Sunday, 10 November 2013

#41 Fashion and design 20th century wedding dresses

 In Western society, it is traditional for a new bride to wear a white wedding dress at the ceremony, often with a matching veil. This tradition is a fairly recent development, however — until the mid-1800s, and even through much of the 20th century, wedding dresses were merely formal dresses that could be reused for any special occasion. The bride could wear any color except for red or black, which were associated with prostitutes and mourning, respectively.

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The first famous woman to wear a white wedding dress was Mary, Queen of Scots — at that time, it was seen as a bad choice, as white was the official color of mourning for the French. In 1840, however, another royal figure wore white to her wedding — Queen Victoria, at her marriage to Albert of Saxe-Colburg. Queen Victoria's wedding photographs were widely publicized, sparking an interest in the white wedding dress throughout England and beyond.






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Image result for wedding dress photo

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White wedding dresses were a symbol of wealth. 
Because the dresses could not be washed or reused for other occasion, it was evidence that the bride's family could afford to spend money on an extravagant dress. Through much of the early 20th century, only a rich woman could afford to wear a white wedding dress; most women still wore dresses in various colors. Others wore white dresses which they would dye another color after the ceremony, so that it could be used for other occasions.














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In the 1950s, however, white wedding dress became a mainstream trend throughout Western society. With the advent of television, society was bombarded with images of celebrities like Grace Kelly wearing white dresses to their weddings. The average American woman finally decided that it was time to splurge on an expensive white wedding dress for her own ceremony.


















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The white wedding dress is typically used as a symbol for virginity. However, the color white is also associated with innocence and happiness. Over time, as women from all stages of life are wearing white to their wedding, the white dress has lost the connotations of virginity, and is merely associated with a new bride.
The wedding gown is unique. Along with baptism and burial, marriage is one of the three great public occasions in a person's life, and the only one at which the principals can fully appreciate the glory of their central role. For the bride, more than the groom, it is Her Big Day. Throughout history, women have tried to make their wedding dress special, to suit the festive occasion, to make the beautiful bride more beautiful and the not so beautiful at least splendid to look at.                                                                                   At the top of the scale, royal princesses have always tried to be most princess-like on their wedding days. In medieval times, when royal marriages were of great political importance and used to seal alliances between two countries, it was also necessary for the young bride to look magnificent to uphold the prestige of her country, to impress the bridegroom's country with her own nation's apparent wealth and, if possible outdo anything they could have afforded. Her jewellery might well have been the topic of prolonged negotiation, as part of her dowry.
To this end they used as much material as they possibly could, of the most costly, like velvet,damask silk, satin, fur and fabrics woven with gold and silver thread. In days when all fabrics were hand spun, woven and dyed, and economical use of it was the norm, the skirts would be gathered and full, the sleeves would sweep the floor and trains would fall behind to a length of several metres. Colours would be rich too - only the wealthy could afford expensive red, purple and true black dyes, which were much harder to acquire than natural vegetable-based shades. Additionally, the dress would be sewn with precious gems - diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and pearls - so the bride would glitter and flash in the sunlight. In some cases, the gown would be so thickly encrusted with jewels, that the fabric beneath was hidden and in the fifteenth century when Margaret of Flanders was married, the result was so heavy that she could not move in her robes and had to be carried into the church by two gentlemen attendants!
With the advent of constitutional monarchy, royal marriages were of dynastic, rather than national importance, but a princess going, or from, overseas would still wish to impress her new country. This sometimes backfired, when an outfit in the height of current style at her own court might not be so admired elsewhere. This happened to poor Catherine of Braganza (left) at her wedding to Charles II of Britain in 1662, when her pink farthingale was castigated as dowdy, and her hairstyle as peculiar.Of course, not many brides were princesses and most could not afford such expense. But, in order to look special, a bride would usually try to copy the dress of a woman of a higher social class than herself. A noblewoman would do her best with gems and fur trimmings. A well-to-do middle class woman (like Giovanna Cenami in 1434, right) would aspire to velvet or silk fabrics, and because she could not usually afford mink or sable, she would wear fox, or rabbit fur to impress her friends. The poor bride's dress would be of linen, or fine wool, instead of the usual coarse homespun, and she would use as much fabric as she could. For an everyday girl, clothes would normally be as sparingly cut as was decent, so a gown with flowing sleeves or a train was a big status symbol. In modern times with factory made materials, the symbol of the bride in her train has lost its original meaning, but become a tradition.
An ordinary girl, who could not afford very much in the way of decoration or trimming on her wedding outfit, which would have to become her Sunday best frock immediately afterwards, and maybe serve for many years as part of her everyday wardrobe, still wanted the excitement of a special dress. She could have it by adhering to the rules and traditions of wedding costume.
Before modern medicine, a long and healthy life was not very easy to achieve, but people tried to ensure good luck by following superstition. Many superstitions grew up around weddings, to bring about a girl's happiness in her new home and of course to guarantee her fertility. The colour of the gown was a popular source of luck.                                                            White, or a variation of white, was of course always a favourite and symbolised a girl's virginity and innocence in the face of her imminent change of state. But it was not a practical shade for most purposes and it was not always the favourite choice. Blue (as worn by a bride of 1870, left, whose gown is in the London Museum), with its associations with the Virgin Mary, was another a strong symbol of purity, which also traditionally symbolised fidelity and eternal love (hence the popularity of the sapphire in engagement rings). Brides who wore blue believed their husbands would always be true to them, so even if their gown itself was not blue, they would be sure to wear something blue about their person. This is another tradition that has survived to this day.





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Pink was another popular colour, considered most suitable for a May wedding. It is flattering to most complexions and associated with girlhood, but some superstitions held it to be unlucky - "Marry in pink and your fortunes will sink"! Mrs Joseph Nollekens (right) was much admired in 1772 in her saque gown of brocaded white silk embroidered with delicate pink flowers. She wore shoes of the same material, with heels of three and a half inches (8cm). The deeper shade of red was definitely taboo by Victorian times, with its reference to scarlet women and hussies.
Amongst the unpopular shades was green. This was considered the fairies' colour, and it was bad luck to call the attention of the little folk to oneself during a time of transition. Also linked with the lushness of verdent foliage, it was held to make rain spoil the big day.Harking back to the days of homespun garments, any natural shade of brown or beige was considered very rustic. "Marry in brown you will live out of town" with the implication that you will be a hick and never make good in the city.The bright shade of yellow has had varied popularity. In the eighteenth century it was THE trendy colour for a while, and many wore it, like this bride of around 1774 (left) whose dress is at the Gallery of English Costume in Manchester, but before that time it had been associated with heathens and non Christians and was considered an unholy shade to wear in church!
For brides of the lower classes, an extremely common shade of wedding gown was grey, because it was such a useful colour to re-use as Sunday best, being considered eminently respectable. Mary Brownfield (right) chose grey twilled silk as suitable, as a maiden lady of 32 years at the time of her marriage in 1842. In Victorian times it became associated with girls in domestic service, as they would often be provided with a new grey dress each year by their employer. Its deeper shade of black was of course banned, with its permanent association with death and mourning. In fact it was considered such a bad omen that in some places even the guests were not allowed to wear it, and a recent widow would change her mourning for a red gown for the day, in deference to the bride. This in turn deepened the antipathy towards red, which was viewed as bridal mourning.












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