Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Dress That Makes a Statement

Most people love the red dress Walter Plunkett had Scarlett wear at Ashley's birthday party. Others prefer Margaret Mitchell's take and go with the green low-cut dress from the book. But here we are to tell you that both Mitchell and Plunkett were actually wrong! How We Do Run On has the definite answer. Here's Scarlett should have worn to Ashley's birthday party if she wanted to really make a statement:

The face is what counts, really
Yes, that's right, it's her wedding dress! Well, not the wedding dress from this picture, which is from her first wedding, but preferably the dress she wore to marry Rhett.

If you think we have done lost our minds, well, we won't be able to disagree. But we also have some cool historical background to this tongue-in-cheek statement. You see, when we wrote the post on Victorian wedding customs, a long time ago, we came across this very interesting tidbit. Did you know that back in Scarlett's day, the wedding dress was not just a one day dress?

Wedding dresses were, in fact, expected to be worn after the wedding day, frequently at evening parties throughout the course of the honeymoon. Following that, the wedding dress went into semi-retirement, from which it was pulled to be worn as parties as a "compliment to the hostess." The thinking was probably something along the lines of "This party is so lovely that I wore my very best dress- my wedding dress!"

So what better way for Scarlett to make a bold statement, compliment her hostess AND reaffirm her status of respectable married woman all at the same time, than by wearing her wedding dress to Ashley's infamous birthday party?


  1. I hate to say it, but I think you have indeed both lost your minds! Interesting tradition though. If you've read or seen The Age of Innocence (I've only seen the film) but May wears her wedding dress to the opera the following year. Although when she is seen wearing the dress on the wedding day it looked different from its later appearance. I think they would've altred it from a day-style, to an evening style. I think the majority of wedding dresses of the period followed day time styles.
    Maybe Scarlett shoud've done it to help her social standing, but Melanie was impressed by Scarlett's green dress anyway, as she says.

  2. 100 points for the observation about The Age of Innocence! I totally forgot about that detail, but yes, May wears her wedding dress to the opera and rips its hem. I've gone through the book to see if any additional details were given and sure enough the dress is mentioned before. At some point during their wedding voyage, May is fretting about what to wear and Archer suggests her wedding dress, because she can't go wrong with that one. And she replies "If only I had it here! But it's gone to Paris to be made over for next winter, and Worth hasn't sent it back.”

    Now Worth, as iso can tell you, was a big name in women's fashion and a wedding dress from him was the height of luxury. Probably Scarlett would have wanted one, or at least other Worth gowns after she was married. But, returning to Wharton, that quote seems to suggest that the dresses were altered after the wedding in order to be worn at social functions. I don't know about this particular dress being a day time style though. May's dress was white satin and lace.

  3. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing. :-)

  4. Sorry that I keep replying in a new comment, but my internet isn't working very well and it won't let me reply.
    Yay! I'm so glad you got a hold of that quote. I will store those points for later use!
    May is a bit of a different story I feel. They were Yankees and they lived in New York. At that time New York was the centre of all things fashionable. Scarlett ordered her steel engravings from New York, and God knows what else for that house of hers and Ashley squandered all their money on furniture and books from New York (and supporting destitute ex-confederates [the fool]). So in Atlanta, which from my understanding on a national scale was a bit of a backwater then, I feel it would've been not so easy to get one's hands on a Worth frock (and yes Bugsie, I know who Worth is!). I think Scarlett (a detail from Ripley's book) had her seamstress copy styles from fashion plates. I also think that reasonably often she would've sprung for desgner garments and jewellery. I also have an e-bay obsession, and in drawing a parallel between myself and Scarlett, there is nothing like a courier delivering a package of clothing or jewellery to your door.
    I haven't read The Age of Innocence, but I think I must, so I'm just going from my memory of the film, which I taped off the tv years ago, and haven't watched for a couple of years at least, but I think you see May's dress when they are taking the wedding portrait and I'm sure it had long sleeves on it. I think the trend of marrying in an evening dress is fairly modern. My mother married in the seventies (and again a couple of years ago), my nanna in the fifties, my great grandmother in the twenties, my great-great grandmother in the 1900s and they all wore long sleeves. It just wasn't done to show all your arms and shoulders in a wedding dress. I think.

  5. First of all, my point was not about Worth. That was only tangential to the discussion and I was remarking that Scarlett would have wanted a Worth gown. To say she would have been okay with her seamstress copying the style of a Worth gown is to ignore the importance of the label itself on such a dress. She would have wanted the real thing, and she could have gotten it too. (I am not saying that she did, only that it was possible.) New York was more advanced than Atlanta, but May feels provincial in London. The real fashionable things came from Europe in general. So in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter if you live in New York or Atlanta if your fiance just happened to travel to London prior to your marriage and could have easily made a stop in Paris to visit Mr. Worth, now does it?

    As for the wedding dress, I did agree with you that it was modified. I was just remarking that the fabric from which it was made (and that presumably was not changed) was not the best choice for day wear. And to complete my point, Archer suggests May wear her wedding dress to dine out in London before knowing that she sent it off to be altered, which suggests it was okay to wear it in the evening. I am not debating your general point, just saying that it might not work in May's case.

    As for you knowing who Worth is, I wasn't under the impression that you didn't. I was (and am) however under the impression that other people read the comments as well and that it's productive to state what/who you're talking about.

  6. I was thinking of "The Age of Innocence" as well, one of my other favorite books. MM is, sadly, mum about Rhett and Scarlett's wedding. We know she had a big wedding when she married Charles, and we know she persuaded Frank to get married by a judge with strangers for witnesses. But we don't know anything about the day she married Rhett, other than he tried to give Mammy a $10 gold piece. It's always frustrated me that as descriptive as MM is about Scarlett's other clothes, she was silent about this dress. We know it must have been spectacular. Rhett liked Scarlett to look good, so I can him making sure she was in a fabulous dress that day.

    Anyway, the red dress she wears in the movie is my favorite.

  7. Excellent points, Bugsie. Though I'm not sure Scarlett would have cared about real labels. Rhett would have, but Scarlett seemed to be content as long as something appeared to be of quality. Rhett liked the real thing.

    And while Rhett wasn't talking fashion here, I think it's still appropriate:

    "Scarlett, when you are forty-five, perhaps you will know what I'm talking about and then perhaps you, too, will be tired of imitation gentry and shoddy manners and cheap emotions. But I doubt it. I think you'll always be more attracted by glister than by gold."

    Still, I can easily picture Rhett bringing her clothes back from London or Paris.

  8. Sorry if I sounded argumentative Bugsie. I didn't mean to come across that way at all. Just trying to be funny. Please don't black-list me!

  9. Oh great, so you were trying to be funny and I jumped at your throat? Way to look bitchy, Bugsie. Sorry about that. Tone didn't really carry through for that message, so you could be anything from funny to enraged.

    As for black-listing, I'll have to think about that one. It might get me water-colored fashion plates to get you on the white list again... :P

  10. Well, I kind of thought of the label as "glister" in that analogy. There is no reason her seamstress couldn't have delivered a gown similar in quality and material with the Worth gowns. But you can't brag about that one that it's an original Worth and say "look how rich I am!" It's like with today's designer labels. They could sell crap and people would buy it, because hey, it's Prada!

    Though you do have a point in that Scarlett doesn't know what Rue de la Paix is, and Rhett draws her attention to that. Hmm...

  11. Yay, I'm glad we're friends again! I sometimes forget that my extreme sarcasm and bone dry humour can't exactly be gauged from an internet post.
    I feel bad about the fashion plates. I don't know how to scan and work has been so busy lately (not to busy that I can't check on this page with some regularity) and my life is absolutely hectic at the moment. I will bring them in tomorrow and get someone to show me how to scan (oh the terrors of modern technology - if only I was a Southern belle in the 1860s!) I have done a few more since I mentioned it. I found a plate that virtually looked like the characters of GWTW assembled for the barbecue. There is one dress that almost perfectly matches Ellen's first costume, there is a grey dress worn with a bonnet that has cherry coloured ribbons, among others, and in the middle there is one model in a white evening dress, and I painted the trimming green and sprigged it. It looks cool. I also did another one, which I'm very pleased with, and it is of two women (Suellen and Ellen) dressed, in my mind, for Scarlett's wedding. Suellen has on a pink dress with black lace and her mother's garnets and Ellen is in a more conservative black evening dress and I did the roses dark red. Very pretty! I'm sure you'll be waiting with breath that is baited!

  12. Great quote Blue! I think it's totally apt.
    I'm not sure if I'm going to go with you or with Bugsie. I hadn't thought about in great depth before, but I'm inclined to go with Bugsie. I think Scarlett would've wanted originals. Maybe not every garment, but a percentage at least.
    Another good point there - did Rhett bring Scarlett more than just a ring from his trip? He might've bought her wedding dress while he as over there as well, and garments for her trousseau...

  13. We most definitely will! And I am sure iso will be very interested in the dress that resembles Ellen's costume. No pressure, though.

  14. I've always for some reason assumed he bought her more stuff. Perhaps b/c of the amount of stuff he buys her in New Orleans (though that would make buying a trousseau in Europe kind of pointless).

  15. I can just see the faces of Atlanta when she walks into the party in her wedding dress!


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