Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

By the 1870s the white wedding gown became a high demand item for the wardrobe of the fashionable French Poupée. Doll courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

Over the centuries marriage has been one of the most important social contracts in life. These unions provided national and international stability, financial security, and the propagation of the species, but by the mid-19th century such considerations while still in play, were being intertwined with romantic notions and increasingly elaborate rituals and celebrations around the union of two people.

Celebrating the connection between doll collectors, diamond rings and bridal customs, The United Federation of Doll Clubs‘ founder Mary Lewis wrote her book The Marriage of  Diamonds and Dolls in 1947. The frontice piece shows Mrs. Lewis with her German bisque doll which was costumed as a bride using materials from Mary’s own bridal gown. The book was dedicated to her groom, Charlie Lewis, whom she described as having “mastered the delicate art of living with a doll collector.” A sentiment to describe countless collector’s spouses!

For many a bride one of the most important aspects of their nuptials was the choosing of their outfit for the big day. From the medieval period through the 18th century a Bride would be arrayed in her best outfit as an indication of her family’s social status and wealth. For the ruling classes this meant the Bride choosing a gown of costly fabrics and jewels, for humbler homes it meant donning her best festival or church dress.

White fabrics were especially rare and only available to the wealthiest citizens. The majority of brides wore outfits in many different colors and designs. If a new dress was possible it would then be worn afterwards as the new wife’s best dress.

This began to change when in 1840 the world took note of the wedding of a young monarch named Victoria and her dashing groom Albert. Victoria chose to wear an ivory satin and lace gown adorned with orange blossoms. Cut with the fitted bodice and full skirt of the day, Victoria’s gown became synonymous with the image of the blushing bride throughout the western world and through the ensuing decades. In truth, the silhouette and materials of her gown are still the epitome of the romantic bridal image of today.

Although Queen Victoria’s wedding gown was actually ivory colored, the prints and paintings of the wedding often depicted it as white leading to an upsweep in the desire for white wedding gowns. Painting by George Hayter.

After Queen Victoria’s wedding the fashion mavens of the time took the liberty of editing history to the current mode. Godey’s Ladies Magazine proclaimed in an 1849 article on bridal wear that “from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.” The Industrial Revolution of the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century made white cloth more readily available to the masses.

Small dolls of bisque, china, celluloid, and even crepe paper were often used to adorn wedding cakes and banquet tables from the end of the 19th century through the 20th century.  These were sold in department and stationary stores. The crepe paper bridal party on the right was made by the well-known doll artists Bernard and Frances Ravca.
This diminutive crepe paper wedding party have celluloid faces.

By the early 20th century the concept of marrying in a white gown was a firmly established concept. Many little girls will remember the experience of playing wedding, wearing costumes of lace, old bridal wear or even curtains, while imagining themselves in fairy-tale inspired gowns.

Even though white gained popularity as the wedding choice for brides, in many cultures brides continued to favor their traditional regional style of dress for wedding wear. A group of German bisque dolls of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are costumed (L to R) as brides of Czechoslovakia, Jordan and Poland. Dolls of this type depicting bridal costumes from around the world were very popular with collectors in the first half of the 20th century.
Madame Alexander always loved high-design fashion and over the years created many bride dolls. Shown here are a 18″ hard plastic Margaret face bride from 1949-55, an 18″ hard plastic Wendy Bride with vinyl arms from 1951 and a Cissette Bride from 1958.
Throughout the 20th century Bride dolls would continue to fuel childhood’s wedding dreams with dolls such as American Character’s Sweet Sue and Mattel’s Barbie. Dolls courtesy of McMasters Harris Auctions.

Extending beyond childhood play, many collectors enthusiastically build delightful collections or sub-collections within their doll collections featuring dolls in bridal gowns inspired by beauty and romance embodied in a white dress.

Wedding gowns often imitate the dress style prevalent during their era, following changes in silhouettes and length. Ashton Drake’s Gene doll wears wedding ensemble in the style of the 1920s, a Mel Odom design from 1995, was a delight for doll collectors of the late 20th century.
 Madame Alexander’s Brides Through the Ages series from 1999 depicted the styles and colors of bridal wear throughout history. These Cissette-sized dolls are the Rococo and Elizabethan brides from that series.

Author – Linda Edward

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