Wearing a wedding dress goes back to the middle ages, when brides were expected to look and wear their best to represent their family’s status by dressing in expensive fabrics, such as velvet and fur.
This was especially true if she came from a wealthy family. Although brides choose white to symbolize purity of the soul, that color did not become popular until the 1840s.
White was not chosen for a wedding dress until after Queen Victoria wore a white dress when she married Albert of Saxe-Coburg. In those days, white symbolized wealth and blue was a symbol of purity. Queen Victoria broke these traditions by wearing a white dress on her special day. She was also the first royal bride to have bridesmaids carry her train. Many brides looked at the Queen’s wedding dress for inspiration and wanted similar dresses for their weddings.
The Ulysses Historical Society has a new exhibit in their main room displaying exquisite wedding gowns of the past. One dress from the 1930s is a pale blue sheer rayon street-length gown that was worn by Julia Guy when she wed Chauncey Gregg in Cazenovia on Aug. 2, 1934. It has a blue underskirt (slip) and cap sleeves. The dress was loaned by Sally Hubbard. In addition, satin slippers with a floral embellishment, pearls, and a white straw hat with a lace pattern around the crown (donated by Georgianna Stevenson) complete the ensemble.
A second example is a white brocade wedding gown with veil. It has a high neckline, peplum (an over-skirt), long tapered sleeves, and a long train. This lovely gown was crafted by Bessie Scholes for her grand-daughter Maureen Casterline who wed Lauren Soule on November 24, 1949 at the Trumansburg Methodist Church.
Gertrude Boardman wed David Arnold in 1857 wearing a blue and grey striped silk wedding gown. Dresses of the 1800s were often made of silk. This gown had white lace undersleeves worn under the bell sleeves of the gown. The full skirt was supported by crinoline and petticoats with a cage hoop. The collar was detachable.
The fourth example is a yellow taffeta wedding dress worn by Ruth Elliot when she wed Earl Dean on September 1, 1934 near Interlaken at her parents’ home. It was thought to have been bought at a store in Rochester. The dress has ruffled cap sleeves with tiers of ruffles at the hem and a matching waist sash. The dress was donated by Nancy Dean.
The fifth dress in the display is found in the next room of the museum. It is an ivory satin wedding dress with a fitted waist, full length train, fitted yoke, and narrow sleeves from the 1940s. The buttons down the back are covered in satin.
Also included in the wedding dress exhibit are a pair of white satin high button shoes from the late 1800s. They are quite small and narrow and each shoe has 10 covered buttons to allow the bride to easily slip them on. Some brides chose to carry a fan rather than flowers. The late 1800 fan in the exhibit was made of ecru satin and was loaned to the collection by Sally Gregg.
What struck me as I was viewing the collection was how very tiny the waists of the wedding dresses were. I realize that people in the 1800s were much smaller than we are today and that women would have themselves tightly bound into corsets to make themselves appear more feminine, but these dresses looked like they were made for children of our generation.
Well to do homes had fainting benches for ladies whose corsets were so tight that they couldn’t breathe and would swoon for lack of oxygen. One of the docents at the museum told me that they had trouble finding mannequins small enough to display the wedding dresses. What we do for fashion.
The Ulysses Historical Society is located at 39 South Street in Trumansburg. It is open Mondays from 9 to 11 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.