Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1890's Brown Outfit with Black Lace

From the seller:

Old wedding dress from 1890. Has a few bites, but overall very nice. Selvedge displayed all over. Hand made very cool. Fits on a size A dress form ( not included).

From Me:

No, seriously, that is all the seller said. Although this dress is clearly from the 1890's (not 1890 specifically, more like 1894 or so), I doubt this was a wedding gown. It may have been part of a wedding trousseau, but not the dress. For one thing, it's wool. (Hence the moth holes). For another thing, it's not white or off white - although there are several examples of wedding gowns not being white in the Victorian era, I'd like to see a picture to prove it with this claim. The smallest a dress form A can get to, it looks like, waist wise is 24" which puts in on the norm with most other dresses/outfits we've seen.


Okay, it seems I've caused some confusion! Let me explain my analysis of this dress. First, let's take what little the seller says and what we already know about the vast majority of sellers:
1. Most sellers have no clue what they are selling - we've seen this countless times now. 1910's dresses being labeled "Civil War" or , my personal favorite, Gunne Sax gowns being sold as Victorian.
2. Given that we know most sellers have no clue what they are selling, we can have a healthy dose of skepticism towards all sellers.
3. This seller has a grand total of five sentences on the gown.
4. They offer no evidence what-so-ever that this is a wedding dress. Evidence would be in the form of a marriage certificate from the mid 1890's when this style was popular, a letter describing the dress from the 1890's or a bit later by the lady herself, or a picture.

Let's look at the dress for further analysis:
1. It has moth holes. Given that and the look of the texture of the fabric we can assume wool. I have seen silk and cotton gowns from this time period but wool is almost exclusively reserved for day wear.
2. Most wedding gowns are white in this time period. This is clearly not white. (I know, I stated that above but I want to make sure everyone gets my full thought process on the analysis of this gown0
3. Wedding gowns -with the exception of Mormon gowns (which are always white)- have a "bling" on both the bodice and the skirt. This has some normal "additions" to the sleeves and neckline but nothing on the skirt.
4. Given the lack of decoration on the skirt (this is important), and the general style of the bodice, it's most likely a Promenade outfit like this and not a wedding gown.

Sorry, can't write more, late for class! Please, let me know if you have questions.


  1. I have a photo and newspaper article from my great grandmother's wedding. She wore a dove gray gown. I think it was described as satin but I can't remember. There is also a wedding gown in my historical society's collection from 1886 that is royal blue. Another wedding gown in the collection is from the late 1860s and is gold. There is a photo of the bride in her gown.
    Just a few examples, but yes white or off white were the most common for wedding gowns.

    1. Oh yes, as I said, there are examples of not-white gowns but even those tend to be "fancier" materials. This is pretty plain jane by the Belle Epoque standards.

  2. If it was someone very poor, the woman could have bought a new dress for the wedding that was just a "Sunday best". My great-grandmother wears a blouse and skirt on her wedding picture that follow the cut of the year to the T - basic white blouse, dark woollen skirt, looking brand new.
    The sleeves are YUMMY !

  3. Laura Ingalls (Wilder) was sewing her gowns with her Ma, first a practical serviceable black (wool? actually I forget the fabric), then they were going to do a wedding gown. Then Almanzo found out his mother and sister were coming to Dakota Territory from the East with big plans for a fancy wedding no one could afford. So he and Laura were quietly married, alone with the pastor. She never had time to make her wedding gown. She wore her black dress. Her Ma fussed and said, "Married in black, you'll wish yourself back." But Laura insisted they had to be married quickly to avoid a pricey wedding.

    Just thought I'd share that as opposite example. I always liked the story. I'm enjoying the photos you post. Whatever the facts are, it is a lovely gown. =)