whitaker Auctions
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:
Wedding Dress, c. 1878-1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art ( C.I.39.111.3)
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:
Wedding Dress, c. 1878; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.83.231.20a-b)
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:
Wedding Dress, c. 1878 – 1879; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.339.2)
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.
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