Though nearly all of Jane Austen’s works end with a wedding, she does not spend much time detailing the weddings themselves, much less the wedding dresses.
Modern brides often spend a great deal of effort and money on the wedding dress and expect to wear it only once. Honestly, it is hard to imagine another event where wearing one’s wedding dress might be appropriate. Not exactly the sort of thing you’d wear to dinner, right?
In the regency era, though, the cost of textiles was so prohibitive that only royals like Princess Charlotte and equally wealthy brides even considered dresses that might only be worn once. A bride, like Charlotte Lucas of Pride and Prejudice or Harriet Smith of Emma, wore her ‘best dress’ for her wedding. A bride with some means, like Emma or even perhaps the Bennets, might have a new ‘best dress’ made for the occasion.
What might this ‘best dress’ look like? Unless one were quite wealthy, it would not be white. White garments required a huge amount of upkeep in an era where all wash was done by hand, so only the wealthiest wore it. Colored gowns were typical, with yellow, blue, pink and green being popular for several regency era years. Middle and lower class brides often chose black, dark brown and burgundy as practical colors that would wear well for years to come.
Fashion plates from Ackerman’s and La Belle Assemblee illustrate gowns used for weddings. Although all these gowns are white, that is more indicative of the white gown being the most stylish of the era, rather than white being the wedding color. All these gowns followed the fashionable trends of formal gowns of the day, but were largely indistinguishable from other formal gowns. The La Belle Assemblee dress above is cited as both an evening dress and a wedding dress. To set a bridal dress apart, finer materials and richer trims might be utilized if the bride could afford them: silks, satins and lace. The trims might be altered for wear after the wedding.
Not unlike today, these fashion plates presented idealized versions of wedding gowns. The actual gowns that brides wore were often far simpler that the offerings from fashionable magazines. Here are a few pictures from the Met Museum of actual wedding dresses worn in the Regency era.
So are any of these what you imagined the Miss Bennets being married in?
Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, available in ebook and paperback
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