An Eighteenth Century Wedding Ensemble
Published April 2020
As many of us #WorkFromHome, where office attire might be more ‘casual’, we offer, as a respite, an eighteenth century Rococo wedding ensemble from our collection.
Into the late nineteenth century, brides would typically wear their finest dress on their wedding day–no matter the color. On January 6, 1763, in Windsor, CT, Hannah Allin (or Allyn) (1743-65) wore this costly floral gown made of imported English silk and matching shoes with pattens (protective overshoes) to wed Captain James Hooker, descendant of Reverend Thomas Hooker, the “Father of Connecticut”. Her ensemble–made in Colonial America–was the epitome of the prevailing Rococo style in English fashion and her parents spared no expense in purchasing exquisite materials from abroad for their daughter’s wedding attire.
While provenance alone makes this early American wedding ensemble noteworthy, the dress, shoe, and patten fabric carry their own significance. These items were made from silk woven in Spitalfields, a London neighborhood populated by French Protestant designers, textile workers, and merchants, who supplied the world with high-style fabrics. The silk’s brocaded floral chrysanthemum pattern is attributed to designer Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763) by the Museum of the City of New York’s textile historians. Garthwaite, one of Spitalfield’s most famous independent textile designers, was known for vibrant floral prints like the one seen in this dress fabric. While the Allins purchased only the finest materials for Hannah’s wedding ensemble, the robe à l’anglais style dress, with fitted back and a funnel-shaped bust feeding into wide rectangular skirts supported by panniers, was au courant from 1720 to 1780. This silk dress and its accoutrement speak to the global trade and international exchange of luxury goods in the eighteenth century.
Hannah Allin’s silk gown is one of the earliest examples of a wedding dress in the Wadsworth’s collection. As was typical of expensive eighteenth-century couture, the dress and its components, including the stomacher and petticoat, were refashioned numerous times into the nineteenth century for the other members of the family, including James Hooker’s third wife Mary Chaffee. Such fine silk fabric was less likely to have been discarded and instead these “best-dresses,” especially with family significance, were refitted and remade as styles changed. It is thought that the final owner and family descendant, Mrs. Theodore Pearson, reworked the ensemble for a fancy ball prior to her donation to the Museum of the City of New York in 1960.