20 July 2010

The bride wore... purple

Dress | c. 1870-73

After I posted about a bright purple Victorian dress last week, one reader suggested I read the book Mauve, which I just got yesterday.   It'll have to wait until after I finish the Iain Pears' book that two other readers recommended.

In the meantime, here's another purple dress, with details not only re the dyes, but some revelations (for me) re bridal customs of the 1870s:
This dress was made of a silk dyed purple with aniline dye. The technology of dyeing fabrics was transformed in the mid-1850s when the British chemist William Perkin (1838-1907) discovered that dyes could be extracted from coal tar. These new aniline dyes became very fashionable. The first was ‘Perkin’s mauve’, followed by a variety of shades of purples and magentas, yellows, blues and pinks. These colours were much more intense than any available from the traditional natural dyes.

According to the donor, this dress was worn by his mother on her wedding day. It could have been her ‘going away’ ensemble, or it could have been the dress she wore for the actual ceremony. Because weddings in those days took place in the mornings, daywear with long sleeves and high necks was the acceptable style. For her wedding a woman often wore a coloured dress that would serve as a ‘best dress’ for years to come.
I am nothing if not pragmatic, and in my view the Victorian approach of having the wedding dress later become a "best dress" is by several log powers more sensible than the current custom of spending a fortune on a white dress that will never be worn again in order to proclaim a virginity that probably doesn't exist anyway.

Image and text from Defunct Fashion, via.


  1. My wife did just this for our wedding, and has worn her colourful wedding dress to other weddings and the like. The whole wedding industry is full of junk traditions like this.

    Even the term "White wedding" implies the dress colour, so we usually describe our wedding as "non-white" meaning non-traditional.

  2. Are you reading Pears' Instance of the Fingerpost by any chance? That's one of my favorite books of all time!

  3. I am indeed, Julie. After I wrote this post -


    two people recommended the book. I've now started the second of the four parts...

  4. Queen Victoria is credited with starting the tradition of the white wedding dress . . . http://thedecoratedtree.blogspot.com/2010/06/white-wedding.html

  5. Oh I have to agree with you on the white weddings. Rather then spending 1000s on a wedding, the parents should use that money as downpayment for their first home. Heck with the price of weddings nowadays they could practically buy it for them.

  6. I work at a small Victorian house museum and we have in our collection a purple 1880s bustle dress that was worn as a wedding dress (with a perky orange hat!) and then was clearly this woman's "best dress" for a long time afterwards -- the bust darts have been let out, some of the waist gathers have been let out and the waistband enlarged, there are significant sweat stains -- but she must have loved this dress! I do, too.


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