The "Steampunk" Victorian Wedding Dress
|satin Victorian wedding dress from 1878|
When Emily Kitchin married Mr Arthur Turner Waite in September 1878, she wore this dress. They took their vows at St Mary’s Church, Scarborough. The dress is cream satin; a very expensive bridal gown.
The fitted bodice has no buttons at the back. There are long princess seams, a tailoring technique just introduced by Charles Frederick Worth.
And that's all I know.
The rest of this post? Guesswork.
It must fasten at the front, like a coat. And it's not one dress, but two.
Most of what you see is the satin over-dress, but those ruffles and pleats are another garment entirely, an under-dress.
Two layers gloriously entwined in a notched hem. Like a cog wheel, this is the detail to note: are we looking at a Victorian bridal gown here, or a steampunk costume?
Repeated on every edge and in miniature at the cuffs, these notches reveal the accordion pleats and lacy cuffs beneath. It’s not clear if the cream-over-coffee tones are by design, or the effect of time. Either way, I love it.
A September wedding. A dress that’s a little like a coat. Of course.
And don't you wish you could have taken a pew? To watch that over-dress separating to reveal those ruffles beneath, to see that gossamer veil slide over the dark flagstones…
Invitation to Comment
So, that notched hem, have you seen the like anywhere else (apart from Erryl Flinn's Robin Hood costume)?
And, if you're a wiz at ancestry research, what more can you discover about Emily and Arthur? Did they always live in Scarborough? Did they have any children?
Update 19 October 2010: Museum curator @zooarchaeologis has unearthed this very similar dress, also dated 1878. Part of a private collection, it's modelled here in the 1950s by ballerina Marjorie Tailchief. This time it's not a notched hem that defines the design, but a thick cord lacing over a satin panel. How wonderful to be sent this new image; an excellent addition to the blog. Thank you.
Update 1 August 2013
New analysis of Emily Kitchin's dress from historic objects conservator Leah Warriner-Wood, of Lincolnshire:
"I think you're right in reasoning that it must be worn as a 'coat', and I'm imagining dozens of hook & eye closures down the front, but from the close fit my gut is telling me that she didn't wear anything more substantial than her shift (and stays obviously) underneath & it wouldn't surprise me if the ruffles etc. are sewn into what we see rather than on a separate under dress, as they might have been on a C18th robe a'la francaise (which was also worn as a 'coat', with an interchangeable stomacher pinned in). I'd love to be able to get my hands on it to investigate properly.
"An interesting possibility is that I wonder if Emily Kitchin ordered this with the intention of using it afterwards in a slightly altered style (especially as all that satin must have come at a price), but never did. The notches down the front would lend themselves to conversion to oversized buttonholes and the neckline could be easily re-cut to make it suitable for evening wear (or am I just dreaming about how I would 'up-cycle' it?)
Of course, long sleeves & modest necklines were expected for day dress then, especially in church, so it could only be that she was conforming to that, and we're assuming there was more to it because it looks to US like a coat. In any case, it's very beautiful, and I like the Steampunk reference!"
|The Castle Museum|
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