April 30, 2014

{All Dressed in Vintage White}

Dear Bride-to-Be:
As a costume historian, I often write articles and give talks on a particular fashion from the past and tell stories not only about how it expressed a woman’s style, but also her personal sense of creativity—and how it influenced wedding fashion of that era.

Like the ├╝ber feminine white “lingerie dresses” popular in the late 1890s into the 19-teens which, ironically, “deftly impersonated a Victorian lady’s ‘unmentionables’” as author Kristina Seleshanko explained.* These dresses were filmy white confections—usually sheer cotton lawn or batiste, even tissue silk—deliciously trimmed with inserts of lace, floral embroidery, and tiny pin-tucks and worn as special-occasion dresses for warm weather soirees and ceremonies (even for outings at the beach!)
Fashionable with laced-up corsets underneath for a hourglass or S-curve silhouette and lushly up-swept ‘Gibson Girl’ hairstyles, high-society ladies wore fancy varieties of “lingerie dresses” to Ascot, spring boat races, or just to promenade in the park, topped with large elaborate hats. But these “little white dresses” were very democratic; with the popularity of the sewing machine, most all women (young and old) were able to wear some version of the favored frock. They also became de rigueur for tea-dances, graduations and other rites-of-passage ceremonies—even as a wedding dress since they were often an Edwardian middle-class girl’s “best dress.”

A bride of the time would add some “bridal-ey” accessories for her wedding day like a wreath of wax orange blossoms as well as tiny bouquets of them pinned here and there on her dress. She would also wear a gossamer tulle or lace veil—perhaps one that had been her mother’s—and of course she’d carry a bouquet of fresh flowers and herbs.

When I had my bridal art-to-wear store in Atlanta in the 1980s and 90s, my designers restored many of these old “lingerie dresses” that I’d found searching antique markets and fairs. Sometimes they were for brides, sometimes for her attendants, but always for someone who had a special eye for such vintage beauty. It was as though you could feel the intimacy of the intricate needlework detail…like you became a part of their feminine legacy.

What are you wearing for your wedding? It may be a brand-new, gorgeous designer creation; or a special gown borrowed from a friend or found at a gently-worn shop; or perhaps it’s indeed a rare vintage dress from another era with its own unique story to tell of romance and mystery! Whatever you’re wearing, remember to add your personal touch that includes a bit of old-fashioned spirit and a heart full of love.

Love. Listen. Let go.
…with love from Cornelia

*ps: Read more about “lingerie dresses” on Kristina’s delightful Vintage Connection website.
[Top photo: Courtesy of Historic Mobile Preservation Society]

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