During these cold winter days, (some days as low as 5 F) we dream ahead, of sleeveless or backless dresses, lightweight silks and chiffons, eyelet frocks and lacy veils. As spring fast approaches (we saw a snow drop the other day), wedding season is on the mind of many young ladies. Here at Caring for Textiles we are lucky to work on exquisite historic wedding dresses and sometimes their accompanying trousseau. These dresses display a beautiful level of craftsmanship and attention to detail rarely seen in modern times.
Here is a bit of inspiration from brides of the past for modern brides and daydreamers alike.
Perhaps you will be reminded of your dress of yore, or get an inspiration for the ceremony afore…
Ida Patrick Weston wore this rich blue wool and velvet ensemble in 1884 for her wedding to William T. Berry, founder of the North Carolina Berry Company, a huge mercantile firm providing everything from lumber to funeral services. The bride wore a fancy dark suit, as this wedding preceded the vogue of the white wedding dress. We hope to breathe new life in this lovely outfit, as it has suffered from age and humid southern climates.
She married a medical doctor and future mayor! Emily Augustine Hallowell married Zenas Fearing Jr. in 1903, in a chrysanthemum-printed cotton ensemble befitting the late May weather. The sumptuousness and modern styling were indicative of their status and wealth; both were from powerful families in North Carolina. Land owners, merchants, with Fearing’s family going back to the Revolutionary War. Like many well to do brides of the era, a gown alone would not do, and the wedding ensemble features five pieces in shades of lavender and white, cotton and silk.
For her 1922 wedding to Lloyd Turnage, Lillian St. Clair Perry wore a beautiful white satin gown that was very stylish for the time. The college educated bride, whose family owned Strawberry Hill Plantation near Edenton, was lucky enough to wear a dress with many exquisite details even modern brides would envy. It was sewn by a Baltimore dressmaker, of ‘pussywillow satin’, a trademark of ‘Mallisons’ Mill, as indicated in one of the seams. Ms. Perry also had a large and luxe trousseau befitting a southern belle, featuring petticoats, nightgowns, and rompers.
What is remarkable is that these wedding ensembles have survived – at all. Made of delicious proteinaceous silks, satins, and wools, (insect food) and volatile lace, voile, painted fabrics; all subjected to the extreme tropical climate of the south of the United States for at least 100 years. Think hot hot summer days with 100% humidity, coastal areas with salty air, cedar trunks packed with generations of women’s finest, and the predictable floods or hurricanes that reduce heritage to ephemeral memories.
So hats off to the many generations who have preserved and cared for these wedding treasures. Over the next months our conservation treatments will endeavor to clean, de acidify, stabilize, fill areas of loss, and extend the lives of these romantic southern treasures.