M966.35 | Wedding dress

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Wedding dress
About 1878, 19th century
Fibre: silk (taffeta, velvet, chenille, fringe), cotton; Sewn
Gift of Miss A. Grant
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Dress (85)
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The line of the dress has now become more vertical. The one-piece princess-line gown in silk taffeta has a fitted bodice and front closure with velvet-covered buttons. There is a standing collar and long sleeves in velvet. The later are trimmed with a cuff of knife-pleating surmounted by a flat pleated band in taffeta. Two appliquéd velvet panels, on either side of the front closure are terminated in chenille and silk fringe. There is a small watch pocket on the left side. A horizontally flat-pleated section below the waist creates an overskirt effect, but does not continue through to the centre back. It is trimmed near its hemline with silk and chenille fringe. Near the hemline of the taffeta underskirt there are box pleats, and short velvet tabs terminating in taffeta knife-pleating. The upper centre back features an appliquéd velvet panel in the shape of a violon body, which continues below the waist. The flat-pleated taffeta section from the front terminates in the back with bows on one side and an appliquéd vertical velvet panel on the other side, creating an asymmetrical effect. On the right side in the back, a deep bag pocket is inserted into the horizontal flat pleating. Lower back fullness is created by a box pleat with an inverted pleat in its centre, this forming a train embellished with a large bow near the hemline. Three sets of tie tapes are inserted into the inner seams of the back of the skirt in order that may be adjusted to fit tightly to the body. The year assigned to the garment is substantiated through donor information regarding the wedding date. In addition, a pocket placed in the back, such as is inserted in this gown, was popular from about 1876 to 1878; this serves to confirm the above information. Attire in the Notman Photographic Archives also reveals the trend towards a new vertical line. During the 1870s and 1880s wedding dresses were frequently not white. At around the time the Brennan wedding dress was ordered, plum colours were the height of fashion. In the January 30, 1877 issue of the Montreal newspaper The Evening Star, J. Carroll and Co. advertised, under the caption "New Dress Goods" ten types of fabric : all were available in "Plum Colors". And in the August 31, 1878 issue of The Montreal Daily Witness, S. Carsley, which was located at 393 and 395 Notre Dame St., advertised a "New lot of all shades Plum, the best value that we have."

Keys to History

During the 1870s and 1880s wedding dresses were not always white ; the rich plum colour of this wedding dress was one of the fashionable colours of 1878.

In 1856, a chance discovery by the English chemist William Henry Perkin (1838-1907) produced the first synthetic dye, a shade of purple that became known as "mauvine" or "Perkin's mauve." This discovery led to the development of a wide range of rich and brilliant colours, of which this dress is an example.

The dress reveals the use of another 19th century invention: the sewing machine. Reliable domestic sewing machines became available in the late 1850s, and soon dressmakers were using them to stitch the long, straight seams of garments. Hand-sewing was used only for the finishing details. Styles became increasingly elaborate, as this very fashionable dress of 1878 shows.

  • What

    This fashionable wedding dress of the late 19th century is made of plum-coloured taffeta, trimmed with matching silk velvet.

  • Where

    The bride chose a fashionable colour for this dress, probably planning to wear it for social events afterward the wedding. This would not have been possible with a white dress.

  • When

    In 1856 English chemist William Henry Perkin (1838-1907) blended mauve, or aniline purple - the first synthetic dyestuff - from chemicals derived from coal tar.

  • Who

    Mary Ryan married John Brennan in this dress in Montreal in 1878.