1880 Wedding Dress

My sister was getting married! This was my very first historical reproduction dress. I’m not sure I would recommend starting with something as important as a wedding dress–though it turned out great in the end (take that all you naysayers–ie. Mum!). Jean knew she wanted a period look and when I sent the Amazon Drygoods pattern catalog to her, she marked all the bustle patterns as what she wanted. Her husband had said all he wanted for the wedding was to wear jeans, boots, and his hat inside. Combined with the bustle, a Dad who refuses to wear ties, and a Mom who won’t wear heels, a “Gambler”-western theme just fell into place. When Jeff learned he was actually getting his wish, he said he was getting “the bestwife, ever!”

The 1875 day dress pattern from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (now the Wisconsin Historical Society). This is one of their Bicentennial era reproduction patterns, which means that it not only comes on heavy construction paper, but also is sized to an earlier pattern standard. This caused some panic when the first muslin was way too small–and we were trying to do fittings via mail as we lived in separate states. I ended up flying in to do a first fitting.

To better match what Jean wanted, we altered the sleeves and the apron front, slightly lowered the neckline, and added a train. Instead of long straight sleeves, we added a box pleated ruffle at the elbow, to fall to 3/4 length. The apron front shifted from the long, plain apron of 1875 to a shorter, pleated front of the later bustle period. I lengthened the overskirt back panel to provide a short train, which we then hooked up for dancing at the reception. The neckline was lowered mainly for ease and to show off a family necklace, we were not going for decolletage (the wedding was in Montana in March and as expected, there was a blizzard–nobody wanted to show off much skin).

We ordered an entire bolt of a dupioni silk-look synthetic in ivory, thanks to the wholesale purchasing power of a fabric store owning friend. This gave me lots of extra fabric to mess with and turned out to be providential when the first apron front went horribly wrong. In the end we still had 4 or 5 yards left, which we may have given to another friend for her wedding–or maybe it’s still hidden in the far reaches of Mum’s fabric stash (who knows what’s still in there!). The waist is lined with a white muslin.

The trim includes a gorgeous netted lace and some hard-won white velvet ribbon. I think we visited every fabric store in the entire Phoenix metro area to find the trim. I know I called every single one in the Phoenix area looking for the velvet ribbon.  It was fall and everyone had red and green, but nobody had white.  Finally, the last place I called way out in Apache Junction said “sure”.  So, I headed out there and after many miles of nothing-but-desert I found a bar, gas station, RV park, and a fabric store.  The place clearly never got rid of anything, just kept adding new stock–though possibly nothing new since the late 70s–so it was stacked to the ceiling with dusty fabric and trim and an entire wall of velvet ribbon.  I bought a whole roll.