Monday, June 6, 2011

The Puzzle of the Puffed Sleeves: What Scarlett's Wedding Dress Should Have Looked Like

"In the midst of this turmoil, preparations went forward for Scarlett's wedding and, almost before she knew it, she was clad in Ellen's wedding dress and veil, coming down the wide stairs of Tara on her father's arm, to face a house packed full with guests."
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter VII

Back when the Doppelganger Dresses series in full swing, one dress I definitely hoped to feature was Ellen's and subsequently Scarlett's wedding dress. So I plugged the numbers to refresh my memory as to what year Ellen married Gerald O'Hara. (Ellen is 32 at the start of GWTW in 1861, meaning her wedding at age 15 was in 1844.) With the date in hand, I went off to search for fashion plates.....and found nothing that even remotely resembled the massive-sleeved creation that Walter Plunkett made for Scarlett's wedding to Charles Hamilton (shown right). 

That was very puzzling to me--that the 1840s dress silhouette appeared to bear no resemblance at all to the bridal style shown in the movie. But dozens and dozens of fashion plates later, I couldn't avoid that fact. Big sleeves were distinctly out in the 1840s. Dresses featured tight sleeves, perhaps with a few delicate puffs for decoration, but that was about the extent of it. 

To help you visualize what I mean, here's a good example of day and evening styles from an 1844 fashion plate:

Dress Styles from May 1844. Ladies' Companion.

So, what did Plunkett use as the inspiration for Ellen/Scarlett's wedding dress, since it definitely wasn't 1840s fashion? Not being able to figure out the answer to that question, I gave up my search and moved on to look for other doppelganger styles. But this mystery continued to bother me from time to time--until something recently jogged my memory. 

It's true that 1840s dresses eschewed giant sleeves, but this wasn't the case a decade earlier. In the early 1830s, enormous gigot sleeves were all the rage--much like the ones we see on Scarlett's wedding dress. A quick search of 1830s wedding dresses turns up styles much more akin to the dress in GWTW than anything from the 1840s: 

                   Wedding Dress, June 1834. La Mode.                                           Wedding Dress, June 1835. La Mode.

So there's our answer. It looks like Walter Plunkett based his design for Scarlett's wedding dress on 1830s bridal styles, not 1840s. But why? This intriguing note on the Harry Ransom Center's Gone with the Wind costume collection offers one clue

"Since Scarlett rushed into the marriage with Charles Hamilton, she would have had to use her mother's wedding dress. So Plunkett fitted the dress on Barbara O'Neil's (Ellen O'Hara) dress form. Consequently, the dress was a little too long and had large sleeves which was the fashion in 1834 when Ellen would have been married." (Emphasis mine)

So did Plunkett simply get his dates wrong and put together an 1830s gown instead of an 1840s one? It seems so. It's also possible that he was just uninspired by 1840s fashion and instead found a historical model more to his liking a decade earlier. Either way, it begs the question: what should Ellen/Scarlett's wedding dress have looked like, if done in actual 1840s style? 

You'll find the answer after the jump, where I've put together a gallery of bridal gowns, all from the year of Ellen's marriage in 1844. Would you rather have seen Scarlett wear a dress like one of these in the movie? Or do you prefer Plunkett's vision? 

1844 Wedding Dresses

March 1844. Le Follet.

April 1844. Le Moniteur de la Mode.

April 1844. Le Follet.

May 1844. Ladies' Cabinet.

December 1844. Le Follet.

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