The Exhibit “Wedding Days & Wedding Nights” provides a view of wedding attire from the late 1800’s through the 1950’s. In addition to the gowns and nightwear of the brides, there is some clothing for the men worn during the ceremonies. There are also photos of couples, brides and wedding parties from the period. The gowns reflect Wedding Advice from Ladies Home Journal, from March 1894:
“There are some things that a bride must remember: her bodice must be high in the neck; her sleeves reach quite to the wrists, and her gown must be full, unbroken folds that show the richness of the material, and there must not be even a suggestion of such frivolities as frills or ribbons of any kind.”
The Huntington Historical Society’s costume collection has an extensive selection of wonderful Bridal gowns dating back to 1839, as well as sleepwear from a variety of decades.
The Ladies of the Attic, our costume collection committee, selected gowns for this exhibit to highlight fashion changes in vogue in the 19th and 20th centuries and matched them with their nightwear counterparts. Lovingly hand-made nightgowns transition to embellished silky sheer peignoirs. The result is a fun and informative look at the changing styles of brides over the decades and a peak at what they might have worn on their special night. Fashions in Wedding gowns, and weddings are constantly changing. In the early 1800’s, weddings were very solemn affairs held in a church. The bride wore a dress with a high neckline and long sleeves and was reminded she was attending a religious service and not a ball.
Many brides married in their “Best Dress”, which would be of any color, including black or brown. Many married in their going-away dress, often practical traveling suits but specially trimmed for their wedding day. The bride would wear a bonnet or veil. Although not shown in the exhibit, there are many wedding dresses in the collections matching these descriptions.
In two articles in the Long Islander (Huntington’s local newspaper started by Walt Whitman) describing weddings in 1879 and 1885, one bride wore dark blue silk, the other steel colored corded silk, the first married at precisely one o’clock, and took the afternoon train to the home of the groom in Brooklyn. The second, left the next day with her husband to their new home in Oyster Bay. Both weddings were held in their family homes.
Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840, was a marker which began the white wedding dress tradition. Her choice of plain white satin dress and an orange blossom wreath head-dress with lace veil was shockingly plain by royal standards. Although white had been worn for weddings earlier, the difficulty and expense of bleaching fabric made it available to only royalty or the wealthy.
Godey’s Ladies Book, in 1860, published the first color spread of bridal costumes. In America, with its aristocracy of wealth, it soon became a trend to make all attempts to out dazzle one and other when it came to the brides trousseau. Veils were not worn over the face until the end of the 1860’s.
In the 1890’s, “The Gay 90’s”, weddings in the home were favored. But by the turn of the century, 1901 to 1935 the white wedding dress tradition (influenced by Queen Victoria) was firmly established and the wedding gown was no longer meant to be worn for any other occasion.
In 1920’s, with WW1 over and the world safe for democracy, women have the vote, there is a chicken in every pot, 2 cars in every garage. The spirit of irresponsible times carried over into weddings of the day.
Informality, elopements, and a justice of the peace instead of a minister were becoming the norm. Gone were the days of many hallowed institutions along with the corseted figure bridal gowns. Now a girl could show her legs. Wedding dress styles continued to follow fashionable dress silhouettes and morphed into longer weddings that returned to the church.
This blog has been written by various affiliates of the Huntington Historical Society.