The Bride Wore White…Or Did She?

Wedding dresses worn by two centuries of June Brides

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The Fulfillment. Lithograph by D.W. Kellogg & Co. 1830-1840.
Modesty of bridal attire was dictated by the time of the ceremony, traditionally during the day throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Connecticut Historical Society. 1995.182.141.
The Marriage of Her Majesty Victoria, February 10, 1840. Lithograph by E.B. and E.C. Kellogg. 1845.
Gift of Samuel St. John Morgan. Images of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress helped popularize white gowns for all brides. The Connecticut Historical Society. 1950.86.0.
Wedding Dress. 1892.
The wedding outfit of Myrtie Evelyn Bennett Covell was likely worn by the bride even after her wedding day. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Edwin J. Prior, 1995.85.0a,b.
Wedding Dress. 1885.
Alta Harriett Farr married Edward Biglow at home on June 10, 1885. Alta was a seamstress and it is believed she made the dress herself. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Ethel Rosebrooks Larkin and Mrs. Ruth C. Waterman, 1974.114.1.1a-d.

“The bride was dressed in a plain white satin with a broad hem on the bottom, lace plaited around the neck, very pretty short sleeves and long white kid gloves, her neck was dressed low and nothing on it but a gold chain.  As she is a gentell [sic] figure, I think she looked very well.”

~Letter from Harriet Holley to her sister Sarah, dated July 14, 1825, CHS Manuscripts 93793, Box 5, Folder A

 

Weddings have always been a source of joy and celebration and few parts of the festivities are more highlighted in letters, newspapers, and conversation than that of the bride’s gown.  The quote above refers to a Connecticut bride whose wedding took place in late June, on Saint John’s Day, in 1825.  Although the name of the bride did not warrant a mention, her dress was described in full. 

Many elements of the bride’s dress are familiar, even now.  The color, fabric, and lace embellishments are still popular for modern wedding gowns.  However, it was fairly recent in history that white became the color of a bride’s dress.  Although white was established as the wedding color for royalty and nobility by the 18th century, it was not until the 19th century that it became the popular color for the general populace. 

Even though white for wedding gowns became very popular, not all women could afford such a costly material or a dress for one specific occasion.  Women, especially those marrying in less formal ceremonies, continued to marry in various garments, including their Sunday best, traveling suits, and other colored or printed dresses.  On June 20, 1892, Myrtie Evelyn Bennett married farmer Willis Covell in a civil ceremony in Brooklyn, Connecticut.  She wore a simple bodice and skirt of twill-woven wool that she likely continued to wear well after her wedding day.

The 1900s saw an increase in the tradition of passing a dress down to be worn by relatives at their wedding ceremonies, sometimes generations later.  In June of 1937, Elizabeth Anderson married Horace Bradford Wetherell in Hartford.  Her wedding dress was later worn by her sister Virginia in 1947, and her niece Debora in 1977. 

To see examples of dresses worn by Connecticut brides, visit the Research Center and explore wedding photographs or ask to view wedding dresses in the Connecticut Historical Society’s extensive costume collection.   The Connecticut Historical Society is located at One Elizabeth Street, Hartford, Connecticut, For more information, go to www.chs.org.