Hi my lovely reader friends! I am very excited to welcome Sharon Lathan to Austenesque Reviews today! Sharon is one Austenesque author who doesn’t need an introduction, with so many celebrated Austenesque works to her name! I personally am very excited about Sharon’s new release, Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future, because it completes her Darcy Saga Prequel Duo, which I have not read yet, but hope to soon! We hope you enjoy Sharon’s post about one of the most important features of any wedding day (no matter the time period!) – the wedding dress!
My sincerest thanks to Meredith for hosting me on Austenesque Reviews today. It is an honor to be here, and a great pleasure to share a bit of my research with your readers, as well as my latest novel. Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future is the second book in the two-volume Darcy Saga Prequel Duo, which began with Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship. These two novels perfectly fit with my Darcy Saga Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, the series now including nine lengthy novels and one novella.
With the theme of the Prequel Duo focusing on wedding preparation for our two loving couples, a thought a bit of history about the wedding gowns would be appropriate. Here we go!
Regency Era Wedding Gowns
The vast majority of our modern-day wedding extravagances emerge during the Victorian era, including the bridal ensemble. The generally understated and simplistic decades surrounding the Regency meant that wedding gowns were similarly modest and unassuming. Of course, when it comes to a lady’s special day, females in every culture and time period fret over their appearance and desire a beautiful dress.
In most instances, a bride’s class and fortune was the prime dictator of how lavish her gown. Ladies of the lower or middle classes often had no choice but to choose from the two or three dresses already in their closets reserved for church. A bride-to-be would select one and, if time and money allowed, augment it with new lace or trim. If possible, she would purchase a new bonnet, shawl, or gloves, these options a cheaper alternative than a new gown.
Women of the gentry and aristocracy were more fortunate in their financial situation. They could, and would, have a new gown sewn and purchase accoutrements specific for the occasion. This did not translate to meaning a gown only for the wedding. It was rare, even for the wealthiest in society, to never wear garments more than once. Practicality was considered a virtue. Thus, with the expectation to wear one’s wedding dress in the future, the design often followed the fashionable trends and nothing more. Finer materials might be used, such as rare silks or satins with embellishments of extravagant lace and embroidery, but this too depended on the bride’s taste and desire. Ostentation was uncommon, and frankly frowned upon.
The color of a wedding gown varied widely and depended upon the bride’s taste more than any other rationale. Any color was acceptable, with the possible exception of black. White as the symbolic color of purity meant little since all brides were assumed to be virginal. If a bride wore a white gown it was chosen because white dresses were highly popular amongst the upper classes due to the intense care required to keep the fabric clean indicative of one’s social status and income. Simply put, a rich lady often possessed more white gowns than the other colors. Not until Queen Victoria donned a white gown for her marriage to Prince Albert in 1842 would white as the proper color for a wedding gown become a standard, although even then it was a gradual evolution as the century unfolded.
The vast majority of paintings from past eras show aristocratic brides wearing gowns of silver, gold, or costly fabrics in rich colors. Fashion plates are surprisingly devoid of specific wedding gowns, and the ones seen are primarily French, who are credited with introducing the concept of a “wedding gown” per se, as well as popularizing the wedding veil.
Searching for extant garments specifically labeled as a “wedding gown” yields minimal results, surprising considering the immense quantity of preserved garments from the Georgian decades. Why is unclear, although it is easy to speculate this is due to the aforementioned fact of gowns being worn multiple times. A woman’s wedding gown may be special—the degree dependent upon her fondness for her husband—but over time would be counted as one of her many elaborate gowns. The images below are a few examples.
The bride’s accessories—tall gloves, white slippers, silk stockings—would match her gown and personal style, reflect the solemnity of the ceremony, and fit into the standard formality of the era. Other adornments were in keeping with the seriousness of the occasion. On her head, she would wear a simple bonnet, turban, flowered and/or jeweled hairpiece, or tiara. There were no standards.
Veils in general were a common addition to Regency era headgear and therefore not unheard of at a wedding, particularly if the bride devotedly followed the latest French fashions. Historically, wedding veils were essential due to a host of superstitions, including: hiding the bride from evil spirits, shielding from the groom’s gaze in arranged marriages or to prevent the “bad luck” in seeing her before the vows, and to symbolically declare her submission to her new husband. These superstitions had died away by the rational 18th century, so if a veil was worn, fashion and the bride’s style was the key rather than the traditions we associate. Veils were an adornment akin to flowers and ribbons, and did not cover the face to be ritually lifted as a part of the ceremony. Most of the paintings from the past, well into and beyond the Victorian years, depict veils hanging behind the head and not covering the face.
And now, with those facts and visuals in mind, here is a small excerpt from the wedding ceremony in Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future. Enjoy!
Excerpt from Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future
At the fifth chime, the double doors slowly swung inward, the brilliant sunlight streaming inside. For the minuscule span between the fifth and sixth chime, the portal was empty. Then, as the sixth stroke rang crisp and clear through the open archway, three figures appeared.
Darcy doubted an earthquake could have torn his gaze away from Elizabeth.
“Keep breathing, Darcy.”
“Same to you, my friend.”
Before the tenth, and final chime had faded into silence, he realized that Bingley’s whispered words had not been an attempt at humor but were words of advice meant for them both. The vision of Elizabeth, his bride, had wrest the air from his lungs. It took him several seconds to recognize that the stars swirling in front of him were not solely the result of the magical moment.
My God in Heaven—she is stunning.
One hand lying daintily atop her proud father’s left arm, Elizabeth glided down the aisle, a pure vision of flawless beauty. Her rich, coffee-colored eyes sparkled with the unique blend of vivaciousness, intelligence, and wit that had captivated him the second he’d beheld her at the Meryton Assembly so long ago. Of her many exquisite features, Darcy adored her eyes above all. Today especially, her superlative eyes shone with transcendent love directed solely at him. He could happily stare into her eyes for eternity, and if not for a hushed voice buried inside his head reminding him to savor every detail, Darcy would never have been able to look away.
Somehow, he did and was struck anew with breathless bedazzlement.
Elizabeth wore a gown of creamy-white silk gauze under a transparent overdress of Madras lace woven with tiny, vaguely heart-shaped silk-satin accents. The squared bodice was modestly cut, trimmed with delicate lace and champagne-gold satin ribbons sewn into a beautiful design of narrow horizontal bands and vertical scallops, which curved over her full breasts, down the front to the hemline. The slightly puffed, capped sleeves were embellished with the same satin ribbon and lace trim. Spanning her slim waist was a sash of deepest gold tied into a bow at her back.
Her luxuriant tresses were styled in an elaborate weave of curls and braids with thin gold ribbons entwined and tiny buds of baby’s breath and lavender inserted. In her right hand, his mother’s engagement ring sparkling in the light, she held a bouquet of honeysuckle, lavender, and, to his utter amazement, clusters of cobalt-blue Jacob’s ladder. The splash of blue with the purple was sublime and complemented the sapphire-and-diamond necklace encircling her creamy, slender neck.
From the top of her coiffed hair to the tips of the white satin slippers peeking from underneath the hem of her gown, she was extraordinary. The proper names and descriptors for Elizabeth’s wedding ensemble were largely unknown to Darcy, of course. His awed appreciation was for the combined effect, which was devastating to his senses and made it extremely difficult to catalog the specifics. In his urgency to have her close, the time from her entrance until she was standing before him felt like an hour, but there still wasn’t enough time to absorb her perfection.
Thank you so much for sharing this lovely post and excerpt, Sharon! The practical side of me quite likes the idea of a wedding dress being a dress that you continue to wear again in the future, instead of just the one time! Elizabeth’s wedding day ensemble sounds gorgeous! Can’t wait to see what takes place next!
Connect with Sharon
Today Sharon is generously giving away two lovely prizes in conjunction with her visit!
- One Ebook bundle of the Prequel Duo: Darcy & Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship and Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future (open worldwide)
One Darcy Saga Prequel Duo heart-handle mug set (open to US residents only)
To enter this giveaway, leave a question, a comment, or some love for Sharon below!
- This giveaway is open worldwide (ebooks) and US residents (mugs). Thank you, Sharon!
- This giveaway ends September 27th!