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If you are considering Victorian wedding dresses, then you've most likely embraced an era that combines courtly manners and grace with lace and satin, lots of satin.
Many people assume that Victorian-style gowns, or any type of clothing, prudishly obscure the bride's physical attributes. But those people are wrong!
To appreciate Victorian fashion, you've got to learn what Queen Victoria was like.
The first thing you see in your mind's eye is the famous photograph commemorating Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, her 75th year. In that photo she is an old woman with a stodgy profile-a woman with little to show off her earlier vivacity, covered in a busy lace gown, wearing a mantilla, and hiding whatever isn't covered with a Spanish fan.
But if you want an accurate depiction of this remarkable monarch in her heyday as a strong, sexy woman, take a look at Franz Winterhalter's 1843 portrait of this lovely queen. And Victoria's popularity with the English, with Europeans, and with Americans meant that women of fashion throughout the years emulated her style of dress.
Queen Victoria was the first queen-bride to wear white at her wedding with love and pride-unlike Mary Queen of Scots, who wore white centuries before her in a fit of displeasure.
Victoria was 17 in 1836 and still a princess when she first met her fiancé, Prince Albert, in an engagement arranged by her uncle, Belgium's Leopold I. She wrote enthusiastically in her diary about Albert's physical charms, but she wasn't quite ready to marry. She wanted to enjoy her heyday as a young royal woman, and irate that the custom of the time dictated she live with her mother, she banished her to a far-off corner of the palace and ignored her as much as possible. Three years later, after her coronation, she met Albert again and their marriage took place in early 1840. They had 21 wonderful years together in a union that produced nine children. After Albert's death, she never remarried, and she wore mourning clothes for the rest of her years.
Genuine Victorian wedding dresses includes a full skirt that primly covers all of the leg and ankle. But the upper part of the gown plays to the charms of just about any bride, no matter what her body type is. The corseted bodice fits the body snugly and plays up the bosom. You can wear an actual corset beneath the bodice if needed, so if you have very little bosom it will be amplified. The neckline is scooped low and shows off the décolleté. The sleeves are set slightly off the shoulders, so that the lady may display her charms, barely caressing the upper arms. Popular during the earlier years of Victoria's reign, there is nothing shy or demure about this style of dress!
Victorian style wedding dresses normally have higher necklines. Victoria's reign, after all, spanned over sixty years, including American's Civil War period, and necklines rose and fell over the decades. If you prefer a dress with a high-necked bodice, you can expect to find something with lace at the throat and sheer voile panels of décolletage-which is the fabric that tops a low-cut bodice-with silk or satin ruffles descending from the height of the bosom, and then the bodice tapered to the waist. Also popular from later Victorian styles are plunging V-necklines framed in ruffles.
Often the satin used in the bodice is sewn into intricate panels and decorated with ribbons, ruffles, or lace. If the neckline is low, then a sheer wrap that the bride can sweep around herself adds a fashionable touch. If you're marrying in a cooler month, look for a cashmere shawl or jacket, since this was a popular fabric for Victorian brides. Long sleeves will be full and sweeping, banded at intervals along the arm with ribbons or cuffed with generous ruffles at the wrists.
What about the skirts of Victorian wedding dresses? No matter what part of the Victorian era you are copying, look for lush, draping satins-dupioni silk or brocades work well, too: These gowns were the forerunner of the princess-style ball gown as we know it today. Typically they are overlaid with intricate floral lace tiers that descend to the floor as part of a full train. Expect tulle, organdy, or gauze to be part of the dress.
Many Victorian wedding dresses feature crinoline petticoats. While hoops really aren't practical, you can still find gowns with skirts constructed to provide that generous ball gown silhouette. If you prefer to stay with the sheath skirt, expect it to be intersected with swaths of satin wrapped above the knees or sweeping panels of lace. Generous pleats and ruching also give a great effect. And bustles became popular during Victoria's reign. Veils for Victorian wedding dresses are long, sheer, and sweeping! The bride wears a headdress that's as regal as she is, and the veil descends from the crown of the head. Plain tulle netting is elegant, or look for lace with the Victorian rose or Spanish patterns that the queen favored.
Don't forget your Victorian wedding dresses accessories. Cameos or brooches or earrings and crocheted or lace gloves will complete your look. Victorians wore button shoes, which you can skip, but go for pointed toes. You will want your bouquet to be large, full, and beribboned.
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