The Wedding Dress: Styles and Stories
By Stuart Mitchner
For our lavish New York wedding (no music, no frills, no rice, bearded nondenominational minister, statue of St. Francis looking on), my wife wore a knee-length, crocheted off white dress purchased from the teenage girls’ department at Lord and Taylor (she’s 5’0).
Also 5’0 and two years younger on her wedding day in February 1840, Queen Victoria, according to numerous online sources, wore a white, off-the-shoulder gown with a structured, eight-piece bodice featuring a wide, open neckline; short, puffed sleeves trimmed with lace; a floor-length skirt containing seven widths of fabric; and a satin train over six yards long, which 12 attendants carried down the aisle.
Another thing my wife and Queen Victoria have in common is a fondness for Charles Dickens, who resisted invitations to visit the Queen until shortly before his death in 1870. Of all the wedding gowns in literature, the best known must be the one worn by Miss Havisham when young Pip first sees her in Great Expectations: “She was dressed in rich materials, — satins, and lace, and silks, — all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white.” Dressed for a wedding that never happened, she had but “half arranged” her veil, her watch and chain “were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers…” And everything within Pip’s view “which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow.”
Credit to Victoria
In The Way We Wed: A Global History of Wedding Fashion (Running Press $24) by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, Queen Victoria is credited with popularizing the long, white wedding gown, which was solemnized with the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Among the book’s illustrations is Michel Garnier’s painting The Marriage Contract Interrupted (1789), a preview of Miss Havisham’s dilemma that shows a bride in full wedding regalia “dropping her quill in surprise as an unexpected clause derails the ceremony.” more