Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where on earth did the idea of the white wedding dress come from?

You may not know this, but it wasn’t until the late 1940s when the white wedding gown with the full, long skirt became the standard for brides. Prior to that, wedding dresses followed the fashion of the period and dresses of any color marched down the aisle. So, where did the straight-out-of-a-fairytale Princess Diana-style wedding dress on the left come from? It originated with England’s Queen Victoria whose choice of color for her bridal gown (white) became all the rage. In those days -1840 to be precise - the sun never set on the British Empire, so it’s no surprise this new trend set by Victoria found its way around the world faster than a steam ship could travel. There was a resurgence of the Victorian look in the 1940s and the bridal gown has pretty much remained the same since.

Queen Victoria in her wedding gown

But to give history its due, it was not Victoria who first wore white for her wedding. Mary Queen of Scots (the one who lost her head because she stepped on Elizabeth I of England’s toes a little too hard) was the first royal bride to wear full white when she married the Dauphin of France in 1559. At that time, white was the color of mourning for French queens, but Mary, not being one to abide by rules, chose white. It was her favorite color. Philippa of England also wore white, though Philippa didn’t go the full hog. Her bow to the color that eventually came to be associated with virginity was a silk cloak bordered with squirrel and ermine.

Prior to the Victorian era, it was anything goes when it came to the color of the wedding dress - even black, which was popular in Scandinavia. Rich and boldly colored fabrics lined and trimmed with furs were worn by the crème de la crème of society up to that point. The marriage unions of the nobility weren’t just about two people. A marriage was also a union between families and, just as often, states. Brides of the aristocracy therefore dressed accordingly – to the nines. But no matter what her station, every bride put on her best show for her wedding, even if she was so poor she had to make do with her Sunday best. After all, the wedding, as it still often does, reflected the status of the family.

Edwardian brides took the Victorian wedding dress to the hilt with an extravagance of frills and flounces never before seen. On the right is Alexandra, bride of King Edward VII of England. However, with the outbreak of World War 1, the over-the-top wedding dress took a backseat to practicality. Styles became simpler, hems became shorter and the tightly laced corset was disposed of for once and for all. 

I’m sure it won't come as a surprise to hear it was the indomitable Coco Chanel who introduced the short wedding dress, a knee-length dress worn with a long train – everything white of course. According to From Times Past, “This cemented white as the universal color of the wedding dress.”


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Cork Rump

Milliner's Shop by S. F. Fores
 In the first decade of the Georgian Era, bell shaped skirts were all the rage. This silhouette was accomplished with hoops of whalebone tied together in a cage around the waist. By mid-18th Century, oblong or fan hoops called panniers (French for basket) spread a lady's skirt to the sides. Proponents claimed this style made for ease of walking and kept importunate gentlemen at a distance. As always, however, such fashion came at a price. Women were forced to turn sideways when they passed through doors, and climbing into a coach was a logistical nightmare. So in the last quarter of the century, the emphasis shifted from the hips to the rump.
Pads filled with fabric or cork were tied at the waist and draped over the derrière, poufing the skirt in the back. Cartoonist were quick to lambast this new “bum roll” or “cork rump” trend. (Check out the 1787 print by S.F. Fores called The Milliner's Shop above. A bum roll is hanging on the wall to the right of the mirror.)
Chloe's Cushion or the Cork Rump by Matthew Darly
Typical of the ridicule was the print by Matthew Darly from 1777 entitled Chloe's Cushion or The Cork Rump. (Notice the puppy perched on the back!) Satirists like Peter Pindar composed poems about the style. In 1815 he published The Cork Rump, or Queen and Maids of Honour. He'd already offered a backhanded criticism of the fashion when he extolled the virtues of the common maid in his 1794 poem, The Louisad:

  “With Nature's hips, she sighs not for cork rumps,
“And scorns the pride of pinching stays and jumps;
“But, pleas'd from whalebone prisons to escape,
“She trusts to simple nature for a shape…”

Cork rumps were a popular subject in newspapers and broadsheets as well. One gentleman observed in the December 16, 1776 issue of The Weekly Miscellany:

“A most ingenious author has made it a question, whether a man marrying a woman…may not lawfully sue for divorce on the grounds that she is not the same person? What with the enormous false head-dress--painting--and this newfangled cork substitute--it would be almost impossible for a man to know his bride the morning of his nuptials. If the ladies look on this invention as an ornament to their symmetry, I will engage they shall be excelled by almost any Dutch market-woman or fat landlady in this kingdom.”

There is an account in History of the Westminster Election of a riot on May 10, 1784 in Covent Garden between proponents of the three candidates standing for Parliament. The Guards were called and subsequently fired upon the crowd. Two ladies lost portions of their wigs, several were “deprived of their eye-brows” and one woman had her cork rump shot off.
But perhaps no story was more outrageous than the one which appeared on October 4, 1785 in The Morning Post. A lady reportedly fell into the Thames and was saved from drowning by--you guessed it--her cork rump. (Click here for the entire article:
Eventually, the cork rump faded in popularity, replaced by the Grecian silhouette and empire gowns of the Regency. But as the saying goes, you can't keep a good thing down. The exaggerated tush returned mid-19th Century in the form of the Victorian bustle.
Joanna Waugh lives on the southern shore of Lake Michigan and writes Regency romance.

Her book BLIND FORTUNE is available in Kindle format at