Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Practical Wedding Dress (HSM #5)

Practicality. This was a difficult topic for me, as much of my research is done through fashion plates and the like, and I had no idea where to begin. (There is the Ouvrières de Paris series of plates I posted to Tumblr, but I couldn't think of anything substantial to say about them except to note all the black aprons. Note all the black aprons!) But then I considered all the patterns from the Chapman that I still have to post about, and came across this one:

Wedding suit, 1906; CHM  1983.77.4a-d
(The jacket has a skirt and a belt; the pattern for all pieces is available at the link.)

This was worn by Elizabeth Callahan (1882-1953) on her marriage to Patrick Herlihy (1875-1958) on April 30, 1906. Doesn't look like a wedding outfit, does it? I admit that I wouldn't have guessed that this was worn to a wedding, and ordinarily I might have questioned the attribution and put it as the traveling suit, but the hard copy file contained the wedding announcement, which stated: The bride wore a tailored suit with flower hat and carried a shower bouquet of bride’s roses

While the construction of the ensemble is anything but practical - the jacket's cut is complicated, the construction clearly done by a tailor, and the skirt's pleating is also pretty complicated - Elizabeth's choice to have a well-made tailored wool suit for her wedding is a practical one for 1906! Wearing a "traveling gown" for the wedding ceremony was common enough for etiquette books to devote whole sections to it. Generally, the whole wedding would be simpler if the bride were dressed this way - fewer bridesmaids and no reception, and sometimes held at home. According to Weddings and Wedding Anniversaries (1910), Elizabeth likely left for her honeymoon directly and wore no veil. It was probably a simple (practical!) affair.

The noticeably short Eton jacket came into fashion in 1906 (and should probably be taken into account when discussing the transition into the early 1910s' high-waisted look), along with a few other jacket styles that moved away from the earlier suits with bloused fronts that followed the same silhouette used in dresses at the time.

"Eton Jacket and Skirt", The Ladies Review, November 1906; NYPL 816649
As in the above illustration, this jacket is cut with vertical stripes and has a rounded collar and contrasting trim, the belt is pointed, and the skirt is cut to fit through the hips and then flares out in pleats. If only the drawing's hat had flowers instead of feathers, it would be a perfect illustration of the suit, really! Which goes to show how up-to-date Elizabeth Callahan Herlihy was at her practical April wedding.

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