Dressing the Bride: 1899

A PROFESSIONAL DRESSER OF BRIDES.

Miss Eleanor Burwell is a young woman who dresses brides. That is the way she makes her living, and a very good living at that.

The other day a friend of mine was married, and one morning, about two weeks before the eventful day, a card was sent up to her and I went down to see the caller, a Miss Burwell, whose name neither of us had ever heard before. She explained her business, and my friend engaged her.

Early on the morning of the wedding Miss Burwell appeared with her assistant. The entire trousseau, and, I might say, the bride, herself, was turned over to her. She first investigated the wedding outfit and saw that everything was as it should be.

She insisted on the bride’s remaining quietly in bed until 10 o’clock, the wedding not being until 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Then she had her out and tried on the wedding dress, gloves and slippers. Some alterations were necessary, a few stitches, and she took them. Next she turned her attention to packing the trunks, and in less than two hours the task was accomplished and a little book containing a complete inventory was put in the bride’s traveling bag. This inventory gave not only the list of articles but told exactly where they could be found. By this time the bride had finished her luncheon and was persuaded to take a nap and remain in bed until called by Miss Burwell, who, with her assistant, left the house to appear again promptly at 3:30 o’clock. Then a tepid bath was prepared; the bride awakened and while she was taking it they straightened up the room and laid out the bridal costume. The dressing of the bride was accomplished without the slightest hurry and in ample time. But best of all was the fresh, rosy face which shone through the bridal veil. It was so different from the haggard, nervous girl we all expected. She was not a bit tired or worried, and feeling that she was looking her very best, woman-like, she was supremely contented. Miss Burwell accompanied her to the church door, guarded against soiling her gown in the carriage, and gave the final touch to her veil and train as she entered.

After the ceremony she returned to the house, superintended the exchange of the bridal for the going-away gown, gave the final arrangements to the last trunk and the traveling bag; set the room to rights and left as quickly as the proverbial mouse.

The next day I saw her again and asked her to tell me about her work.

HOW MISS BURWELL BEGAN

 “I began four years ago,” she replied, “by dressing a friend of mine, and I thought her mother, who was a very delicate woman, would never get through thanking me. She said I was just the right person in the right place on such an occasion, and as I had left school and was on the lookout for something to do to earn a living, I decided to try dressing brides as a profession. I came to New York as our nearest big city and affording the largest field. Of course I had a few letters of introduction and a small amount of money, less than $50, in my pocket.

“My first customer was obtained through the minister to whom I had come with a letter of introduction. The bride was quite young and without a mother, so she depended on me entirely. Her trousseau, quite an elaborate one, had been prepared, but she was as nervous as a girl could very well be and keep her reason about her wedding day. I treated her just about as I did your friend, only she insisted on my coming to her for two days instead of one, and everybody complimented me on the results. Soon after I had another engagement with a girl out of town whose trousseau I helped to purchase. My work gave satisfaction, and since then I have had my hands full.

“Many of my customers wish me to assist them with their trousseau, that is in its selection and by seeing that the dressmakers and tailors give them perfect fits; others wish me to do just what I did for your friend, while there are some who require me only to dress them and arrange their veils. Of course a well-trained, competent maid could give her mistress much assistance on such an occasion, but my customers, as a rule, are not the very wealthy girls who can afford to keep such an attendant.

“While they pay me well for my services they do not feel that they can afford to keep expensive servants. Of course I am compelled to keep up with the latest styles, and for that purpose I spent two months in Paris last summer.  August and September are the poorest months in the year for weddings, while October, February and June are about the most popular. Often during these months I have as many as two brides a day to dress, and several times 1 could have had as many as four, but was obliged to refuse many engagements for want of time.

IT WOULD PAY OTHER WOMEN.

“Do I think it a work where other women can succeed? I see no reason why they should not. Here in New York there is certainly room for others, because, as I have just said, I have very often been compelled to refuse engagements. According to my observations there is a demand for just such a person, in all of our larger cities and a comfortable living to be earned. But the woman who undertakes it must be willing to perform her work not only as well as any one else, but she must do it just a little bit better. Many people can pack trunks very nicely, but I claim that no one can do it as well as I, nor can they drape a veil or place the bridal wreath as becomingly. I study and work out all the little details of every particular bride, and my time is entirely occupied, but I am well treated, well paid, live well and am saving money. So, naturally, I think my profession a good one.”

LAFAYETTE M. LAWS.

The Butte [MT] Miner 23 July 1899: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has much admiration for Miss Burwell’s ingenuity in making a profession out of what had hitherto been an unpaid duty of the sisters or friends of the bride. Her packing and cataloguing of the bridal trunks was alone certainly worth her fee. (We have previously heard of professional trunk-packers.) But one wonders why a haggard, nervous bride was expected? One hopes it was merely prenuptial nerves and exhaustion rather than uncertainty over the wisdom of her choice of groom….

 

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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