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The Trousseau

By Dawn Aiello of Victorian Lace, Author and Copyright Owner

 For a young Victorian bride, her wedding trousseau was nearly as important as the wedding itself, and might possibly have been even more expensive! A colorful example of this is presented in an article that James McCabe wrote in 1872 entitled, "Lights and Shadows of New York". In the article he stated: "The society woman must have one or two velvet dresses which cannot cost less than $500 each. She must possess thousands of dollars worth of laces, in the shape of flounces, to loop up over the skirts of dresses...Walking dresses cost from $50 to $300; ball dresses are frequently imported from Paris at a cost of from $500 to $1,000...There must be traveling dresses in black silk, in pongee, in pique, that range in price from $75 to $175...Evening robes in Swiss Muslin, robes in linen for the garden and croquet, dresses for horse races and yacht races, dresses for breakfast and for dinner, dresses for receptions and parties..."

In fact, John McCabe was a strict moralist who was emphatically opposed to frivolity, and so he most likely exaggerated his description of the trousseau for an average debutante. However fashion magazines and newspapers of the time did regularly print the trousseaus of the most eloquent and wealthy brides, and in some cases, to even imagine the overwhelming extravagance would have been nearly impossible. To give a vague idea of some of the wealth and frivolity, a Vanderbilt niece, Florence Adele Sloane, married an English lord in 1895. She insisted upon having duplicate gowns for every social function to which she might ever be invited. Her trousseau reportedly cost $40,000, which by today's standards, may still seem substantial, yet not incredulous. Bare in mind, however, that during the Victorian Era, the value of $40,000 equaled seventy years' wages for an average man!

By comparison though, Miss Sloan's trousseau didn't hold a candle to the one belonging to Bettina Rothschild. According to era fashion journals, it cost 200,000 francs, and contained hundreds of items, including some of the world's most exquisite and expensive parasols. One was described as "covered in rose-colored silk, trimmed with ecru gauze and lace; the tip was encrusted with emeralds and brilliants, the handle carved out of jade and garnished with other precious gems". (Victorian Decorating & Lifestyle, April/May 1997).By 1850, having one's trousseau on display had become quite acceptable, including the many items of lingerie and undergarments. The custom spread to the United States where displaying the bride's trousseau and her gifts was a way of flaunting American's "new money". By the turn of the century, however, this custom became less appreciated, and was actually considered to be in poor taste. An 1891 fashion magazine announced: "The custom of exhibiting the corbelled (a French term for the expensive gifts from the groom to the bride), and the gifts sent to the bride by her relatives and friends has completely fallen into disuse among people of true refinement. The display of intimate lingerie was painful for the fiancé and shocking to the modesty of more than one fiancée."

By the end of the century, concentration on the bride's trousseau--at least, the average bride's--had swayed from extravagant and fashionable clothing to undergarments, preferably, enough to last for the rest of her life. Young girls from poorer families began working on their trousseaus years before they even began to date, and it took them years to create the carefully-stitched items that were stored away in their "Hope Chest".

In their 1880's catalogs, Bloomingdale's offered "Bridal Sets" for women of modest means. Depending upon the choice of trimming, these sets ranged in price from $2.95 to $6.61. They consisted of one nightgown, "drawers", and a corset cover. If a young woman could afford a more deluxe set, then, for $148.79 the bride could include in the set: a reception dress, a suit dress, a walking dress, three day dresses, two nightgowns, a shawl, three petticoats, three pairs of drawers, two chemises, two corsets, two-dozen pairs of plain stockings, plus a set of towels and a tablecloth! By 1905, most practical-minded "modern brides" were applying their trousseau money toward household linens and kitchen items. Spending seventy-five cents for a washtub, and forty cents for a washboard left a bride-to-be feeling that she could splurge a bit, and perhaps then buy an aluminum tea kettle and pans for $3.35.

Even with ladies becoming more resourceful in the early 1900's, the entire concept of a bridal trousseau had not completely died out. In 1908, Sears was still selling a twelve-piece bridal set for only $5.19!


Article Information:
Article Name: The Trousseau
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com |Author: Dawn Aiello  Victorian Lace
Source: By Dawn Aiello of Victorian Lace, who is the author and copyright owner of this article
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