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:



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.

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