Tag Archives: History of Fashion

Sad veiled bride, please be happy…

23 May

“Sad veiled bride, please be happy
Handsome groom, give her room
Loud, loutish lover, treat her kindly
(Though she needs you
More than she loves you)”

(The Smiths, I know it’s over)

George Theodore Berthon, Portrait of Mrs. William Henry Boulton (Harriette), 1846

I can remember how good I felt inside
When the preacher said “Son, you may kiss the bride”
But as I leaned over to touch her pretty lips
I felt it all slip away through my fingertips

(Bruce Springsteen – Stolen Car)

The wedding day can be the happiest day of your life – or the most tragical one. That depends on many factors; whether a girl is marrying a prince or an ogre (no offense Shrek), whether her husband to be has a mad wife in the attic or not, whether his marriage is just a devise to rob you of your family inheritance. Nontheless, the image of a bride, let’s imagine a Victorian era bride, is always a charming one; dressed in white and covered with a veil, she might as well be a ghostly creature from another realm. So ethereal and eerie is the figure in white. Walking down the isle, veil covering her blushing cheeks, dressed in a white gown and looking splendid in all her virginal glory, sweetness, hopes, anticipation, all fill her fast beating heart. In a step or two, her destiny will be decided, her life changed forever… is she walking towards the altar or being led to the dungeons where her execution is to be held.

Queen Victoria set the standard for white wedding gowns in 1840 when she married Prince Albert, but that is not to say that white wedding dresses were not worn before; they were, but from that point on they became the statement. Her wedding day was an intensely happy event and she loved being married to Albert, but not every woman in Victorian era felt quite the same way, despite the idealisations we nowadays may have of their time and their lives, doting wife and angel in the house was often a bored and lonely woman. Let’s take Toulmouche’s painting “The Reluctant Bride” (below) as an example; just look at her face expression, she is absolutely not thrilled about it. Or Sophie of Württemberg (1818-1877), the Queen of Netherlands, who was buried in her wedding dress because she said that her life ended the day she got married.

Let’s take a look at Jane Eyre’s state of soul in chapter 36 after the secret was revealed:

Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent, expectant woman–almost a bride, was a cold, solitary girl again: her life was pale; her prospects were desolate. A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay a frozen shroud:lanes which last night blushed full of flowers, today were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and flagrant as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway. I looked on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing…

Jane Eyre’s wedding was so short and hasty that she must have been thinking, again quoting The Smiths:

I know it’s over
And it never really began
But in my heart it was so real

Apart from the obvious contrast between joy and disappointment that a bride inevitably faces, the figure of a bride in white, an innocent pure maiden, can serve as a visual contrast to something darker in the story, for example: Jane Eyre meets her husband to be Mr Rochester’s real mad violent wife in the attic, or the young naive bride of Bluebeard, when left alone in his castle, discovered his dark, bloody and blood-chilling secrets; also Elizabeth in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” who is strangled on her wedding night by the Monster that Doctor Frankenstein had created as a revenge to the Doctor who refused to make him a female companion.

And to end, here is perhaps the most eerie bride out of them all: Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s novel “Great Expectations”, a bride who is decaying and rotting under her silk and lace garments:

In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.

She was dressed in rich materials – satins, and lace, and silks – all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on – the other was on the table near her hand – her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.

Auguste Toulmouche, The Reluctant Bride, 1866

Firs Zhuravlev, Before the wedding, 1874

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Fashion Icons: BIBA Girl

22 Sep

First day of Autumn – a very appropriate date for the mood of Biba fashion. Still, this is the last post in my fashion icon series. You can read all of them here.

I really hope you enjoyed this collage-journey throughout (mostly) 1960s fashion icons. Who knows, this might not be my last series regarding history of fashion, I do have a cunning idea on my mind, but about that some other time. What do you think? And let me know which one was your favourite fashion icon from this series. Do share your opinions. Although I enjoyed writing about them all, my personal tastes lean towards styles of Marianne Faithfull, Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick and Anna Karina.

1970s biba lady

This photo is the essence of Biba look (apart from the nudeness) -luscious richly textured pillows in jewel colours of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, fabrics from the East, velvet, heavy perfumes, dark lipsticks, orchids and roses, animal prints – leopard and tiger, hint of 1930s glamour, doll-like make up, black lace, rosy cheeks and floral print evoking Victorian wallpapers – that’s Biba; more than fashion, it is the aesthetic, the mood, the spirit…

And now a few facts. ‘Biba‘ label was started by Barbara Hulanicki, a fashion designer and illustrator born in Warsaw in 1936, who moved to England in 1948 and later studied at Brighton School of Art. The first Biba boutique opened in Abingdon Road, Kensington in September 1964, and its first hit was a brown pinstripe dress. Despite its popularity in times of Swinging London, Biba style couldn’t have been more different to the classic, tailored and structured Mod look worn by Twiggy and The Beatles fans. Barbara’s designs were made specifically for young people, girls in their late teens and early twenties, because, in a typical sixties spirit, she wanted to draw a line between the outfits those girls would wear and the outfits their mothers would.

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Likewise, her store was a place for ‘groovy’ individuals, with loud music and lavishing decadent interior in a boudoir-meets-Art Nouveau-and-Art Deco style. When designing, Barbara drew inspiration from romantic Victorian and Edwardian fashions, as well as the glamour of the 1920s and 30s, particularly when it came to make up, inspiration for which was found in faces of film stars such as Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks, Jean Harlow and Theda Bara. Colours she used were very Autumnal, very much in the Count Dracula-graveyard tea party-Miss Havisham-Ophelia-funeral kind of mood – browns, shiny purples, midnight blues, plum, orchid, mahogany, copper, tobacco, camel, camelia pink, red, amethyst, jade… Dresses themselves were very uncomfortable, made from itchy materials and designed in a way it often made it hard to move your arms! But the sixties gals didn’t really care, as long as they looked like Victorian dolls.

Young girls working there were given a new Biba dress every week, along with their regular pay check, so you can only imagine how cool it must have been working there. Hulanicki described her customers as ‘postwar babies who had been deprived of nourishing protein in childhood and grew up into beautiful skinny people: a designer’s dream. It didn’t take much for them to look outstanding.‘ Biba’s models, such as Maddie Smith and Ingrid Boulting, followed a similar pattern. They were all skinny chicks with doll-like faces; soft round eyes, chubby cheeks, thin eyebrows and beautifully shaped full lips. And the best thing is that Barbara Hulanicki dressed in the same style she created, which I think shows just how passionately she loved the whole aesthetic. She lived her designs, and isn’t that the best advertisement?

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This is the end, dear reader, the end….