EDWARDIAN BRIDAL WEAR
All Edwardian brides were married in white if they could afford it, but their dresses tended to be more practical than those worn today.
White weddings were unheard of before the 18th century. The idea of splashing out to dress a bride in a gown that was going to be practically useless after the big day first caught on among the wealthy as a way of showing off the family's status. Eighteenth-century Britain was much preoccupied with money and class and its wedding customs reflected this. White was chosen simply because it was fashionably impractical and only the well-heeled could afford to wear it.
The Victorians were more sentimental. The white wedding became 'traditional'; the white gown was now a symbol of the bride's purity and not an indication of her father's bank balance. Edwardian ladies continued the practice of wearing white, cream or ivory.
Few Victorian or Edwardian brides could afford she luxury of an extravagant gown for just one day's wear. Edwardian wedding dress design took this into account. Some were in two pieces, so that the skirt could be worn again with different bodices. Bare flesh was improper in church, so wedding bodices had modest high necks and long sleeves. However, plunging necklines and bare arms were perfectly acceptable for evening or court wear.
Edwardian women liked to look feminine and loved soft silks, lace, net and embroidery. When it came to decorative detail, no cost was spared. Tiny, delicate pearls, pin tucks, flounces and frills were the order of the day.
Early Edwardian style demanded an S-shaped outline, with tiny, pinched waists accentuating the bosom and the backside. This usually meant that women had to wear a cruelly uncomfortable corset beneath the gown. In 1908, the Empire line came back into fashion, giving rise to 'Grecian'-style wedding dresses and more forgiving corsetry. Sleeves varied: they were pagoda-shaped, tight-fitting, puffed or double, with a tight, full-length undersleeve topped by a loose, elbow-length sleeve.
Edwardian ladies' fashions emphasized femininity, and this applied even more to wedding dresses. Frills, flounces and other trimmings decorated full dresses
of silk and satin, lace and tulle. Swathes of gauze and chiffon gave everything a shimmering,
soft focus effect, and no outfit could be considered complete without a filmy veil, often made of antique lace and fixed in place with a diamond clasp and a wreath
of waxen orange blossom.
BRIDAL WEAR COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Today, Edwardian wedding dresses tend to be underpriced when the beautiful materials and fine workmanship that went into making them are taken into account. This is because, for the most part, they are too small for the modern woman, generally taller and sturdier, to wear.
Wedding dresses are fairly easy to come by at textile auctions and even local auction houses
may have some to offer. Most brides were reluctant to ever throw them out, and few wore them out, so many of them have survived. Always view a dress before you put in a bid - don't rely on catalogue photographs. Check any labels, as well-known fashion houses fetch the best prices.
Making a collection of shoes, headdresses, hats, handkerchiefs or lace collars can be as much fun as looking for dresses. Old fashion plates make good collections in themselves, and are easer to store than the real thing.
COMPLETE BRIDAL OUTFITS
Complete ensembles, with all the accessories, are very desirable but will be expensive. Documentary evidence of a gown's history will add a lot to its value. Look out for letters, photographs or entries in society magazines.
Condition is of the utmost importance. Damaged textiles are very difficult to repair, except by the most expert and expensive hands. Old silk 'shatters' when the main vertical threads or warp start to split or disintegrate. Silk taffetas are prone to this because they were treated with metal salts to give them a desirable opalescent sheen. Shattered silk garments are virtually worthless.
Other things to look for are wear and tear on flimsy materials such as silk and perspiration marks and other stains. These may prove impossible to remove. Never have an
old garment cleaned without first getting expert advice. Wedding dresses were often altered for evening wear. Check the bodices, necklines and sleeves for tell-tale signs. Some of the lace flounces and trimmings may be missing, because old lace is much sought after and fetches a good price on its own.
Old garments must be kept in a dark place at medium temperatures and humidity. They should be stored flat, with no creases. Put them in boxes lined with tinfoil and
acid free tissue paper. When you display them, keep them out of strong light and avoid any strain on the seams at the waist or shoulders.