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Did you go to see the gorgeous collection of Wedding Dresses, spanning 300 Years of Bridal Fashions at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) last year? If you didn’t, we’re going to take you through the years, in a series called Through the Ages… A Designer Showcase.
With the help of the V&A and Edwina Ehrman’s Book ‘The Wedding Dress, 300 Years of Bridal Fashions’, let us take you through the ages. You really must get the book, its fabulous, I can’t put it down.
Lets start in the eighteenth century where the social and economic status of the Bride and Groom determined what the Bride wore. From 1700 onwards, evidence suggests that there were definitely class preferences. The Aristocratic and very wealthy Brides often chose a combination of Silver and White clothes. These were not exclusive to weddings but also worn on formal occasions too. White was particularly a popular summer colour.
|Silk brocade gown, hat and shoes. Olive Matthews Collection
Chertsey Museum, Photo by John Chase
New clothes were certainly customary to those who could afford them. The gentry and middle classes did wear a range of colours to their wedding. No eighteenth century bride would have expected to wear her wedding clothes for a single occasion and accordingly most dresses would have been modified to reflect changes in fashion and their figure. Brides with limited funds, just simply wore their best frock.
|Wedding Dress worn by Sarah Boddicott 1779 © V&A Collection|
Most couples married in church and according to the law, the service had to take place between eight and twelve in the morning.
Depending on the Bride’s family circumstances, several outfits may have been purchased for the events associated with the wedding including the service and when she would have been presented to the general public as a wife. This occasion was called the ‘appearance’. For the middle class it would be at a party held late afternoon or evening. For the noble Bride, it would have been when she was presented to the Monarch at court.
The popular materials in use at the time were silk and lace. The cost of the garment basically lay in the cost of the fabric, not the time in which it took the dressmaker to make it. If the Bride was unavailable for fittings, an old dress would have been used as a pattern.
|Silk brocade and tulle embroidered with silver beads|
Later in the century, the fashion was reflected not just by the choice of fabric used but by the selection of trimmings, ie. ribbons, flowers, braids, fringes provided by a milliner. Most towns had shops selling dressmaking and sewing materials and in some circumstances, in the larger towns, shopkeepers regularly visited clients at home. London shops always offered a greater variety of not only home-produced but imported luxury goods.
Did you know that the first eighteenth century British monarch to marry in England was George III in 1761. His Bride was only 17 years old called Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. They first met on their wedding day. Her wedding dress, in the tradition had to be British made. She wore a stiff-bodied gown of silver tissue embroidered and trimmed with silver and a purple velvet mantle laced with gold and lined in ermine with tassels of pearls.
|Wedding of King George III to Princess Charlotte|
Wedding garments made from white silk woven with metal threads, particularly silver, sometimes gold, were popular with the aristocracy throughout the eighteenth century.
The V&A has two eighteenth century dresses associated with weddings for wearing at court. One iss lavishly embroidered with polychrome silks and metal threads and was undoubtedly prepared for the Bride’s presentation at court after her marriage.
The other dates to the late 1770’s and is made of pure white silk satin with undulating chains of large and small puffs of satin edged with delicate silk fly fringes.
|Silk Satin Court Dress, V&A 1775|
A number of British Wedding dresses from the late eighteenth century are showcased in museums throughout Britain and the USA. All are made of silk and the most popular colours were cream, pink and blue and white. Fashions in textiles changed with linen and cotton used more widely. Fine muslin was also used for less restricting styles.
In the late 18th Century friends of the Bride sometimes dressed alike in white muslin with handkerchiefs trimmed with lace and satin ribbons. Although not unique, this set a precedent for the 19th Century Bride to have attendants that had matching clothes… now known as the Bridesmaids.
|White brocaded silk wedding shoes with Rococo buckles|
Our thanks go to the V&A Museum and to Edwina Ehrman for their wonderful insight into the world of 18th Century wedding dresses. Tune in next week for the start of the Nineteenth Century.