Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cartes des Visite and Fashion History

White has been the choice of most brides since the time of Queen Victoria's wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. But surprisingly other colours such as black, blue or brown were also worn in the 19th century by brides who favoured a more practical choice of gown to be worn again. 

From the Halmrash studio, 529 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis

In this particular photograph, the bride is wearing a dark gown, probably dark blue or black silk. Undated, it took a bit of sleuthing to date this photograph.  

In the Victorian era, collecting cartes de visite of friends, family and prominent persons was a popular pastime. These small  2⅛ × 3½ photographs were supplanted in the early 1870s by the larger sized "cabinet cards" which measured  4½ by 6½ inches. Cabinet cards remained popular into the early 20th century when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. When I see a tray of cartes de visite or cabinet cards in an antique market, I am compelled to bring them home. Once I bought so many that the vendor asked me if I was buying a family. What I'm actually buying is a bit of fashion history. 

The bride is wearing a black, blue, or brown dress with long sleeves and a high collar with white piping detail and white buttons for the collar opening. The bodice is slim fitting and appears to be a type of corset overlay with two rows of white buttons. The skirt seems to be softly draped across the front and has a small ruffled hem. Her white veil is sheer and to the floor with flowers or other ornament as a type of tiara. 

How would a historian date this dress?

The image is a larger cabinet card for a starting point of at least 1870. But the absence of a bustle suggests that it must be later than 1880. And since the sleeves are not overly extreme in shape as was common in in the mid-1890s, I'm guessing that this dress would be dated somewhere between 1898-1903.

To check, I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum website which offers a treasure trove of information on historical dress and discovered that they have a database of wedding photos. There is a similar style of dress worn by Sarah Poortvliet in her marriage to Fobbe William Hoekstra dated February 14, 1901. How cool is that?