Tuesday, June 7, 2011

FF: I Do (Love This Dress)

A pleasantly purple wedding kaftan that would have been worn by a Jewish-Turkish bride (Magnes Collection)
Until recent years (when September and October have eclipsed it, according to a poll of wedding planners) June was considered the month in which to hold a wedding in several Western countries. Many cite the mild weather and preponderance of flora, while others point their fingers at pre-Christian traditions centered around the Summer Solstice- a time of great fertility and prosperity. Personally, this blogger blames the Victorians; who seemed to imprint as many modern traditions with weddings as they did funerals (and that, my friends, is a lot). In addition to its ancient ties and clement weather, June also would have offered great conditions to embark upon a honeymoon- the modern idea of which is an invention of the (early) 19th century.

It should be noted that Miss Kagashi hates weddings- or at least mainstream American ones. The blogger will spare you all her acid concerning these travesties of consumerism unless asked, however. So why focus an entire article on weddings and dresses worn by brides around the world if I detest them so? Much like headgear and etiquette, things were just so much more nifty back then and elsewhere. If these gorgeous pieces of art can make a believer out of me- who knows, I might get some drooling out of you.

This Jewish bride from Morocco's attire is anything but dull. Eugene Delacroix, 1832 (Hoocher)
One thing you might notice about this nuptial jaunt around the world is how colorful it is. With a few exceptions outside of the West, white was not the marriage color. In fact, for many cultures (particularly in Asia) white was a color of mourning or old age, not celebration or good fortune: things you want present at a wedding. This is why you see a lot of red, gold, blue, and even green on wedding dresses from around the world at this time. White became de rigeur (much like Christmas trees) with the ascension of Queen Victoria and her marriage to Prince Albert, in which she wore a diaphanous white gown to symbolize her purity. This caught on like indoor plumbing and next thing you know, everybody's getting married in white. How utterly boring.


Wedding hanbok from the collection of Linda Wrigglesworth (Londonkoreanlinks)

This bridal hanbok (the basic garment of Joseon Korea) was made and worn in the 19th century and decorated with actual gold plate. The rainbow sleeves (saekdong) are also traditional- a call to each of the five directions for their blessing. Part of the traditional Korean wedding ceremony is for the bride and husband to bow to one another- as that was originally the first time they would ever meet (thankfully this has gone the way of dial-up). For this custom the bride was flanked by bridesmaids because her wedding garb would be so heavy that she might require help to rise from her bow. While Western fashions have become popular, a lot of modern Korean girls like to get married in traditional dress- albeit not as overbearing as in prior generations, so the bow-guards' jobs are mostly symbolic.


Woman in a recreation of a 19th century wedding gown at the International Day Festival in Dakar. (T.J. Haslam)
Senegal was under the colonial influence of the French from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th and while they were forced to adopt the fluffy confection of the European wedding gown- the native affluent elite gave it their own twist. The tall headdress, looseness of the top, and mix of textiles are all local clothing customs that still pervade gowns like this to this day. Another beautiful example of an indigenous population taking a "gift" of colonialism and making it their own.

One fun tradition that the French took with them to most of their colonies was that of the charivari- a loud and raucous procession made by family and friends of the newlywed couple. The band of well-wishers would make their way to the house of the couple, making all manner of racket on pots, pans, kettles, and washtubs until they were invited in for refreshment (punch and pie!). The charivari hit its pinnacle in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but is still done in parts of Quebec and Cajun country in the southern United States. I think it needs to come back, mainly because I want to harass my sister while banging on a mixing bowl demanding an omelet or something.


Photo taken by Coleen over at Costume History is Fun!
This traditional style of wedding outfit from the early 20th century (the dress itself though was made in the 1980s) is called a Thoub al-Nashl (gauzy overdress) and a Darr'ah (undergown). Made out of green silk chiffon, the thoub's sleeves are so massive that they can be draped up and over the head as a veil. How's that for multitasking? One would think, with those yards of hand-down metallic embroidery, isn't it a waste to wear it only once? Well, the Bahrainian people agree with you. A woman would wear her best thoub al-nashl many times throughout her life beside her wedding, like birthday and Eid celebrations.


A full Turkish bridal ensemble from the 1900s (V & A Museum)
This outfit consists of a cropped velvet jacket, a fitted robe called an entari, and pink silk sirwal (trousers, remember those?) which are in essence very simple garments but thanks to painstaking metallic embroidery turn them into showpieces. Indeed, the clothes are so crusty with detailing that the V & A museum notes that it would have been difficult for the bride to move! (Personally I think this might have been an insurance policy against cold feet, but I'm a cynical thing...) One explanation for the sheer amount of bling in this ensemble is an old Ottoman tradition of family members and friends who approved of the marriage giving the bride golden tokens of encouragement that she would then proudly sew into her clothing.

A slightly less delightful tradition is the rather old-fashioned announcement that the bride was in fact a virgin in front of the guests, family, friends, and well... everybody. While this is very touching that any Ottoman groom worth his salt would be appalled at the thought of any man but he bonking his wife, it doesn't exactly help that he was allowed to sleep around as much as he liked before and after marriage... but hey, at least she has a gorgeous dress as consolation!

A 19th century Manchu-style wedding robe (Miller's Antiques)
As some of you may recall from our post exploring the importance of color in various cultures, the Chinese are very conscious of color and its symbolism. This is why most Chinese wedding dresses before the 20th century were red- the color of happiness and good fortune (in fact many modern Chinese brides opt to have a red dress to change into during the reception). Another aspect of this robe is the attempts to make it harmonious with the use of yin and yang iconography. The metallic designs depict large dragons (yang) surrounded by smaller phoenixes (yin) and peonies (yin, and also a symbol of longevity)- so even wearing the dress was an act of harmony and good luck.

Just in case a luck-infused dress wasn't enough, one of the pre-wedding customs was for a person called the "Good Luck Woman" to style the bride's hair while uttering encouraging, auspicious, and complimentary blessings. When my sister gets married this fall I might bribe the hairdresser to do this, everybody could do with a pep talk...


Wedding gown from Attica, found in the Benaki Museum (Caro Interiors)
I ask you all to look at the gown above. See those subtle, raised, glittering patterns? You guessed it, hand embroidery all in spun gold (which sadly is not available at Joann Fabrics...). Another feature is the silver headpiece, which while not uncommon wasn't standard since many Greek brides opted wear a garland of flowers atop their heads (which probably means that this outfit belongs to a wealthy lady indeed!). You might also notice something familiar that some of our other dresses lacked- a veil. The first recorded use of veils in bridal traditions actually go back to ancient Greece, where they obfuscated the bride's identity from gods and monsters that would otherwise harm her (or, in keeping with Greek deities, abduct her... let's face it).


A Kazakh bride in 1911- judging by the horse's pose the engagement was consensual (Sergei Ivanovich Borisov)
Sure, arranged marriages are a drag- but imagine being stolen by your bridegroom. Bride abduction was fairly common in Central Asia (and still happens occasionally) and could be as innocent as two sweethearts eloping to a total stranger making off your your daughter or sister. However, there were various steps insuring the safety and well-being of the girl and ultimately she could outright refuse the offer and petition her male family members to come and get her. There was nothing insuring said male family members wouldn't be irate or downright violent when they'd retrieve her, however.

If the parties agreed however, a Kazakh bride would wear a tall, steepled, bejeweled headdress called a saukele. This highly ornamented hat would be worn the entire first year of marriage and probably caused many a backache for a newlywed crawling out of her yurt.


Yes, this is a traditional Spanish wedding gown. And yes... I kind of want one. (Elegant Event Designs)
A lot of old-fashioned Roman Catholics were fond of a concept called memento mori- or the reminder that one of these days you were going become an ex-person. But the Spanish weren't so doom and gloom that they would make their brides wear skull rosaries or hair jewelry (seriously, Victorians were weird). Instead, they wore sumptuous black lace wedding gowns with matching veils called mantillas as a reminder that the marriage (and the love, one would hope) would last "'til death". Spanish brides also traditionally carried a small purse with them to the ceremony filled with 13 gold coins- a gift from her bridegroom that promised that he would support her in the future the best that he could.

The mantilla was affixed to the bride's hair with ornately carved mantilla combs- which are now highly collectible...

United States

This one's from the 1870s- I couldn't find one from the 1860s that struck my fancy (V & A)
I know what you're going to say- United States?!? What's exotic about that? Well, during the 1860s a trend amongst brides added a bit of color to the white gown that Victoria popularized at her wedding. As a show of support for the wounded and fallen during the Civil War (1861-1865) American brides opted to wear purple wedding dresses. And as many of you know, purple is the most steampunk color! Of course, a bride during this tumultuous time had to be grateful that she had a groom present at all, let alone a gown made with the newfangled anneline purple dyes.

I hope you enjoyed this bride-gawking jaunt around the world (which is by no means complete, I'm rather peeved that after 2 hours of searching I wasn't able to find an extant picture of an Indian bride- but worry not, we'll be discussing henna soon!) and some of those gorgeous gowns of yesteryear. If you find yourself to be wedded this June (or some time in the near future) I wish you the best of fortune and happiness (and that you weren't abducted from your yurt...)


  1. Loved this post. It was hard to choose just one favorite. I too get tired of all the white. I married at the Justice of the Peace opting to save the money of a wedding, and we have lasted much longer than friends who went elaborate. But looking at these dresses....maybe a little ceremony wouldn't have been so bad.

  2. Great post. I love seeing all the contrast between the silhouettes and types of embellishment.

  3. The chinese robe might be my favorite...hard to choose, though. A fun post, as always!

  4. KIND of want the Spanish dress? no kind of to it... I DO want one!!

  5. Totally loving the Senegal dress it is my favorite. My hubby got married at the court house nothing wrong with that. But that dress with out the head gear for my personal taste lol. I would have worn this to a wedding i would have planned a wedding just to wear that dress lol.. Thanks for sharing loved to see all thing from around the world

  6. I got married in india, and my wedding dresses (it was a 5 day ceremony) were all sorts of bright colors.

  7. I must interject. you see Honeymoon is a very old, pagan celebration in which the newly joined couple would be given mead to drink for a month afterward. a honey-moon

  8. I want the Spanish one too.

    When I got married, 20 years ago today, I went for a simple outfit even though my mother wanted a big elaborate dress. I told her she should be happy to see me in a dress and heels at all. (I am and always have been a jeans and sneakers type.)

  9. Yes Director, but it wasn't until the Regency era that couples actually WENT somewhere. I'm well aware of the Roman tradition of people leaving food for newlyweds on their doorstep and the old adage that the first month is usually the least tumultuous.

  10. Great dresses, Turkish one was my favorite.

  11. 1982 was the first year October replaced June as the most popular month for weddings in the US at least. I chose October for a number of reasons - the weather, the time change, and to be unique. I got 2 out of 3 I guess - LOL

  12. Something that's worth exploring is the traditional wedding clothing from Bulgaria as it was worn in the 18th, 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Historically Bulgaria didn't have its Renaissance as they had it in the rest of Europe, due to the country falling under Ottoman rule. Clash of cultures and religions led to interesting preservation of tradition - music was kept as close as what it sounded like in the Medieval, so was the traditional clothing, for the most part (but add to that the influence that came from the Ottomans, from Central Europe and even from the minorities such as jews, gypsies, cherkez people, koumans, etc, etc). The result was pretty interesting, and what makes it more interesting is how diverse it all got - although small of size, Bulgaria has over nine distinct regions with different folklore and completely different style of dress.

  13. A maid from the Rhodope mountains, probably somewhere around the town of Smolyan : http://img706.imageshack.us/img706/8655/1689t.jpg (the maid's transition from being a maid to being a bride was the most important part of the rituals that were performed before the wedding. In fact her separation from her life as a maiden was more important than her wedding)

    This is an authentic bridal dress from the eastern part of the Bulgaria, somewhere around the shores of the Black sea : http://library.thinkquest.org/28856/images/culture/laz1_b.jpg

    Recreation of a wedding as it was performed in the 18th century : http://www.monitor.bg/img/?id=44822&sz=2 (you'll notice that the vail is present, but it was never white - it indeed had to be red!)

    An actual photoshot of wedding from Sofiya in the beginning of 20th century : http://stara-sofia.com/sfsvatba.jpg

    The bride : http://stara-sofia.com/mladabulka.jpg

    The bride and the groom : http://stara-sofia.com/mladojencicvqt.jpg

    Maidens : http://stara-sofia.com/pernati.jpg

    An ancient marriage ritual was kept in Ribnovo as well, and it looks quite bizarre nowadays :
    http://lambo.blog.bg/photos/29038/original/ribnovo1_01.jpg (yes, this is an actual girl and yes, her face is painted and decorated like that)

    And some authentic clothes from the Sofia Ethnographic Museum:

    Bridal wear from Northern Bulgaria (Pleven, most likely) : http://hs41.iccs.bas.bg/exh/kr.htm

    The dress of married woman in Strandja / Sakar mountain : http://hs41.iccs.bas.bg/exh/vod.htm

    Bridal wear from Pirin : http://hs41.iccs.bas.bg/exh/mac.htm

    Lazrka from Sliven : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_lazar01.jpg

    Buenek from Kozichino (Erkech) : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_lazar04.jpg

    Lazarka from Sandanski: http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_lazar05.jpg

    Marriage dress from Belogradchik, northern Bulgaria : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_dvupr02.jpg

    Celebration dress of a married woman, Pleven : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_dvupr09.jpg

    Bridal dress from Razgrad : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_dvupr10.jpg

    Married woman, Ruse : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_dvupr11.jpg

    Bride from Sofiya, 19th century : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_sukman01.jpg

    Dupnitsa : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_sukman05.jpg (face)
    http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_sukman06.jpg (back)

    Bride from Gabrovo : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_sukman07.jpg

    Bride from Smolyan, 19th century :

    Karnobat : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_sukman09.jpg


    Elhovo :

    Marriage dress from Malko Tarnovo (you'll notice the red vail) :

    Haskovo : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_saya01.jpg

    Satovcha : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_saya03.jpg

    Frashtane : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_saya10.jpg

    Panagyurishte : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_vazra01.jpg

    Kotel : http://ethnography.cc.bas.bg/site_files/obl_vazra02.jpg

    I hope that was interesting :)

  14. You barely brushed the surface on hanboks, the Korean wedding dress. Of course, I'm in Korea, so I see them every time there's a formal affair, or even just on national holidays worn out and about. Really. Koreans are nuts about their traditional wear! In one hour's bus ride I'll pass four or five shops with windows full of them and a tailor inside to make the perfect one for you. They don't look good on most Western women--too busty--but on an Asian woman they're beautiful.
    Here's a good page for seeing the royal version among others: http://www.freewebs.com/koreatb2/Hanbok.htm

  15. About Spanish wedding dress:

    Black wedding dress is/was not a tradition in Spain, was a momentary fashion and not widespread.
    In the XVI-XVII century the king imposed a strict austerity in the Spanish court and empire, which forced the nobles to wear black, but this did not affect the brides, who dressed luxurious color and jewellered fabrics. For example, brides of royalty, until the arrival of the Napoleonic fashion, dressed in red (the color of Spanish royal house).

    The use of black for brides in the second half of the nineteenth century due to a practical question: For every immediate family member who died was due to save a year of mourning, which meant dressing in black, no social events except of religious and do not even see your boyfriend. A whole year! unfortunately it was a time of high mortality (numerous epidemics, bad doctors ...) and sometimes years of mourning was chained up for decades! so the couple decided to marry despite the mourning, before being "too old"(with ages 23 you where older to have children!) or her boyfriend decided to seek another tired of waiting.
    Hence, there were many black girlfriends, little by little, like fashion many adopted it voluntarily, not as a tradition.

    About the “Mantilla”
    The mantilla is a garment that had two versions: the popular, cheap and designed for daily life and dress, used for major events. The popular daily version was gradually lost throughout the XIX century.

    The "Mantilla/ blanket" is the veil of lace belonging to the gala/protocol costume of Spanish women.
    Its use dates back to pre-roman times.
    Is not unique to the bride, is all adult women. It is a very expensive piece, in which families, even today, make a great investment. It consists of the veil “Mantilla”(medium or long) the "Peineta”/comb"(traditionally ivory, tortoiseshell or mother of pearl) and a matching brooch with a matching dressing jewelry (pearls and gold, coral and gold, silver and amethyst ...)

    Is mostly used for important religious ceremonies: weddings, baptisms, processions, church authorities hearings ... (Catholic queens are the only women who have the privilege of wearing white blanket before the pope from Isabel I de Castilla "Isabel la Católica")

    There is a popular saying that markes three days in which it is essential to wear mantilla "Three days bright more than the sun shine: Holy Thursday, Corpus Christi and the Assumption”
    Black Mantilla for religious festivals connected with the death of Christ and white (or clair color) for the joyous religious festivals

    Brides has the particularity that she wears the “Mantilla without comb and today the “Mantilla” with comb is worn by the mother of the groom on wedding day.

    Sculptures of Virgin Mary dress the Mantilla without comb too, because in Spain we represent Our Lady like our Young mother, Beautifull like a bride :)

    But is also dressed in festive social events such as bullfighting or fairs, in those cases also accompanied by the traditional and costly "Manilla Shawl"

    Congratulations for the blog! I follow it since first day ^ ^
    And great detail the "memento mori"Catholics and particularly the Spanish loves the "Vanitas" (works of art that remind us of the fleeting of life and the transitory of earthly glory, :P)



  16. Some examples of dressing "Mantilla"

    Queen Sofia of Spain at the wedding day of he son Felipe, prince of Asturias (future king of Spain):

    Our Lady of Aurora (Sevilla) wearing mantilla:

    Wearing mantilla for bullfight and fairs:
    (Duches of Alba and Jackie Kennedy at bullfight)



    Mantilla for gala and religious ceremonies:




    Daily mantilla of noble woman:


    Folkloric singer:

    Actual noble brides with mantilla:
    (Eugenia, daughter of the duchess of Alba)

    (Doña Letizia, princess of Asturias, future queen of Spain)

  17. Examples of spanish brides:


    Isabel of Valois, bride os Felipe II of Spain in her bridal costume (red like royal spanish princess)

    Isabel de Borbón bride of Philipe IV of Spain in her bridal costume

    Weddind spanish dress XIX

    Wedding couple, Spain:

    Isabel II queen of Spain at her wedding day

    Victoria eugenia, bride of Alfoso XIII of Spain at her wedding day

    Eugenia de Montijo, spanish noble, empress of france at her wedding dress

  18. Love the Bahrain dress, all that gold! :D

    Also, with the Spanish dress you made me remember when my grandmother told me she had married wearing black. It was surprising, especially as I hadn't seen any photos of the wedding (just after the civil war and a bad winter, no money to pay a photographer)and I was accustomed to the modern custom of the white dress.

  19. Really enjoyed this, I'm a fan of unique wedding dresses myself. I got married in an (admittedly white) Chinese cheongsam dress and now I have it to wear for fancy occasions, too.


  20. Very nice post. My wife is West African and though we wore the traditional white dress/tux for the ceremony, then for the reception we changed into beautiful robes her mother had made in Liberia and had a traditional procession with drums and African dancers.

  21. While doing research for a costume I found this picture of recreated dresses from 1880. It was the traditionnal wedding dress from the Bro Vigoudenn (Bigouden land in Breton), a region of France. The embroideries are gorgeous and hand-made!
    Here is the picture.
    And the blog, only in french.

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  23. These all dresses are so ancient. The world has really changed with the time. These were surely the latest fashion of old days.
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