Monday, August 18, 2014

Vintage Sewing: A Nineteenth-Century Trousseau

Laura Ingalls' trousseau is described in These Happy Golden Years, the eighth book in the children's series that describes Laura's childhood. Pa buys Ma a sewing machine to expedite the preparation of the bridal trousseau. Compare Laura's preparations to those of the modern bride-to-be.

White Goods
Laura buys yards and yards of white muslin, which she and Ma fashion into "...chemises and drawers, petticoats and nightgowns, two of each" (p.240). Heavier muslin is purchased for sheets and pillowcases-again, two sets. Laura trims the white muslin garments with the yards of lace she has knitted and crocheted over the years.
While the modern bride has a choice of many fabrics and colors, she still needs to take care of basic items first. Replace worn items from college with new lingerie. Select quality sheets with a high thread count to ensure long wear and good looks. Get the best towels you can afford; cheaply made towels will need replacement too soon.
Laura had two good dresses: a brown poplin outfit for cooler weather and a flowered lawn (a lightweight fabric) for summer. She is not sure what else she needs, but Ma knows what she lacks. "I think every woman should have one nice black dress," she declares (p. 266). They go to town and buy black cashmere, from which Ma fashions a grown-up dress appropriate for almost any occasion.
Like Laura, today's bride needs to be prepared with appropriate clothing for a variety of situations. Married life may include religious ceremonies, graduations, dinner with the boss, and funerals. Such occasions are less stressful when you already have the appropriate clothing in your closet. A dark dress or conservative suit is important for serious occasions. For celebrations, have one or two festive outfits in your best colors.
Final Thoughts
Laura, like most girls of her time, had spent her days wisely. After school and chores were done, she used odd bits of time or long winter evenings to prepare items for her trousseau. If you sew, knit, or crochet, you may do this as well. Even a few embroidered pillowcases or a pretty slip can add a custom touch to your trousseau. If you are not a do-it-yourself type, shop wisely. When white sales are on, look for special items to save for your future home.
While some things change, the wise young woman will always do what she can to be ready for the future.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. (1971). These Happy Golden Years. New York: Harper & Row.