Late Victorian Brides
This is the fifth in a series of articles about the evolution of bridal fashion. We will begin with early brides and go up through the modern age. Each article will feature a museum that currently has wedding gowns on display to visit. Keep coming back to learn more!
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The extravagant hoop skirts of the 1860s were transformed into the bustle dress in the 1870s. All of the fabric that had previously been filled with a hoop underskirt or cage crinoline was now pushed to the back and supported with a bustle.
A bustle could either be a small, stuffed pillow or a full fledged wire cage, depending on the style of the dress. At the height of this fashion, fabric was draped in a "waterfall" effect with multiple layers, fringe trim, and other embellishments.
As the decade went on, the bustles got larger and larger, until they almost formed a shelf in the back!
Bridal fashions followed the form of conventional styles, with traditional bridal accessories such as orange blossoms, veils, and the like.
Corsets were still worn, creating an impossibly cinched waistline that appeared even smaller when contrasted with a bustle over the derriere. Skirts remained full, but not nearly as wide as the hoop skirts of the previous decade.
In the early 1880s, the bustle trend continued, but it began to shrink. By the end of the "Gay Nineties" it had almost disappeared, and fashion shifted its focus to the arms.
Leg-o-mutton sleeves created an exaggerated upper body, while the skirt melted into a graceful bell shape. Women wanted to achieve an "hourglass" figure, with a small waist accentuated by large sleeves and a full skirt, although no hoops or bustles were used.
Bridal gowns became more "proper" and less "luxurious," with high necklines and much less embellishment. Victorian modesty kept long sleeves in fashion. Hats were immensely popular and made a statement of their own, rather than complimenting an ensemble. Bridesmaids often wore hats with large feathers and enormous ribbons.
After Queen Victoria's 1840 wedding, white became the ideal bridal color, but it was still beyond the reach of many late 19th century brides. Dresses of all shades and colors continued to serve as bridal gowns.
WEDDING GOWNS ON DISPLAY
The Person County Museum of History in Roxboro, North Carolina has a unique gallery of dolls dressed in bridal gowns on permanent display.
“We were given a large collection of dolls/mannequins/clothing etc... several years ago,” says Museum Director April Krause, “with the restriction that the donor was to dictate how the items were to be displayed. And so we have this display set up exactly how the donor instructed, as she had this doll gallery set up on her own property before giving it to us.”
The next article in this series will focus on brides at the turn of the century and the Roaring Twenties.