18th century bridal attire

A question that crops up once in a while. As often on this blog we will refer to the Memoirs of the Marquise de La Tour du Pin, who was married in the 1780s and thus recalls her wedding day:

marie-antoinette-wedding

marie-antoinette-wedding

Let us not forget the bride’s attire. It was very simple. I had a dress of white crepe adorned with a handsome trim of Brussels lace and dangling barbes – one did not wear any bonnet or veil then – a bouquet of orange blossoms on my head and one to my side. For the dinner I put on a white toque, adorned with white feathers, to which I had affixed a bouquet of orange blossoms.

To illustrate this, I chose this engraving of the marriage of the Dauphin, future Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette. You will note that the young Dauphine is wearing a lilac-colored gown, and the barbes (lace streamers worn as a headdress) mentioned by Madame de La Tour du Pin. The barbes, by the way, were not reserved for weddings. They were part of the regular Court attire.

So Marie-Antoinette and contemporary brides wore no wedding veils, and gowns of various colors. But, will you say, Madame de La Tour du Pin wore white to her wedding! Oh sure, but she mentions earlier in her Memoirs that she was in demi-deuil (light mourning) following her mother’s death. When she was presented at Court a few days later, she also wore a white gown on that occasion, for the same reason.

White in the 18th century, along with black, was often associated with death and mourning. It was Queen Victoria, decades later, who made white fashionable for royal brides by wearing a white gown to her wedding.

In the 18th century the bride’s virginity was symbolized by bouquets of orange blossoms, not by the color of her wedding gown. So brides in Marie-Antoinette’s times, apart from the orange blossoms, simply wore their best clothes to their weddings.


19 Comments to “18th century bridal attire”

  1. Lucy says:

    Wonderful post Catherine. Didn’t Mary Queen of Scots also wear white to her first wedding , which many people opposed, but she wore anyway?

  2. Elisa says:

    Merci! That’s the first time I’ve seen a period picture of the royal wedding.

  3. Interesting article about 18th century bridal traditions! The description of the dress worn by the Marquise is lovely, she must have been so beautiful with the orange blossoms!

  4. Lauren says:

    What a fascinating post, Catherine! Thank you for another of your fascinating insights into life in the 18th century and its links to other times in history. I find them to be a daily delight!

  5. Felio Vasa says:

    Very informative blog and the engraving of Marie Antoinette & Louis XVI wedding is so beautiful. I love that touch of orange blossoms in the hair & bouquet understanding it had a symbolic meaning. The Greek culture has that tradition with orange blossoms. In the hair for women & for the men orange blossom boutineers.

  6. Catherine Delors says:

    Lucy – I have heard the same thing about Mary Queen of Scotts’ wedding dress. It may be true (frankly I don’t know and will ask a Renaissance specialist) but it certainly didn’t launch a new fashion as Victoria did centuries later. White in Marie’s time was still too closely associated with mourning, especially for the French royal family. A “Reine Blanche” (White Queen) meant a widowed Queen of France. Other cultures (China, India) also associate white clothing and mourning.

    Elisa – I have a few other engravings of French royal weddings, in Versailles and otherwise, and your comment gives me the idea to do a post about them. Thanks for your input!

    Mademoiselle M – Yes, the Marquise must have been lovely on her wedding day. She had, by the way, a very happy, loving marriage, much more so than the typical French noblewoman of the time.

    Lauren – You will make me blush! I am delighted to share my passion for the 18th century.

    Felio – Fascinating about the orange blossoms. I wonder whether the symbol is universal (at least in countries blessed with orange trees…)

     

  7. Anne de Bretagne was one of the first brides to wear a white wedding gown, when she married Louis XII, but it was because she was a widowed Queen of France, having been previously married to Charles VIII. In the middle ages, brides often wore red, red being the symbol of virginity. This custom faded gradually; I have read of Italian peasant brides wearing red even in the 20th century. White was the color of mourning for nobles and as Elisa mentioned, Mary Stuart wore white at her wedding to Darnley because she was a widowed Queen of France. In fashionable society, as Catherine writes, there was no set wedding color for many years.

    I have never seen a colored picture of Marie-Antoinette’s wedding, only black and white prints. Very interesting! Yes, the lace barbes were part of formal court attire, not necessarily wedding attire. Excellent post, as always.

  8. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Elena! Now you bring a new wrinkle to the Marie Stuart white wedding gown story. I had always thought of it in connection with  her first wedding, to the Dauphin, future Francois II, and found it odd in that context. But it makes perfect sense for her wedding to Darnley.

  9. You are right, Catherine, I think she wore white at her first wedding, too. Let me check. I could be getting her weddings confused. Later….

  10. I checked Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir. Mary wore white at her first wedding and white and black at her second wedding. At her wedding to Darnley she was described as being garbed in mourning for her first husband.

  11. Catherine Delors says:

    Thanks, Elena! Most interesting. So Marie liked to be married in mourning colors…

  12. So it seems….She certainly had a mind of her own….

  13. Ivan Hills says:

    What did brides do when orange blossom was out of season?

  14. Catherine Delors says:

    Excellent question, Ivan! I have seen (not from the 18th century admittedly, but from the 19th) many very realistic imitations made out of wax (blossoms) and silk (leaves.) Artificial flowers were popular in the late 18th century. See for instance the novel L’Emigre, by Senac de Meilhan, where exiled noblewomen set up businesses as makers of silk flowers.

  15. Kate Simon says:

    Hi
    I have read your many articles, all of them are great, i love to read thanks keep it up, this article is also great.

    Wedding Dress Preservation

  16. Ashley says:

    Nice article you are interested in historical things? many of yours articles are about historical events.

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  18. yvonne says:

    This was fasinating, can’t get enough of info on this time. We have a house that was built for Marie in Maine. When they were trying to get her out of France. Some of her Furniture is in the Gen. Knox Mansion. All of her exotic cats jumped off ship and that is how Maine
    got the coon cats. The wild cats mated with her persians.
    Love your posts.
    yvonne

  19. Patrice says:

    Amazing. I remembered being shocked a few years ago when I realized that wearing white at weddings started in the 19th century. Love your site and keep up the good work.

    P.S. I hope you don’t mind if I reblog this on my site.