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Balancing Tradition and Innovation

Since at least the early Egyptian era, countless records remain in many cultures describing the special garments worn by the bride and groom.  To the Anglo-Saxons in the fourth century, “the groom’s pledge to pay the bride’s father a fee was known as wedd."  (Conde Nast editor Maria McBride-Mellinger)  Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, describes the “study of costumes as art-historical documents illustrating important aesthetic ideas and theories...."  Certainly the garments worn for a wedding are some of the most symbolic and often the most carefully preserved afterward by the wearers and their families.

In addition to the white wedding gown, which had been worn by brides earlier, but  was popularized by the distribution of pictures of the dress worn by Queen Victoria for her 1840 wedding, orange blossom wreaths and orange blossoms in a bouquet or trimming the dress itself became a traditional part of the wedding ensemble.   Although earlier records describe the wearing of orange blossoms (by the bride of President John Adam’s son for example), this custom too was popularized by Queen Victoria’s use of  “this Mediterranean symbol of fertility”.  Since, however, the flowers are very delicate and short-lived, wax copies soon became popular, enabling the same orange blossoms to be used by siblings and even later generations.

- Holly Hummel (Vassar Drama Department faculty emerita)