Unveiled: Wedding Dress of the Week

Unveiled: Wedding Dress of the Week

One of my most favourite fashion terms is passementerie. Its a French term that looks and sounds good, and which economically describes a luxurious array of frivolities used to adorn dress and interiors, including pom poms, bobbles, braid, ribbon, fringing, buttons, tassels and gimp. The English equivalent is the equally delightful ‘haberdashery’. 

This week’s Wedding Dress is a celebration of passementarie. It is from Te Papa’s collection. 

Wedding Dress, circa 1890, Greymouth. Gift of Vivienne Robertson, 1982. Te Papa
Wedding Dress, c. 1909, Greymouth. Gift of Vivienne Robertson, 1982. Te Papa

Passementerie trimmings became very fashionable in dress in the middle of the 19th century. As fashion historian Lucy Johnston comments trimmings came to be used to such an extent that  ‘fashionable women must have looked very much at home surrounded by tasselled valances and chairs embellished with fringe’.

Made from a heavy silk satin, our ‘Wedding Dress of the Week’ was worn by Christina Thomson who married Charles Haglund in 1909. They married in the gold-mining town of Kumara, on the South Island’s West Coast. Charles’s father, John, was a Swedish immigrant who ‘came to the coast in the sixties and followed the gold rushes all over the district’. According to the Grey River Argus, John ‘met with his fair share of luck’ and was held in esteem by ‘all who knew him’. While we currently don’t know much about Charles and Christina’s life, we do know that geographical isolation did not prevent Christina from having a spectacular dress for her wedding. The bodice is a confection of lace, braid, cord and bobbles, and the sheen of the silk is dazzling.  

Detail of pin tucks
Detail of the bodice.

As well as passementerie, the bodice features rows of pin tucks front and back. In contrast to the vertical rows of tucks, the sleeves are horizontally pleated, with each pleat accentuated by a button.  

Detail of the sleeve
The tucks, pleats and layers of passementerie work in unison to play capture the light and the eye.  It would have looked dazzling in candle light.
Detail of the passementerie and silk bow at the waist.
In  comparison to the bodice, the skirt, which comprises nine gores,  is unadorned except for a pleated lace ruffle at hem. Despite being unadorned, the skirt  could never be described as ‘plain’. The sheen and weight of the fabric give it a sculptural presence, its smoothness working to accentuate the bodice.
Wedding dress
Back view
 Wedding Dress of the Week is posted in conjunction with the exhibition Unveiled: 200 years of the Wedding Fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London which is on display at Te Papa until 22 April.

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