Wedding Dress

1867 (made), October 3 1867 (worn)
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

In the nineteenth century the bride's dress was the focal point of a wedding just as it often is today. The fashionable cut and rich material lavished on this gown show that it was clearly designed for a prosperous bride. With its crisp, simple lines and high waist and gored skirt worn over a crinoline cage, it is similar to styles depicted in contemporary photographs and fashion plates. The shimmering silk satin, delicate lace trimmings and pleated bertha ( a collar-like trimming) give the gown a sumptuous quality as would have befitted a wealthy bride.

The colour is also significant as brides of social standing tended to wear white, ivory or cream. The fashion for white wedding dresses started in the mid-eighteenth century, although most people were married in coloured gowns. By the early nineteenth century more and more women opted for white as it implied purity, cleanliness and social refinement. The less well off or more practically minded chose pale blue, dove grey or fawn which they could wear for special occasions long after the event.

It was, however, acceptable and even desirable for fashionable brides to customise their dresses for the early days of married life. In this example there is evidence that long net sleeves were once attached to the short oversleeves and a chemisette would probably have covered the neck. As weddings took place during the day it was usually considered unseemly to reveal a low décolletage or bare arms. Net was ideal as it provided a modest covering without destroying the effect of the dress and could easily be removed to create a fashionable evening gown.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Wedding Bodice
  • Wedding Skirt
Materials and Techniques
Silk satin, needle lace, cotton and whalebone strips
Physical Description
Wedding dress (bodice and skirt) of silk satin trimmed with needle lace. Bodice lined with cotton and whalebone strips.
Credit line
Given by Mrs Campbell
Object history
This dress was worn by Charlotte Clark (May 8 1832-March 29 1873) for her marriage to James Fowler Dwight (30/1/1830-?) on October 3 1867 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.



The dress was donated by their granddaughter, who also donated her mother's wedding dress (T.38&A-1951), her great-grandmother's wedding dress (T.36-1951) and her own (T.39-1951).
Historical context
James Dwight was a lawyer based in New York. For 24 years he was Assistant US District Attorney with Theodore Sedgwick. While in the office he dedicated himself energetically to the suppression of the slave trade that was carried on clandestinely from the port of New York. From 1861 he served in the Union army during the American Civil War as Seed Lieutenant of Cavalry in the Fremont Hussars in St. Louis, and by 1863 he had become Provost Marshal General of Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. As his cousin was also Provost Judge of Louisiana, they controlled the whole slave territory west of the Mississippi. In July 1865 he was mustered out of service by General Sheridan, and returned to New York.



In 1867 he married Charlotte Clark, the daughter of Cyrus Sullivan Clark and Charlotte Cooley. They had two children, but sadly Charlotte died a week after the birth of her daughter, Charlotte Mabel Dwight.
Summary
In the nineteenth century the bride's dress was the focal point of a wedding just as it often is today. The fashionable cut and rich material lavished on this gown show that it was clearly designed for a prosperous bride. With its crisp, simple lines and high waist and gored skirt worn over a crinoline cage, it is similar to styles depicted in contemporary photographs and fashion plates. The shimmering silk satin, delicate lace trimmings and pleated bertha ( a collar-like trimming) give the gown a sumptuous quality as would have befitted a wealthy bride.



The colour is also significant as brides of social standing tended to wear white, ivory or cream. The fashion for white wedding dresses started in the mid-eighteenth century, although most people were married in coloured gowns. By the early nineteenth century more and more women opted for white as it implied purity, cleanliness and social refinement. The less well off or more practically minded chose pale blue, dove grey or fawn which they could wear for special occasions long after the event.



It was, however, acceptable and even desirable for fashionable brides to customise their dresses for the early days of married life. In this example there is evidence that long net sleeves were once attached to the short oversleeves and a chemisette would probably have covered the neck. As weddings took place during the day it was usually considered unseemly to reveal a low décolletage or bare arms. Net was ideal as it provided a modest covering without destroying the effect of the dress and could easily be removed to create a fashionable evening gown.
Collection
Accession Number
T.37&A-1951

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record createdMarch 28, 2006
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