A Brief History of Marriage Fashion

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1 – Welcome to #ThreadTalk!

Ah, mawwiage. We're going nuptial.

💕If you're hoping for whimsy & romance, well… you probably haven't been here before.💕

For most of history, marriage has been about money & power, just like the fashion it's inspired. (Below, 1841, satin)

This wedding dress was worn in 1841 by an unknown but fashionable bride. The period 1838-1841 was a transitional period during which full, puffed sleeves and short-waisted bodices gave way to a slimmer, elongated silhouette, as exemplified by this gown's long-waisted, form-fitting bodice with narrow sleeves. The sleeves and skirt are trimmed with gathered tulle and applied strips of braid and buttons. The cream silk satin fabric is figured with flower-baskets, stripes and floral sprays.

This was an extremely sophisticated dress for 1841. The low-cut neckline is an especially modish feature which appears in fashion plates of the decade. Many nineteenth century brides wore matching capes or pelerines over low-cut bodices, or covered exposed necks and upper chests with high-necked chemisettes. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

2 – Though anthropologists don't know exactly when marriage began, it seems to be universal.

For most of history, marriage was not about love, butensuring legitimacy of offspring, cementing family alliances, & consolidating wealth. See our ladies preparing: Greece, 5th C BCE.

Women preparing for a wedding in a Greek relief on pottery. One woman sits in a chair, with long corkscrew curls; another stands behind her, holding up a necklace. Public domain.

3 – As with so much, we begin in Mesopotamia. Mostly because they wrote things down. Yay, cuneiform!

On this Sumerian relief, the marriage of the goddess Inanna and the Sumerian King Dumuzi is depicted. They look thrilled.

Two intertwined figures in Sumerian relief.

4 – In Babylon, we also see dowries show up… which, according to Herodotus, evolved into live auctions for women.

The prettiest, most desirable, went first. The less so, ended up in a *reverse auction*. Because, of course.

See 19th c illus.

Babylonian marriage market, with women being auctioned off to suitors. They are all draped in white linens. Public domain. Edwin Long, 1875.

5 – This Assyrian tablet dates back 5000 years, and gives us a peek into a marriage contract–including clauses for surrogacy if the wife cannot bear children, and options for divorce–quite modern in some ways. The full text here:

A cuneiform tablet on red clay, square-shaped. Credit: Turp, AB. et al. Gynecological Endocrinology, 2017 - via Realm of History

6 – Ancient Roman weddings were a big deal. Clothing played an essential role for both men & women. Yellow veils & yellow in general, were associated with marriage.

We have them to thank for the obsession with virgin marriage that eventually infected the West via the Church.

Heracles and Omphale, Roman fresco, Pompeian Fourth Style (45–79 AD), Naples National Archaeological Museum, Italy - two figures looking at each other, in Roman garb.

7 – The Romans limited the age of married couples to a very wizened 14 for boys & 12 for girls. 😠

Brides were also supposed to live in fear of their weddings & flawlessly submit. Their faces were painted red during the ceremony so you couldn't miss 'em! Below "tying the knot".

Roman couple joining hands; the bride's belt may show the knot symbolizing that the husband was "belted and bound" to her, which he was to untie in their bed (4th century sarcophagus)[1] - CC BY-SA 3.0

8 – (I don't have space for the commentary on this shit.)

Many Celtic tribes had wild ideas that women should have rights in a marriage: they were protected against sexual assault & rape; could own property, & could divorce (Brehon Law).

Also they had great beards & mustaches.

A Celtic relief with a woman, a man, and a large man in the middle with two fists up, rocking and rolling. Silver, with a torque around his neck. Also there is a guy on a horse/dog on his shoulder. Public domain.

9 – Dowries appear all over the world, especially among the well-to-do. As most women could not inherit directly, this money went to her husband–along with a trunk filled with fabrics & household items, what we know as a hope chest or cassone.

This one is from Italy, 16th C.

10 – Yes, there are instances of women owning parts of their own dowries, or having their own property, and divorce rights–notably in some Jewish cultures.

These Jewish marriage contracts are called ketubah, and became their own art form. This one is from Calcutta in 1887.

An Indian ketubah from Calcutta, bearing the date November 11, 1887. Credit: British Library/Public Domain - with fish and florals, as well as two lions at the top.

11 – Dowries could make or break a kingdom, though, especially when times got tough for our wickle royal sweetums.

When Charles II married Catherine of Braganza or Portugal, he got two cities in Morocco & India. You know, as you do.

That's a big chest. Filled with colonialism.

Double portrait of King Charles II (1630-1685), in a pink cloak and Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705), in a grey dress and an ermine-lined wrap, seated on a scallop-shell back chair, half-length, before a draped curtain Provenance - public domain

12 – Before I defenestrate my computer doing research on dowries, let's instead turn to the attire. Because that's what we do!

Let's go to Japan first! This print shows traditional costume, from the Wedding of the Prince Regent & Princess Nagako, 1924.

13 – Kimonos have enough history & symbolism for a whole thread (to be clear we're not ruling that out) but it's likely that this one here was also a bridal ensemble.

It has cranes & TORTOISES & it's ORANGE & it makes me so happy. From 1800-1850.

::stares in adoration::

Long-sleeved outer robe (uchikake), probably for a wedding, of reddish-orange silk damask with design of tie-dyed waves at bottom embroidered with tortoises (minogame) and tie-dyed pine trees above embroidered with flying cranes (tsuru); lined with reddish-orange silk and padded at the hem. BMFA, public domain.

14 – We've visited Albania before, so you might not be surprised to see it feature again. I mean, come ON. The ensemble features couched embroidery, metal embellishments, & gorgeous contrast. This one dates to the turn of the 20th century.

A rich variety of decoration contributes to the opulence of this ensemble. Couched embroidery, metal ornamentation and a range of textiles from velvet to printed cotton lend it an opulent air. It is particularly notable to have such a complete ensemble in such good condition. Via met museum.

15 – Speaking of gold. This Tunisian example takes shimmer to a whole other level, and is just part of the whole ensemble. She literally would have look gilded in gold… which I guess is just some really overt symbolism there, y'know? Dating from the late 19th C.

This ensemble includes some of the garments worn by a bride on the occasion of her wedding. The opulent tunic is heavily embroidered with stylized symbols which promote fertility and good luck. Bridal attires is often decorated with symbols intended to protect the bride, because she is seen as especially vulnerable during this pivotal moment in her life. The backside of the tunic features a motif which has been interpreted as either a tree of life, or bride raising her hands in the position of jewla, the moment when she is presented to the groom. Along with several other layers of textiles, this tunic would have been worn with the trousers and cap also seen here. Via the Met Museum, public domain.

16 – This 19th century Russian ensemble is otherworldly. Like, I could see this in Star Wars. I love the colors & the sleeves, the whole thing

This is called a sarafan, and was often embroidered by the bride herself as a show of her skill. This would have also had a muslin veil.

This object is from the collection of Natalia de Shabelsky (1841-1905), a Russian noblewoman compelled to preserve what she perceived as the vanishing folk art traditions of her native country. Traveling extensively throughout Great Russia, she collected many fine examples of textile art of the wealthy peasant class. From the 1870s until moving to France in 1902, Shabelsky amassed a large collection of intricately embroidered hand-woven household textiles and opulent festival garments with rich decoration and elaborate motifs. The Brooklyn Museum holdings include many fine examples including the majority of the garments. Portions of Shabelsky's collection are also housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Cleveland Art Museum, and the Russian Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg. - via the Met Museum

17 – So, about white dresses. We had them, but it was not ubiquitous. For the majority of women in the West, their bridal gowns were intended to be re-used.

Or make a statement; this half-mourning wedding gown is in remembrance of lives lost in the US Civil War (1868)

According to family history, Amelia Jane Carley (1844–1892) wore this dress at her marriage to William Edward Chess (1842–1926) in 1868 in West Virginia, the half-mourning colors chosen in honor of those who died during the Civil War. Both bride and groom were fortunate not to have lost any immediate family during the war, though Ms. Carley’s brother and Mr. Chess served in the Union Army. This family narrative suggests that the bride chose shades of mourning in response to the widespread losses suffered during the war rather than to memorialize an individual. A subdued palette of gray and black may have felt more respectful than a showier bridal gown while so many families still grieved. Etiquette manuals and women’s magazines frequently offered guidance for brides whose weddings intersected with a period of mourning, though the choice of dress under such circumstances often reflected a woman’s personal judgment rather than prescriptive advice. Met Museum - Public domain

18 – White wedding dresses weren't that color for "purity"–just like muslin garments, they were a symbol of wealth. A white wedding gown meant a clean lifestyle. This early 19th C example is actually quite rare. American, 1824.

I adore the details and the damask, of course.

 (please check out @summerbrennan's https://daily.jstor.org/a-natural-history-of-the-wedding-dress/ for more).

19 – Don't think I'm going to leave the lads out. This wedding suit from 1673 is embroidered to within an inch of its LIFE.

Literally, the V&A note indicates that this whole getup was embroidered freehand. Not with a pattern. For James II of England. Because, well, Imperialism.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Coat and breeches of brown (originally a dark purple-brown) woollen broadcloth, interlined with linen and embroidered with silver and silver-gilt filé, and parchment wrapped in silver and silver-gilt strip in a pattern lilies and honeysuckle. The coat is lined with crimson silk taffeta. It has a round neckline bound with a narrow strip of the broadcloth, straight front edges, curving 2-piece sleeves ending between elbow and wrist, and narrow skirts below the waist. Each sleeve turns back to form a long narrow cuff with curved ends, revealing the crimson lining which is embroidered with silver purl, silver and silver-gilt filé in a pattern of large scrolls and leaves. There is an opening in each side seam at hip level and a horizontal pocket low on each front, fastening with 10 worked buttonholes and 10 buttons with a wooden core covered with silver and silver-gilt filé.

20 – This Moroccan wedding ensemble dates from the late 19th/early 20th century, and just is wowzers. You can see influences across many cultures, including Spain, and the use of gold and velvet for shine and light absorption.

This elaborate eight-piece costume is an example of the traditional festive dress of Moroccan Jewish women, worn by brides and at other celebrations. It is probably based on medieval Spanish Jewish costume, with its origins usually traced to the 15th century Spanish vertugada (hoop skirt, known as a "farthingale" in England). - Flickr, via Center for Jewish History

21 – Of course, in India, weddings are WHOA. And the color scheme often includes deep, jeweled reds. What I love about the tradition is that it's living history. The designs and motifs are ancient, and that's quite lovely.

Muhammad Boota Graphics Designer - image. Woman in traditional Indian wedding costume in deep red with oodles of embroidery.

22 – Did someone ask for lesbian weddings? Of course you did. I can't recommend this piece from @EleanorMedhurst of Dressing Dykes enough. I mean. This picture dates from the 1920s. Come on.

23 – This 1878 gown is everything I would ever want in a wedding gown. Sumptuous stripes, silk bows, frills in the right place, ideal for hiding blood stains…

Seriously gorgeous, and American.

While white is now de rigueur for bridal attire, the fashion for white wedding gowns originated only in the late 19th century and was not commonplace until the 20th century. This dress is a good example of the more practical 19th century practice of brides wearing colored gowns for weddings. The wedding dresses could then be worn again for other receptions and social events. A well-made and finely-detailed example of the period, this dress would have been described as a "cuirass" or "cuirass style" at the time it was made, a term that refers to the form-fitted bodice. A steel-boned corset helped to achieve the ideal figure for the cuirass style in the 1870s and 1880s. - The Met, public domain.

24 – If we take a little tour up to Norway, we also see red — this time in groom's attire. I love the design on this jacket. It dates from the 1750s! I would totally wear it. It's darling. I would also like to see Lee Pace wear it. For scientific reasons.

Bridegroom's jacket of red woollen cloth, woven in a pattern of stripes and further embroidered with coloured wools. Part of a Norwegian bridegroom's costume purchased by the donor in 1865 from the original owner. The jacket is skirted and slightly cut away in front, with long narrow sleeves. The pattern is a plaid, partly filled with conventional figures supposed to represent the bride, trees, and floral ornament, repeated diagonally within oblong compartments formed by the plaid. White wool lines the jacket. © V&A museum

25 – It's not #threadtalk if we haven't seen leg of mutton sleeves, so here we are. It's got that 1890s vibe, all right. I love the satin and the pearls, personally. It's actually almost subdued? Okay, maybe not.

An ivory gown in satin with long strands of pearls on the bodice. "Mutton leg" sleeves of big poofs, a narrow waist, and a high neck. Minimal flare. Draped lace ruching on the bodice and lower sleeves. From the Met.

26 – How about aubergine? Y'all know I die for jewel tones, and then you add the beading and those pleats?

Also, just the right amount of bustle hustle going on, I think. It's satin and dates from 1879 in England.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Satin dress trimmed with applied beading. High round neck. The dress fastens at the back from the narrow band collar to the hips with silver-plated buttons in a Florentine design. The tight, three-quarter sleeves are entirely gauged, trimmed at the cuffs with two rows of pleated bands. The front is fitted to the figure as far as the hips, and is designed to suggest a jacket. It is trimmed round the edges with motifs in iridescent beads and worn over a pleated and ruched stomacher front with a mock lacing. At the hips, it is draped back into paniers which knot over the train. The skirt is ruched as far as the knees where it is arranged in pleated tabs with pendant chenille tassels mounted over crenelated tabs and bands of pleats. The sleeves and the bodice, which is boned, are lined with white glazed cotton, and the skirt with mauve polished cotton. The back breadth is lined with stiffened cotton and held in place with tapes. Machine and hand sewn.

27 – This 1848 gown almost looks Edwardian with that draping and lace, but it's not.

I love the gold embellishments on the bodice. Not usually an era I find myself admiring, but it is … well, just so quintessentially Western Wedding. Bonus: Brussels lace.

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London - White silk satin wedding dress with overdress of embroidered flounced net lace, white satin bonnet, a bonnet-veil of applied bobbin lace motifs on net, a handkerchief of white embroidered cambric, a pair of garters of fine canvas embroidered with rosebuds, and a fan with a leaf of Brussels lace initialled H.B. (for Henrietta Bell) on mother of pearl sticks

28 – And one more kimono from Japan, because this is my thread & I can do what I want, and this blue makes my heart tap-dance with joy.

From 1850-1870 or so, with IRISES and DUCKS and RIPPLING WATER.

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Kimono with decoration of ducks on rippling water among irises and pinks.

29 – And for posterity, here is me and @oldbie in 2004, getting hitched. We had NO IDEA WHAT WE WERE GETTING INTO.

But I still love the gown. It was a Galadriel-style piece with beautiful embroidery of leaves, and all in ivory. I wore my mom's veil. And a tiara. Red roses.

30 – I could go on all night and still, I've barely scratched the surface. Veils? Accessories? Shoes? Bridesmaids?

A few notes, though.

Please check out @summerbrennan's https://daily.jstor.org/a-natural-history-of-the-wedding-dress/ — lots of fabulous stuff there.

31 – Now, as then, weddings are about showing as much wealth as possible & the woman is still very often the center of attention. Even if her face isn't red.

But let's be real. Marrying for love, and whoever you want, is still new and, sadly, not universal. Love is love, y'all.

32 – I'll leave you with one more dress that dates to 1742, in Newburyport, MA — a town I used to visit often — to remind you that tradition is… well, a matter of interpretation. Green! Quilting! Florals! Would wear in a heartbeat.

Wedding dress worn by Mary Beck at her marriage to Nathaniel Carter, Newburyport, Massachusetts, September 1, 1742 in Newbury, MA (U.S.A).

33 – Let's get down to sources–part one: https://dressingdykes.com/2020/12/11/two-white-dresses-the-fashion-of-lesbian-weddings/
https://daily.jstor.org/a-natural-history-of-the-wedding-dress/
https://weddings.lovetoknow.com/wiki/History_of_the_Wedding_Dress
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_dress
https://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/history-of-the-white-wedding-dress

http://ultimatehistoryproject.com/before-the-whiteout-wedding-dresses-and-grooms-outfits.html

34 – Sources, part two:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_wedding_clothes
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_customs_by_country
https://www.cairn.info/journal-annales-de-demographie-historique-2011-1-page-69.htm
https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17351133
https://www.realmofhistory.com/2017/11/22/oldest-marriage-contract-infertility/

https://beinecke.library.yale.edu/collections/highlights/art-ketubah-decorated-jewish-marriage-contracts

35 – And sources, part three! https://scroll.in/article/927364/the-2000-history-of-the-jewish-prenuptial-agreement-that-grants-women-legal-rights
https://www.thoughtco.com/celtic-marriage-laws-4092652
https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Portuguese_Brazilian_Studies/ejph/html/issue9/html/arodrigues_main.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowry

https://www.worldhistory.org/article/688/love-sex-and-marriage-in-ancient-mesopotamia/

36 – Thanks so much for joining me on #ThreadTalk this week! I hope you learned something.

Okay, one more leg of mutton. From House of Worth. Because why not. 1895. Damask, ivory satin. Purr.

Employing a textile design that mirrors itself from selvage to selvage, this dress is pieced into a perfectly symmetrical image at the center front. Impeccable finishing details such as this distinguish the couture garment from the countless products of the ready-to-wear market that flourished in the mid- to late nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The use of the textile pattern to emphasize the woman's fashionable hourglass silhouette, achieved with the help of a steel-boned corset, further demonstrates the mastery of dressmaking technique at the House of Worth, as do the tiny handstitched cartridge pleats at the shoulder that create voluminous sleeves. The design of this sleeve, broad at the upper arm and fitted at the lower arm with the sleeve extending over the back of the hand, refers to sixteenth-century dress styles. - Met Museum, public domain

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on May 17, 2021.

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