Sunday, August 13, 2017

CoBloWriMo: Visual Source, Favorite Fabric, and Pro Tip

Visual Source

I love fashion plates. As I'll be discussing in the next episode of my podcast, problems can arise in interpreting them to get at the actual clothing worn at the time, but they can be extraordinary sources for understanding the sequences of high fashion - how and when changes happened. For the detailed timeline of fashion (and my dating of the garments themselves) in Regency Women's Dress, I pored over three decades of fashion plates in La Belle Assemblée, the Journal des Dames et des Modes, and Ackermann's Repository.

Lady in a robe à la turque, Cabinet des Modes, November 1, 1786
Anyway, in the course of my researches, I've translated a lot of fashion plate captions and accompanying texts on this blog. You can view them through the tags:

Galerie des Modes

Magasin des Modes/Cabinet des Modes (same magazine, different titles)

You might have noticed that I've stopped doing these - it just seemed like there wasn't very much interest in the MdM/CdM, which started in the late 1780s and went into the early 1790s at least. I've proposed publishing the GdM as a coffee-table book to editors and museums and have gotten no interest back, so I'd love to self-publish it. The Bunka Gakuen Library offered me a very good discounted rate for use of the images, but due to the volume it would still be a huge chunk of change. (Doing that is my most ridiculously high Patreon goal.) I'd Kickstart it, but I don't want to do that before we have 100% delivery on the results of the Dragonrose Historic Patterns Kickstarter, since I suspect a lot of people would be turned off by that. For now, these visual sources are available here.

Favorite Fabric

I can't think of a real single favorite fabric I have, but I can say that the cotton madras check I used to make my "Clarissa" dress was a real winner!

The yellows were bright enough to be cheery, but not glaring, and the texture was buttery soft. I only wish that I had more to make a modern sundress with.

Pro Tip

I don't mean to copy Demented Fairy, but hand-sewing really is the best tip for anyone, whether it's just basting layers together, doing binding or a piped seam, or making an entire pre-sewing-machine-period garment. You have much more control and can make much more subtle alterations on the go, without having to stop, unpick, and redo.

Another is tip is to learn to work with patterns from books, whether Janet Arnold's, Norah Waugh's, Carl Kohler's, or mine. The best thing is to use them to create custom pieces for yourself in order to get the smoothest fit (I have a tutorial on that!), but you can also take a cheap commercial pattern or a bodice block and alter it to look more like the historically accurate pattern shapes, shifting or adding seamlines and darts.

Third tip! It's worth it to pay more for the right fabric, or to choose to make what fits with the fabric you can afford - gowns made in cotton that should be silk, or a heavy quilting cotton that should be lightweight, don't hang the way they should. They don't feel quite right when you're wearing them. A few years ago I started buying silk (or a good substitute) when I needed it, and it makes a big difference.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Most Beguiling Accomplishment: the Podcast

Yep, it's happened! I was serious about starting a podcast, and I followed through, thanks to my excellent Patreon patrons. This first episode jumps right in as a verbal version of the Before Victoria series of posts.

The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, Sir George Hayter, 1840-42; RCIN 407165
I would love it if you could give it a listen and throw me some feedback! The Podcast Source (Android, Apple) is an app that will allow you to subscribe and listen directly from Libsyn, where A Most Beguiling Accomplishment is hosted; you can also subscribe through Google Play or iTunes, or listen right from the Libsyn webpage.

The second episode will be a discussion of what fashion history is, a much more theoretical topic, although I won't be handling it in a dry manner! I'll be chatting about the history of the field, the differences between fashion and dress, how different ways of studying dress come together to produce the best research, and POCKETGATE.

(For those of you not on Twitter - a little while ago someone asserted that women's clothing has not had functional pockets since the French Revolution for political reasons. You can get a taste of what I'm likely to say in the podcast based on this series of my tweets in response.)

If you enjoyed listening to me, I'd appreciate it if you could help to spread the word by sharing the podcast with your friends. If you really enjoyed listening to me, remember that I have a Patreon, and that for as low as $1/month you get to vote on topics for me to cover on this blog and on the podcast!

Friday, August 4, 2017

CoBloWriMo: Favorite Era?

Unlike many members of the fashion history, reenactment, and costuming worlds, I have no favorite era - and lately I'm hard-pressed to find eras that I even dislike. But there is one period that I'm really interested in yet never seem to get the chance to explore.

Portrait of Catherine of Aragon, Michael Sittow, ca. 1503; Kunsthistorisches GG_5612
The overall theme of the periods I like is that they're just before more popular eras - here, the years before Henry VIII's reign. In most cases, the popular era features more exaggerated sleeves, necklines, skirt shapes, etc. than the earlier one, and this period is no exception! I've thought from time to time about joining the SCA, and this is at the top of my list for eras I might focus on.

(Others include the High Middle Ages (11th-13th centuries) for the bliaut, and the early 14th century for the high-waisted houppelande.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Catching up on CoBloWriMo!

Costume Blog Writing Month, that is! I've been doing so much long-form writing lately that I thought it would be fun to loosen up a little. There is a semi-official list of prompts, so let me get the ones I've missed in here on the third day of the month.

Day One: Introductions

Hello! I'm sure you have a general idea of who I am if you're following my blog, but if you're not: I'm Cassidy. By trade, I'm a museum professional; by vocation, I'm a fashion historian.

I don't tend to write much here about myself personally because I'm active on a bunch of social media platforms, though to be honest, I tend to write about fashion history there as well rather than anything personal. I suppose I just do it in a more personal way? You can find me on Twitter (@mimicofmodes), Tumblr (@mimic-of-modes), and Instagram (@mimicofmodes) - and I'm active at Ask Historians as a moderator and an answerer of fashion history questions. You can read a collection of my past answers here!

Day Two: Current Project

I rarely post here about current projects, since I tend to save this space for full articles - Instagram is actually a great place to follow me if you're interested in updates and in-progress pics, particularly with projects that are hand-sewing-heavy.

Right now, I'm sewing a 1950s bathing suit, pattern above. This is tricky on a few levels. For one, I don't typically sew with knits or elastic (you can't see it here, but the lining is swimsuit fabric and it has elastic around the leg holes). For another, the bust obviously needs to fit differently than it does in a dress, worn over a bra. For a third, I really have no idea how a bathing suit made of quilting cotton and fastening with a zipper is going to work in the water!

Following that, I intend to make another version of Butterick 6018 (I'm wearing the one I have now in the above photo) and this vintage slip. I rarely buy actual vintage patterns, but I managed to find one with a 40" bust, so I had to grab it!

Day Three: Extant Garment

Summer dress, Norman Norell, 1951; FIDM 2003.794.4a-c
Normally when I look at extant garments, I concentrate on much older pieces, but given my current and near-future projects I'm examining pieces that are just vintage.

(Side note: I think about the way we use "vintage" a lot. I find it interesting that, in a lot of cases, clothing that would have been considered vintage rather than "antique" back when wearing/altering vintage started to become A Thing are still often considered vintage. Rather than meaning "clothing that is between X and Y years old", it seems to hold on to a date range that's fixed at the earlier end to about 1930 and continues to climb on the later one. I wonder when clothes from the 1930s or 1940s will be considered antique rather than vintage, or if they ever will?)

While right now I will be making Butterick 6018 out of navy and white gingham, I would really like to use this scheme in the future. With my short waist, I think the Butterick pattern's underbust seam and shaped torso/skirt panels are more flattering to me than this fitted bodice and gathered or pleated skirt would be, and it does have that flaring collar. Making it in a good white cotton (Pimatex? batiste?) with some blue silk ribbon trim and a red scarf could result in a very cute summer dress, perfect for going on vacation to the seaside! Too bad I won't have the time to do it before I go to Cape Cod in September.

Before Victoria: Royal Weddings (Part III)

Royal weddings need to be dealt with on their own, because their dress traditions differed from those of ordinary and even aristocratic women. These differences are key to understanding the context of the gown that Queen Victoria chose for her own wedding, and what exactly was the tradition she was setting with it. I know that many of you are aware that royal weddings employed silver fabrics, but I think you might be surprised at the amount of white incorporated as well.

"The Ceremony of the Marriage of the Princess Royal with the Prince of Orange," 1734; British Museum Mm,3.5
Anne, Princess Royal, was married to William, Prince of Orange, in 1734. The bride and her eight bridesmaids were all in the "stiff-bodied gown" – a two-piece gown made with a boned, back-lacing bodice. This style of dress had been fashionable in the 17th century and had held on as English court dress until about this point (in the 1730s, a version of the mantua with a long, folded-up train replaced it), although it continued to be worn in many continental courts. The princess's was not described by Mary Granville in more detail, but the bridesmaids were in white and silver; the next day, the bridesmaids wore the same gowns, while the princess dressed more normally for court in a damasked white silk mantua and petticoat embroidered with gold and polychrome flowers. When her sister Mary wed in 1740, she wore a similar stiff-bodied gown, described as having "embroidery upon white, with gold and colours, very rich; and a stuff on a gold ground, prodigiously fine," with an after-wedding sacque of silver tissue.

"Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales", Charles Philips, 1736; National Portrait Gallery NPG2093
A portrait of their sister-in-law, Augusta, Princess of Wales, was painted in the year of her wedding (1736) and likely shows her dressed in her wedding outfit: another stiff-bodied gown of silver tissue or damask. Two decades later, the future Queen Charlotte married the future George III in a stiff-bodied gown of silver tissue bedecked with diamonds, while the bridesmaids wore white silk embroidered with silver. (See Anne Buck's Dress in Eighteenth-Century England.)

"Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales", Gainsborough Dupont, 1795-96; Royal Collection RCIN 404550 
By the time Princess Caroline of Brunswick married George IV in 1795, the stiff-bodied gown - more than a century out of fashion - was probably seen as too outmoded for use, even for the most formal type of court event, and so she wore silver and white in a more conventional style - though you can see that the sleeves, trimmed with several rows of lace, were retained. The only image I'm aware of related to the 1797 marriage of George III and Charlotte's daughter Charlotte, the Princess Royal, to Frederick, then Duke of Württemburg, is a contemporary caricature by James Gillray. The caricature shows her headed to the bedchamber dressed in a white and gold high-waisted (non-stiff-bodied) court dress.

Princess Mary (another child of George III) married the Duke of Gloucester in 1816. While her wedding clothes are not described in the Memoirs of Her late Royal Highness Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales, the author did note that Mary changed into traveling clothes after the ceremony, "a white satin pelisse and white satin French bonnet." The wedding clothes of Princess Charlotte herself, daughter of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, were described in great detail:
The wedding dress was a slip of white and silver atlas [a type of satin weave with very long floats], worn under a dress of transparent silk net, elegantly embroidered in silver lama, with a border to correspond, tastefully worked in bunches of flowers, to form festoons round the bottom; the sleeves and neck trimmed with a most rich suit of Brussels point lace. The mantua [train] was two yards and a half long, made of rich silver and white atlas, trimmed the same as the dress to correspond. After the ceremony, her Royal Highness was to put on a dress of very rich white silk, trimmed with broad satin trimming at the bottom, at the top of which were two rows of broad Brussels point lace. The sleeves of this dress were short and full, intermixed with point lace, the neck trimmed with point to match. The pelisse which the royal Bride was to travel in, on her Royal Highness leaving Carlton-House for Oatlands, was of rich white satin, lined with sarsenet, and trimmed all round with broad ermine. 
(The other dresses prepared for Charlotte were made of white or transparent net, silver tissue, muslin, and point lace, trimmed with various types of silk, gold, and silver laces, silver and gold embroidery, and white satin.)

In 1819, Charlotte's aunt the Princess Elizabeth was married to the Prince of Hesse Homburg, and wore a gown of silver tissue trimmed with lace and silver, with a robe of silver lined with white satin; after the wedding she changed into a white satin pelisse, like her sister Mary.

After All of This

The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, Sir George Hayter, 1840-42; RCIN 407165
There was indeed a tradition of royal brides wearing silver before Queen Victoria's wedding in 1840; however, the connection between weddings and white was so strong that many of these brides (and bridesmaids) incorporated white into their dress or changed into white garments after the official ceremony. Victoria's innovation was, of course, to be a royal bride in white - visually allying her with "the people" and drawing on the old associations of white with feminine purity and innocence. Throughout her reign, Victoria strove to present herself as a wife and mother first and queen second: we can see a mirror of her choice to be "ordinary" in white in her later choice to wear an "ordinary" widow's mourning following the death of Prince Albert. While she did set a standard that her daughters, daughters-in-law, and later royal brides would follow, the episode represented a change in her own role rather than any change to the meaning of bridal white to the rest of her society.

This series is finished! If you want to help me choose what to write about in the future, please come on over and check out my Patreon.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Before Victoria: White Wedding Dress (Part II)

So, previously I showed you a lot of examples of actual white or white-ish gowns worn for weddings, including fashion plates (as they are intended to be prescriptive of real clothing - they exist to tell you what you can/should wear); these prove at least that white was worn. Now I'm going to follow that up with the kind of sources that can tell us more about the reasons white gowns were chosen, and whether the examples found previously are representative.
The Commonness of Bridal White

Although fictional weddings are by definition not real, the choices that authors and artists make can show what's considered normal or at least ideal for their societies, and the majority of authors and artists I found chose to dress their brides in white.

The marriage (ha!) of both textual and visual sources can be found in Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1742) and Joseph Highmore's painted illustrations of the same. Happily, the book describes what she wears in order to get married, and the Highmore series represents it:
I dress'd myself in a rich white satin night-gown, that had been my good lady's, and my best head clothes, &c.
IX: Pamela is Married, Joseph Highmore, 1743-4; Tate Collection N03575
Even in a print depicting the elopement of a bride and groom in, respectively, ordinary and military dress, the articles of the bride's clothing that most catch the viewer's eye are the lace-trimmed white mantelet (covering the colored clothing underneath) and white hat, which suggest bridal attire though her circumstances have denied her a formal wedding.
"Modern Love: The Elopement", John Collet, 1764; Colonial Williamsburg(?)
There are a number of stories involving weddings in the Lady's Magazine, in which brides are described in white gowns made of different fabrics. In one from 1776, the bride wore:
a white corded tabby Italian nightgown : her hat was of chip, ornamented with white gauze : her handkerchief and apron were the finest lace : the whole dress was infinitely becoming.
Another story in a 1778 issue describes how a bride, unlike two of her very showy guests:
was adorned with the work of her own hands, in pure white muslin, worked with close and open work, from an elegant pattern of her own drawing, on which she often cast down her eyes, when her lover, sitting by her side enamoured, poured out the happy effusions of his contented heart.
Two more stories in 1787 describe brides in "white satin, spotted with silver, tied up at the sides in the form of a Sultana's robe" with a hat "made of transparent gauze, bound with black velvet, the same round the crown, and one white feather in it", "white, spotted with straw", and "a fine white muslin with every fashionable ornament."

"The Bride," an 1832 poem by Capt. W. H. Armstrong, describes bridal-specific attire, which includes several uses of white:
I know her by the orange-flower, that Hymen only braids –
I know her by the robe of lace, that is not worn by maids –
I know her by the snowy white of satin shoe and glove,
And I know her by the milk-white rose that's in her breast of love.
"The Country Wedding, Bishop White Officiating," John Lewis Krimmel, ca. 1814; PAFA 1842.2.1
"The Country Wedding," above, shows a young bride of meager means dressed in a white gown – this could be thought an artistic liberty, but an article on the print in The Analectic Magazine specifically commends the artist for successfully reproducing "the costume and attitudes of … the inside of a farmer's dwelling, and the business that occupies the group." A written description of another fictional American village wedding, in Atkinson's Casket in 1834, has the bride dressed in white calico. These suggest that the white wedding gown was not restricted to the wealthy or those who would connect it to or reuse it for British court presentation dress (a popular theory regarding the use of white before Victoria): made in some variety of white cotton rather than lace and silk, it could be an affordable special outfit for other classes of society.

Looking at the matter from another angle, a somewhat satirical piece in the August 1818 issue of La Belle Assemblée describes how a silly, rich bride claimed that she considered wearing white at a wedding to be "vulgar" in comparison to wearing a cheap printed calico and curling papers (since many people did the former and nobody the latter). In the end, she agreed to wear white when her groom arranged for her to have "a gown of the finest Brussels lace, to be worn over Chinese silk."
  The Rest of the Wedding Party

While we have much less evidence of grooms wearing white, off-white, or silver, it was not unheard-of. Stephen Beckingham, in the first painting in the previous post, was depicted in silver and grey next to his bride. According to the Newgate Calendar, Laurence, Earl Ferrars, was executed at Tyburn in 1760 in his wedding suit, which was of white silk embroidered with silver. The story quoted above from the Lady's Magazine in 1778 also features a bridegroom "drest in a manner suitable to his bride", in "a plain light coloured fashionable coat, with a white silk waistcoat" embroidered by his new wife. One air in the 1783 comic opera The Poor Soldier contains the line, "The bride and bridegroom in coats white as snow", while a stage direction for Sir Adam in The Wedding Day (1791) describes him as "drest in white clothes like a Bridegroom." However, male wedding dress receives much less attention and description in fiction than female, and with fewer examples and fewer general statements it's difficult to say how common it was for men to wear wedding-specific colors.

Today, it's a faux pas for women other than the bride to wear white at a wedding, whether bridesmaids or guests. In the past, however, it was very often appropriate for other members of the wedding party, as in a wedding in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766): the bride's clothes were not described, but she was "attended by six young ladies drest in white …" Likewise, the fashionable bride's attendants in the story from La Belle Assemblée in 1818 are dressed in white, one in white muslin and lace with a white bonnet trimmed with white roses, and the other in "white spotted crape" and a net bonnet also trimmed with white roses as well as white ostrich plumes. The 1778 Lady's Magazine story has one bridesmaid, who "furnished herself with a new white gown, proper - as she thought - for the occasion", and one of the 1787 stories has bridesmaids in "plain white lutestring levettes [levites], with black velvet belts".

The predominance of white as a fashionable color through the turn of the century also implies that it very well may have been acceptable for guests to appear in white at that time, but as with grooms, there's much less description of the clothing of wedding guests.

After the Wedding

It also was not traditional for the bride to wear white only at the wedding: the white theme would be carried forward for days or weeks.
Scene from The Beggar's Opera, by William Hogarth, 1731; TC N02437
The painting of a scene from a 1728 performance of The Beggar's Opera shows Polly Peachum (as portrayed by Lavinia Fenton), whose status as Macheath's new wife is central to her role, dressed in a white gown.

While Pamela was married in a gown that was a hand-me-down from her mistress, Mr. B also bought her a white gown with silver flowers, "and he was pleased to say, that as I was a Bride, I should make my Appearance in that the following Sunday."

The newly-married Mrs. Macnamara is described in a sample letter from the Complete Letter-Writer (1758) as appearing at the Tunbridge Wells assembly rooms "in all the Innocence of a White and Silver full-trimm'd French Sack …"

In that same 1778 Lady's Magazine story from above, the bride also has a white outfit for after the wedding:
She also exercised her fancy in a white lustring night gown, and petticoat for this occasion, with a variety of ribbands, in the forms and colours of natural flowers, which she considers as her best summer dress, having ever been willing to set an example of ingenuity and industry to young ladies in that part of the country.
As a result of this tradition, women who couldn't afford multiple white gown probably expected to wear their wedding dresses for some time after the day of the ceremony, as part of the role of dressing as a newlywed: white gowns were likely not status symbols for being "one-use-only". For instance, at the very beginning of The Vicar of Wakefield the narrator notes that his wife chose her wedding gown "not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well."

Why White?

So, now, what's the apparent reasoning behind the choice of white? Well, this is rather boring, but - it's the association with purity that's usually given as a post-Victoria rationale.

This is demonstrated even more by fictional references to brides in white that take on a more general tone, describing common situations rather than individual weddings. For instance, one of the letter-writers in Sir Charles Grandison (1753) pointed out that "we women, dressed out in ribbands, and gaudy trappings, and in virgin-white, on our wedding-days, seem but like milk-white heifers led to sacrifice." (There is a second use of "virgin-white" in reference to a specific character, Harriet, at her wedding.) In Almira, Being the History of a Young Lady (1762), Cleone is ordered by her future father-in-law to restrict the white in her bridal attire to her underclothes and accessories, though he notes that maidens like to wear it in their outer clothing, "I suppose, because it represents your innocence!" Then on the other side, there is another satirical piece from La Belle Assemblée, this time in 1826: it notes that a young bride, who was being married in a rush after having absconded to Scotland with her groom, was "handsomely dressed, but in colours." While it's probable that a real woman who'd lost her virginity might have married in white anyway, for various reasons, the point of the episode is to signpost that she's not "pure" with her conspicuous lack of "virgin-white".

All of these instances connect bridal white with a combination of physical purity and naïveté, and make it clear that white was seen as a "normal" color for wedding gowns long before the marriage of Victoria and Albert. Join me next time for a discussion of the place of white in royal wedding dress!

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Before Victoria: the White Wedding Dress in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries (Part I)

The history of white wedding dresses is a popular topic, and a few related narratives have built up in both popular and academic writing:
  1. Queen Victoria was the first to wear a white gown for her wedding in 1840, and women began to copy her, creating a tradition.
  2. Queen Victoria was not the first to wear a white wedding dress, but it experienced a boom in popularity as a result of her marriage.
  3. Queen Victoria was not the first to wear a white wedding dress, but it was only with her marriage that it took on the connotations of purity and innocence.
I could digress to talk about the perils of "Great Man" history, but that's better for a discussion on Chanel (hey-o!), so instead let's just look at why these narratives are all incorrect, and why Victoria was not really a turning point at all. (For the use of white, that is - Cele Otnes and Elizabeth Pleck make a very convincing argument in Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding that Victoria's wedding helped to create a longing for huge ceremonies/receptions among classes that previously didn't see weddings as a reason to spend more than necessary.)

There is a surprisingly tremendous amount of evidence that women wore white as brides whenever possible, and that brides were idealized as pure virgins in white, from a much earlier date than the 1840s. Now, it does have to be said that the plain and extremely bright white common today seems to date largely from the twentieth century - but there is a common thread of using white or off-white for much longer.

The evidence early in the century is somewhat sparse, giving the impression that plain white satin or taffeta, perhaps trimmed with gold, was preferred. (But then, early eighteenth century art is very bad about depicting the damask and brocade patterns that extant clothing shows, so ...) See the painting of the 1729 wedding of the London lawyer Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox:
The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox, William Hogarth, 1729; MMA 36.111
While a fictional representation (and technically more suited to the next post), the bride in Hogarth's "Marriage-à-la-Mode" series is, in the image which shows the actual marriage, dressed in a white silk sacque, also trimmed with gold.
Detail, The Marriage Settlement, William Hogarth, ca. 1743; National Gallery 113 
Later on we have more evidence, and it frequently shows wedding gowns being white-grounded silks brocaded in fashionable floral patterns. In 1760, the young Mary Tipping had to send to her future siblings-in-law in London to purchase the fabric for her wedding negligée and petticoat, as described in Anne Buck's Dress in Eighteenth-Century England: damasked white silk with "a few coloured flowers interspersed." The gown worn by Sarah Tyng Smith when she married Richard Codman in Portland, Maine in 1763 was made of a silk similar to that.

Even Lady Cowper's maid managed to have "a new white satin nightgown and petticoat, a white spotted satin cloak" for her wedding in 1768 (again described by Buck).

White and silver came into prominence for non-royal weddings with the rise of Neoclassical styles during the 1770s. Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper's 1774 wedding dress is still extant – a sacque and petticoat made of a silvery-white silk satin, trimmed with the same.
Detail of the Fenimore Cooper petticoat, 1774; NYSHA N-2-71
The wedding gown and petticoat worn by Sarah Boddicott in 1779 were of white silk taffeta woven with silver leaves, trimmed with silver fringe.
Gown and petticoat, 1779; Victoria & Albert Museum T.80&A-1948
Mary, the daughter of the Marchioness Grey, had a difficult time finding a white and silver brocaded silk for her wedding dress in 1780, hoped for at least a white and gold, and kept a plain white satin in reserve. (Again from Buck.) In a letter from Mrs. Delaney's Correspondence, Emilia Clayton describes her dear Marianne's 1786 marriage in great detail. In addition to a number of pieces of jewelry, she describes "a silver muslin night-gown trimmed with white sattin, a very fine sprigged muslin apron, and handkerchief trimmed with beautiful lace, and white and silver shoes".

Plain white came into greater prominence in ordinary dress around this time, and was particularly fashionable in cotton muslin. To elevate the muslin into being appropriate for a bride on her special day, white or off-white silks would often be added to the ensemble in some way. Eunice Hooper's 1799 wedding gown was made of off-white satin, worn with a silver-spangled mull muslin petticoat.

Satin gown with muslin petticoat, 1799; MFAB 48.1198a-b
Lady H. Villiers's 1807 wedding gown was described in La Belle Assemblée as being of "the finest India cobweb muslin … over a soft and highly polished satin slip" and worn with a pelisse of a French white satin; Mary Dalton Norcliffe married in the same year in a very fine worked muslin gown, which would most likely have also been worn over a silk slip.

Detail of gown, 1807; VAM T.12-2013
A notable exception to the trend of combining fabrics is the 1809 wedding dress of Lydia Poultney, which was made of satin; the wearer was a Quaker, and was therefore avoiding ostentation, but still conformed to tradition in its pale shade.

Gown, 1809; Philadelphia Museum of Art 1932-45-61
The white lace wedding dress came into use in the early nineteenth century, perhaps to separate the wedding dress from ordinary ball dress, which was generally a trimmed net or gauze gown worn over a silk slip. The wedding dress worn by Tylney Long Pole in 1812 "consisted of a robe of real Brussels point lace; the device a simple sprig; it was placed over white satin. The head was ornamented with a cottage bonnet, of the same materials … She likewise wore a deep lace veil, and a white satin pelisse, trimmed with swansdown." An 1816 bridal fashion plate also shows a gown of "striped French gauze over a white satin slip; the bottom of the frock is superbly trimmed with a deep flounce of Brussels lace, which is surmounted by a single tuck of byas [sic] white satin and a wreath of roses."

While lace continued to be an important part of expensive wedding dress, satin came back into prominence at about the same time that colors returned to fashion. Charlotte Cooley and Sophia Donaldson were both married in fairly plain white satin gowns on either side of the Atlantic in 1820 and 1821. Silver and Neoclassicism were by this time no longer in style, and a wedding dress was more likely to combine different shades of white and off-white satin, as on that worn by Eliza Larken in 1828.
Wedding dress, 1828; VAM T.124:1, 2-2009, T.374:1, 2-2009

One dress shown in Ackermann's Repository in 1829 paired the Brussels lace gown with a white satin pelisse, and another from a few years before partially covered it with a satin sash. Later in the Bourbon Restoration, the fashions of the mid-eighteenth century returned to the fore, including figured, damasked, and brocaded white silk – the former being seen on the wedding dress worn by Lucy Ann Lane in 1835.

As you can see, this is the first post of a short series! Join me next time for a discussion of the white wedding dress as a cultural ideal during this period.

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