Thursday, July 6, 2017

Versatility of a Victorian Farm Wife’s Wedding or Best Dress

 The Newmarket Historical Society, Newmarket, NH held an exhibition of wedding dresses from New England, housed in the collection of the Society. The exhibition was on view from June-August 2016. Most of the wedding dresses were modest, and many were sewn by family members (well into the 1970s)—mothers, sisters, aunts.

Among what we consider the traditional wedding finery, were two “best” dresses –most likely worn for the respective bride’s weddings—one by the mother and the other by her daughter.  Both married farmers. [[1]]

The mother was Phoebe Marie Prime, who married Benjamin Philo Downs, January 25th 1843 in South Britain, CT.  She died at an early age, probably of consumption. Her daughter, Emma Marie Downs, was raised by her aunt and guardian. Anticipating disapproval from her aunt, Emma and her husband to be, David Chester Platt, ran away to get married. They married on December 28th, 1874 in New York, and ultimately resided in her hometown, South Britain, CT. The ending, however, is a happy one. At a later point, her guardian felt it was prudent to save face in the town and gave the newlyweds a very large reception.

Emma’s “best” dress is extant. Clearly well-worn, her cotton print dress dates from the last quarter 19th century.  The dress features a fitted, integral bodice. Adjustable interior ties at the waist may indicate that the dress was also designed to serve as maternity wear.

In addition to her ‘best’ dress, a simple blue and white checked cotton gown survives from the late 19th century, and so does one of her husband’s waistcoats. Both garments exhibit straight forward practicality, and modest materials, with little if any additional embellishments. They are clearly well 
worn and functional.

[1] The dresses are in the collection of the Tarbox family, on loan to the Newmarket Historical Society

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