June is the month for brides, and here's an 1836 wedding gown with matching slippers to usher in the season. Both are included in the same exhibition (Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories 1750-1850) that I mentioned here on Monday, and earlier here.
Sarah Eliza Smith married Mark Langdon Hill in Bath, Maine, on October 11, 1836. This was a fashionable wedding. Not only are the bride's wedding clothes made of a costly silk damask, but the bridegroom was from a prominent New England family, the great-nephew of Governor John Langdon, a Revolutionary War general, a signer of the US Constitution, and a prosperous merchant and ship-builder.
Certainly the bride was dressed for the occasion. While some 19thc. brides were choosing white for their gowns (as we've noted before, this was by no means traditional at this point, and no, Queen Victoria did not "invent" the white wedding dress), Sarah Eliza chose an elegant shade of celadon green silk damask, which has unfortunately faded to beige over the centuries.
Although the name of the dress's maker is now forgotten, she was clearly very skilled. The tiny pleats, tucks, and gathers of the sleeves and bodice were all beautifully stitched by hand, with many of the seams trimmed with matching piping as well. The dress would have originally been worn with feather-stuffed sleeve puffs to fill out the sleeves to give it the extravagant silhouette shown in this fashion plate. (Today the silk is too fragile to manipulate for any "stuffing" for display.) The full sleeves might also have made the bride appear almost as wide as she was tall; from the size of her dress, Sarah Eliza must have been tiny, probably only about 4'10" or so.
Her matching slippers have silk rosettes on the toes and leather soles, and are as insubstantial as a feather. They still follow the shape of flat, Romantic-era slippers. The thin silk cords for tying around the foot and ankle to help secure the delicate shoe to the foot still survive, too. It's easy to imagine Sarah Eliza dancing with her new bridegroom, her skirts swirling over the silk rosettes - perhaps even attempting that a daring European dance, the waltz.
Many thanks to our good friend Kimberly Alexander for assistance with this post. For more information about these shoes and many others, stayed tuned for Kimberly's upcoming book Georgian Shoe Stories From Early America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.) In the meantime, please check out her blog, Silk Damask, for more fascinating fashion and textile history.
Wedding Dress and Slippers, 1836, worn at the wedding of Sarah Eliza Smith to Mark Langdon Hill. Portsmouth Historical Society. Photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.