Encore: The Indiscreet Trousseau of an American Bride: 1870

A wedding gown from 1870.

[Originally published in 2013]

THE BUTLER-AMES WEDDING.

The Trousseau of an American Bride.

[Mrs Daffodil omits the lengthy description of the importance of the match, the charms of the bride and the accomplishments of the groom.]

THE TROUSSEAU

Nearly all the bridal outfit was ordered abroad, and was selected and made under the supervision of Mrs. Webster, the sister of Mrs. Butler. Everything is very elegant, and neither pains nor expense has been spared to make the trousseau as complete as possible. Among the things that were sent were.

One dozen robes de nuit trimmed with Valenciennes; one dozen [sic] robes de nuit trimmed with French work; one dozen sets under-clothing with Valenciennes bands and edges; one dozen sets under-clothing with French embroidered bands and edges; one dozen embroidered cambric combing jackets; one dozen corset covers trimmed with Valenciennes and French embroidery; one-half dozen embroidered flannel underskirts; one dozen cambric skirts for walking dresses; one dozen cambric skirts for train dresses; one dozen pair silk stockings; one dozen pair Lisle-thread stockings; two dozen pair Balbriggan stockings; three pair slippers; two dozen pair white kid gloves, six buttons; one dozen pair light shade kid gloves, three buttons; one dozen pair dark shade kid gloves, three button; four sets French flowers, six fans, five hats, six white cambric dresses, one white French muslin with train, six embroidered muslin jackets, two point lace handkerchiefs, one dozen Valenciennes handkerchiefs, one dozen French embroidered handkerchiefs, two dozen hem-stitched (with initial) handkerchiefs, point lace overskirt and flounce half yard deep, Duchesse lace overskirt and flounce half yard deep, point lace shawl, two Llama lace jackets, four parasols, six suits.

Everything is in the most perfect taste, and, like all French things, exquisitely and daintily made. There is nothing stiff or set-looking, but it seems almost as though the things were tossed together and held by invisible thread. The laces are of the finest and the embroidery of the most delicate. Assuredly no princess royal could have daintier or more elegant things than this young American bride. There is a coquettish grace about everything that in some way suggests the wearer. The jaunty little jackets, with relief of lavender, blue, or green running through the embroidery, the stylish hats and the coquettish parasols—everything is Parisian in the extreme. The suits are very stylish and pretty.

Among the most markedly striking is the travelling suit of China silk of the new tea rose shade ecru. The lower skirt is trimmed with deep ruffles and puffs, and in length just touches the floor and the back, and reaches to the instep in front, just clearing the foot. The over-skirt is rather long and quite bouffant, trimmed with ruffles of the same and a Cluny lace, an inch and a half in width, exactly the shade of the dress. The jacket is a graceful, half-fitting affair, with loose sleeves, trimmed to correspond with the upper skirt. A fall of Valenciennes lace is fastened into the sleeve, and drops over the hand.

The hat is a jaunty little soft-crowned thing, made of the same material as the dress, of a nondescript shape, utterly unlike anything yet seen in America, and is trimmed with green ribbon, plaited quite full around the crown, and completely covering the very narrow brim. A rosette is placed at the left side, and that constitutes the whole trimming. It is very simple and girlish, and exceedingly becoming to the face of the wearer.

The boots, too, are like the dress, with square, rather broad toes and high heels, nearly in the middle of the foot. The boot is lower than those that have been worn for two or three years past, being only about seven inches in height. They are buttoned with tiny gilt buttons.

The parasol is quite a new idea, and is what young ladies call “perfectly stunning.” The handle, which is quite heavy, and covered with green Russia leather, forms a walking stick. The head is a horse-shoe of French gilt, which surrounds a tiny looking glass. The shade is of ecru China silk, lined with green, and ornamented with heavy ecru cord and tassel. The fan is of sandal-wood and ecru silk, with the monogram B.B. painted on it in green.

There is a lovely black silk suit made with only one skirt, trimmed with three quite broad ruffles pinked on the edges. The jaunty little coat is trimmed with deep fringe, with the finest Valenciennes at wrist and throat. The hat is of black thread lace, with a moss rose and half open bud at the left side. The fan is very elegant; the sticks are gilt, and the upper part of the fan of black satin, beautifully ornamented. A lovely necklace accompanies this suit. It consists of flat pieces of jet about an inch square and fastened together by heavy links of gold. There are three pendants of jet and gold, very unique and elegant.

Another lovely suit has an under-skirt of heavy purple silk, trimmed with one deep ruffle and a puff. The overdress is of a cream shade of Canton crepe. The skirt is quite long, and much looped at back and sides. It has no trimming, but is simply pointed and bound with the same material. The jacket matches, and has loose sleeves. The hat is purple silk, covered entirely with point lace, with a bunch of heliotrope at the extreme left side.

But a blue silk suit in artistic perfection and grace puts all the rest in the shade. The lower skirt is of quite a dark shade, trimmed with a ruffle and double puffs, with a braid of the dark silk lined with three shades lighter.

The overskirt is of the lighter shade trimmed with a heavy fringe of the same shade, which, instead of being made and sewed in, is knotted into the silk. The jacket is a still lighter shade, and is trimmed with the braid of the two other shades of silk. The hat is of white chip bound with black velvet, and trimmed with bands of white uncut velvet and a long ostrich plume, passing over the top of the hat and falling over the hair. The fan is of carved ivory and white ilk, with delicate rosebuds painted on it. The parasol is very lovely; the handle is white carved coral, the shade of white heavy silk, lined with a brighter silk, with a fringe of marabou feathers. The laces are exquisite, the point overdress and flounce being of the finest texture and most delicate pattern. The handkerchiefs are gossamer, and airy enough for the queen of the fairies.

THE BRIDAL DRESS

This is one of the most elegant dresses that could be worn on such an occasion, and is of white relours silk. It was made with a court train, a puffing of tulle passed around the bottom of the skirt, and on this is placed the flounce of Duchesse lace. The overdress of Duchesse was worn with it.

The long tulle veil is fastened on with the most delicate orange blossoms that formed a sort of coronet in front and fell drooping over the lace in sprays of buds and leaves. The fan is of pearl and point lace, with the bride’s monogram beautifully wrought in the lace. No bride has ever had a more beautiful or complete trousseau than Miss Butler, and it must be a very unreasonable one who would ask for anything more lovely.

Evening Post [New York, NY] 23 July 1870: p. 4

EXTREME SNOBBERY.— The description of the wedding outfit of Miss Butler, married to General Ames, comes under this head. It is the first time that we have ever seen any allusion to the undergarments of a young lady about to be married, and who furnished the list. Imagine the reporter— no doubt, standing by, with pencil and paper in hand— superintending the counting of the stockings, nightgowns, underclothing, corsets, corset covers, combing jackets, and skirts! There must have been some articles coming under the head of etceteras, for we do not see any mention of bifurcated garments. And how particular about the gloves! The anxiety there must have been that he got the proper number of buttons on each glove correct. We approve of the Balbriggan stockings, for we know they are a good article. But don’t let us lose sight of the gloves: Two dozen pairs of white kid gloves, six buttons; one dozen pair of light shade kid gloves, three buttons; one dozen pair of dark shade kid gloves, three buttons. Two buttons and one button must be vulgar; so, in future, we shall none of them. One dozen nightgowns trimmed with Valenciennes, and one dozen trimmed with French work, is a pretty fair allowance. One dozen combing jackets is about right, but two dozen corset covers is, we think, too liberal. We cannot devote more space to this nonsense. We can only regret that a Senator and Representative of Congress would consent to such an exposure. We must not neglect to state that the articles were all made in Paris. There was not talent enough in this country to make a trousseau for an American lady. How different is the description of the marriage of the Earl of Derby. Perfectly modest, inasmuch as no mention is made of a trousseau, let alone stockings, combing jackets, and corset covers; and it may be a piece of information to snobs in general to state that the earl and his groomsman wore frock coats at the marriage. In republican America such a garment would have been frowned upon. Godey’s Lady’s Book October, 1870

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: 2,500 guests were invited to the wedding, including General and Mrs. Grant, who sent their regrets. Delightful as the white carved coral parasol handle sounds, reading such vulgarities as “neither pains nor expense has been spared,” Mrs Daffodil is inclined to agree with the satirical author of the second item. It is one thing to describe items such as fans or parasols or even walking suits. At a time when ladies were ideally mentioned in the papers only at birth, marriage, and death, this public inventory of intimate garments seems in dubious taste.  It caused much comment and censure in the press.  To be fair, it is the ostentation one would expect from a bride whose mother was an actress prior to her marriage.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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2 thoughts on “Encore: The Indiscreet Trousseau of an American Bride: 1870

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      No, indeed! The rationale behind the plethora of trousseaux garments in this period was that they would have to last for many years. Perfectly sound reasoning if one thinks only of table and bed-linens, which were to be rotated to avoid excessive wear, but utter rot when applied to one’s wardrobe. There is an amusing squib in an 1875 newspaper: “The Duchess of Edinburgh has worn all the dresses of her wedding outfit once and her sisters-in-law are asking her why she doesn’t make her husband buy her something new.” The bride was Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, who married Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred in 1874. Her father, Tsar Alexander II gave her a staggering £100,000 as a dowry, plus an annual allowance of £32,000, so she could well afford her own “something new.”

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