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A typical wedding gown from 1899, Harper’s Bazar, March 18, 1899

A typical wedding gown from 1899, Harper’s Bazar, March 18, 1899

1899 Wedding Gown
History of the 1899 Wedding Gown and Notes on Late 1890s Fashions

"An ivory Duchesse satin gown, looped with lilies-of-the-valley in chiffon" was how the London (Ontario) newspaper described 26-year old Carlotta J.K. McCutcheon's wedding gown. According to the article she had married Arthur Beatty, a University of Wisconsin English professor, on June 29, 1899 in the parlor of her Thorndale, Ontario home.

Carlotta's choice of fabric and design clearly illustrated that she was aware of the latest styles and fashion trends in bridal attire. Her information may have come from fashion magazines, such as Harper's Bazar, The Delineator, and Ladies' Home Journal, which, in the months surrounding her wedding, were consistent and adamant about the elements of an ideal wedding dress. According to these journals' editors, the attributes of perfection included a white or ivory satin fabric made into a gown of simple lines with a full skirt that fit tightly over the hips, a bodice that had very long sleeves, a high collar, a broad-shouldered look, and light fabric for the yoke, as well as tasteful trimmings made from lace, ribbon, fringe, pearl embroidery or passementerie, and orange blossoms or lilies-of-the-valley. Carlotta managed to incorporate all of these suggestions into her gown.
An 1899 woman of fashion forced her body into a swan or "S" shape. She could create this profile by having her bodice project out over her abdomen, while her "health" corset thrust back her derriere. Harper’s Bazar, June 3, 1899
An 1899 woman of fashion forced her body into a swan or "S" shape. She could create this profile by having her bodice project out over her abdomen, while her "health" corset thrust back her derriere. Harper’s Bazar, June 3, 1899

By 1899 Carlotta may have finally adjusted to the sudden change in fashion that had occurred two years earlier. In the middle of the 1890s the hourglass look had been tremendously popular. Its exaggerated shape included huge leg-o'-mutton sleeves, a tightly corseted waist, and a flared skirt that fitted tightly over the hips.

A Wisconsin woman wearing a fashionable outfit from 1897-1899. Whi(V24)1968

A Wisconsin woman wearing a fashionable outfit from 1897-1899. WHi(V24)1968

By 1897 the fashion had deflated. Sleeves tightened with only a vestigial puff left at the shoulder, and the skirt narrowed, especially in front. Harper's Bazar declared the large sleeve "absolutely out of date" in October 1896. The magazine went on to say that "those who found large sleeves extremely picturesque are now inclined to regard them as somewhat absurd." Though the large sleeve disappeared, a broad-shouldered effect replaced it. This look could be created with a broad yoke or large sleeves caps. In either case the look appealed to the new fashionably-athletic woman who saw herself as stronger and more muscular than her predecessors.

Front View

Back View

In 1899 a stylish bodice had a wide yoke and sleeve caps that created a broad-shouldered effect. It also bloused over the waistline making the bosom look as if it was in the wrong place. The Delineator, March 1899


Another major change occurred between 1897 and 1899 when the French invented a new, supposedly healthier, corset that released the abdomen from undue pressure. The corset reshaped women's torsos creating a straight, flat front from the bust to the hips, thus obliterating the waistline. Fashions adapted to this new front by blousing out the bodice above the waistline, making the bust look like it hung near the waist. The new bodice became known as the "pouter pigeon" look because of its resemblance to a bird's breast.
 

Ladies Bustle

Women who were too skinny would wear hip pads and/or a bustle to fill themselves out to the fashionable silhouette. The Delineator, November 1898


At the same time, the front and sides of the skirt grew straighter with all previous fullness moved to the back. Designers began adding trains to formal gowns. As one female observer noted in 1898, "We are all to be willowy trailing creatures." The consequence of the bloused bodice and the straight skirt was to make the hips the main attraction. The tight skirt forced women to walk with undulating movements that also drew the eye to their hips. If a woman lacked the required fullness, magazines frequently offered patterns and advertisements for hip pads.
This fashion illustration is very similar to Carlotta's wedding dress. She may have been inspired by it when designing her dress. Harper's Bazar, February 2, 1898.

 This fashion illustration is very similar to Carlotta's wedding dress. She may have been inspired by it when designing her dress. Harper's Bazar, February 2, 1898.


After a decade of wearing severely cut clothing in bright, sometimes harsh and distracting colors, women in 1898 began wearing dresses that could be described as "fluffy and frilly" in soft pastel shades. Dresses acquired their frilliness, which generally centered on the bodice and skirt hem, with layers of ruffles usually in diaphanous materials. The final result frequently made the wearer resemble an agitated meringue.

An example of a frilly 1899 dress, Harper’s Bazar, March 18, 1899

Carlotta appears to have been very aware of the new fashion. Her dress may have been inspired by a dress that appeared in the February issue of Harper's Bazar. The fashion editor described the dress as a "charming little reception gown." Like Carlotta's wedding dress, the pictured gown has a puffed bodice, a high collar, "mousquetaire" sleeves that gathered along the seam line, sleeve caps at the shoulders, lace trimmed ruffles at the wrist, rows of ruched mousseline de soie at the yoke, vertical decoration on one side of the bodice, and a relatively plain, full skirt.


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©2002 Wisconsin Historical Society
Last updated April 02, 2002