Monday, March 9, 2015

It was NOT Alice's Wedding Dress: or Just Because it's White, Don't Make Assumptions

Nobody likes to be wrong in public, but I've done it this time!  Quite some time ago, I posted this blog, wondering if the creamy Parisian designer dress in our collections was Alice's wedding dress.  I was a little over-excited because--quite honestly--it's a pretty fabulous gown.

Aaand today history shot me down.

To be fair, I'm only partially to blame.  Some curator or even conservator before me labeled it a "wedding dress" on the box, and I just went with it.  But when I was researching pictures of Alice Livingston today, I found rather indisputable evidence.

Written on the back of a pretty, but kind of unassuming little photo of Alice was the following (see left):

Alice Delafield Clarkson/ Wife of John Henry Livingston/ Taken in her Wedding dress on honey moon in Florence 1907-8/ The hat was one got in Florence

Well there goes that theory.  So here is Alice's wedding dress, and it's a lot less glamorous than previously advertised--hopefully my disappointment wouldn't make Alice feel badly about her rather smart-looking tailor-made suit here.

It actually makes sense.  At the time I was wondering about the silhouette of this gown in comparison with other 1906 contemporaries; it was a little ahead of its time.  But this other dress fits right in.

It all goes along with something museums hear all the time. White dresses frequently show up at historical societies and other locations with the family legend being that it was Great So-and-So's wedding dress.

White is kind of a pitfall.  Today, the color has largely fallen out of fashion with the exception of wedding gowns so we tend to jump to that conclusion pretty quickly.  But historically, wedding gowns didn't start being consistently white until sometime around the middle or even end of the 19th century.  Even then, colors persisted into the 20th century.

Also, white was a popular color for pretty day dresses, as seen on Alice in this 1890s photo.  That means that a lot of everyday dresses (which to us look more formal anyway because they are full-length) get re-labeled as wedding gowns.

White was also a perfectly nice color for formal occasions, which just further confuses the matter.  Just a few days ago, a very nice Clermont board member brought in three 19th century gowns, all in white, and none of them wedding dresses.

So what does all this mean for this designer gown in our collections?  It means that Alice was still stylin' after she got married to John Henry.  Just because she was 35-ish and about to be the mother of two little girls didn't mean she was going to stop going to fancy parties.

That makes perfect sense since we have at least one other amazing silk gown (though this one was made in New York City) in our collections.  You'll have to excuse my wretched photos of it and instead use your imagination to conjure up the buttery-smooth feeling of silk charmeuse, the ethereal lace, and the gentle clack-clack of beading as Alice socialized at some really great dinner party, like a page out of the first season of "Downton Abbey."

Amusingly enough, this yellow gown also has a confusing label since Honoria seemed to remember wearing it to her her coming out party in 1928.  Unless she was deliberately wearing a gown at least 15 years out of style, I think perhaps that 50 years later Honoria's memory was a little fuzzy on who wore what, when.  That's okay; we can forgive her, I don't remember exactly what I've worn to every party over the past 10 years either.

I love having these two gowns side-by-side since the yellow one is most definitely made after Honoria and Janet were born (in 1909 and 1910), which supports an oral history interview done with Honoria in the 1980s.  "Oh yes," she said, "Mother and Father would have dinner parties--going way back, the early days."

And what does this comely dress (pictured in full at right) say about Alice's wedding?  That's a harder one to pick out since wedding dress customs have changed so dramatically over the past century. At the very least, it's good that we've put aside the Parisian dress, which was so dramatically different, and finally been put on the right track.  

1 comment:

  1. Great sleuthing! And fascinating info on styles and fashion, especially about wedding dresses.