This week’s wedding dress from Te Papa’s collection is not an extravagant affair, but an exercise in simplicity. It is a homemade wedding dress made by Elizabeth Clark, the eldest daughter of a mason from Adelaide.
Elizabeth Clark married William Millar in Melbourne, Australia on the 25 March 1872. News of their marriage was recorded in the Family Notices of The Argus on Wednesday 27 March, by which time the newly weds were well on their way to a new life in New Zealand via sailing ship. They had departed the port of Melbourne the day after their wedding, and settled in Dunedin.
Elizabeth chose a soft sheer cotton voile for her dress – a sensible choice for an unbearably hot Melbourne summer. On the 9th March 1872 a reporter for The Chronicle wrote an impassioned article about the unparalleled temperatures being experienced in the region – ‘Each morning the sun has risen like a ball of fire’ he exclaimed. Melburnians were suffering from temperatures of 100 to 106 degrees in the shade, oppressive, sleepless nights and venomous swarms of mosquitoes. ‘For the sake of humanity’ he hoped that the weather man’s prediction that the heat would last to the end of the month would prove false.
In contrast to the image of a blazing ball of fire and oppressive heat described by The Chronicle, Elizabeth’s prim, buttoned up white dress, presents a picture coolness and propriety. Rather than a fashionable city dress – ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ was Australia’s undisputed leader of style - with a flat front and bustle, it has a country feel, evocative of a pleasant summer’s day walking through long grass, picking flowers. The cotton features a woven stripe and printed pattern of small flower sprigs in green and yellow.
Elizabeth stitched the bodice and the skirt completely by hand, using running stitches for joining seams, back-stitches for the pleats, bodice seams and in places where more strength was required, and overcast stitches for finishing seam allowances. The hem is finished with yellow braided wool tape which picks up on the yellow flowers.
On close investigation this labour of love appears much worn. It features numerous little darns and mends.
Sunday 25 March 2012 marks the 14oth anniversary of Elizabeth and William’s wedding – an excuse to raise a toast.
Wedding Dress of the Week is posted in association with Unveiled: 200 Years of Wedding Fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London which is on display at Te Papa until 22 April 2012.