SL from Santa Barbara is very sentimental about her grandmother’s wedding gown. She has sent two sets of photos, and each time she says the photos do not do it justice. A quick description: silk satin wedding gown, circa 1932 (I date it by style) with champagne satin and French lace, Renaissance style sleeves, arched (Art) Deco bias panels from midriff to mid-thigh, bias cut and trained skirt, which sits beautifully over a champagne colored bias cut slip with a VERY plunging back. Must have been a treat for her new husband to see that slip on the wedding night!
Champagne, ecru, white, beige are very NEW colors for wedding gowns, all supposed to symbolize purity. The first white gown in wedding history was worn by Queen Phillipa of England in 1406, a tunic with a cloak of white silk piped with squirrel and ermine fur. She broke the mold, choosing her own dress, as previously bride’s dresses were supposed to reflect the wealth and status and colors of their family. Weddings that required special clothing in those days were matters of judicious politics between two families (think Romeo & Juliet).
The next recorded bride to wear white, flying in the face of the status quo, was the redoubtable Mary Queen of Scots, who, on her marriage to Francis Dauphin of France, wore white in 1559. Ironically, white in the eyes of a Frenchman would have indicated that the wearer was ready for a funeral, because white was the French color of mourning. Wonder if Mary was truly all that interested in her groom?
Time online reports the AVERAGE price paid for an American wedding gown in 2015 was $1357. In addition, the average gown is one of the cheapest garments to manufacture because 75% were marketed without sleeves, one of the most difficult elements of the gown to custom tailor. I much prefer the Native American Hopi tradition. The bride required that her new husband sit at a loom and weave her wedding garment.
Speaking of the sleeveless bridal gown, covering a woman’s shoulders is something one must do in many traditional places of worship. The concept of marriage in the West is such that ancestral rules might not apply; here again contrasted with the Northern California Klamath Tribe, whose brides acknowledged not only their ancestors, but the four corners of the world, by wearing a gown of four colors: white for the east, blue for the south, yellow for the west and black for the north.
The tradition of white was made into a Western cultural fad by the very much in love Queen Victoria when she married Albert of Saxe Coburg in 1840. That blessed event coincided with the dawn of photography, and every bride in all of the British Empire got her hands on a photo of that gown. After 1840, white was the color of The Gown.
This contrasts with the continuous wearing of RED in the East, which is considered auspicious. Even if a Chinese bride is dressed in white during some part of her wedding day, she will change for good luck into red sometime along the ordeal. Which makes me wonder: why white? Traditionally, in thousands of years of art history, if an artist wants to emphasize innocence, loyalty and purity, he will paint a woman in a blue gown: think of the mandala around the Virgin of Guadalupe. Blue should be the color of purity if we think of the heavens. However, the dour Scandinavians never caught the white wedding bug until recently: BLACK was the color of the bridal gown for years. Matching perhaps the Finnish weather?
I think about the groom’s outfit, which generally IS black. We don’t worry about his color bringing bad luck to the union. Once visiting my mother in Chicago, at Lord & Taylor we witnessed a mom in a stunning black mother-of-the-bride gown in the fitting room, yet couldn’t bring herself to buy that color.
SL might be amused to know that sizes of brides have also changed from the 1930’s when her grandmother was the size of today’s 13-year old American girl. In addition, older gowns, unless they bear designer labels (think Worth, Chanel, Givenchy) are hard to sell and often not worth much. SL’s gown would be sold at auction for under $200.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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