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February 15, 2013
Artifact: Wedding Dress (2-piece)
Significance: This dress was worn by Charlotte (Welpmann) Grimm on her wedding day more than 135 years ago. It was common in the late nineteenth century for women to wear their “best” dress, often black, to their weddings. White dresses began gaining popularity following Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840, but as with most trends, it took quite awhile for the custom to become popular in the middle and lower classes.
More on Black Wedding Dresses: Concordia Historical Institute’s collection includes additional photographic and written evidence of the prevalence of black wedding dresses in the nineteenth century. In the photograph to the right, the bride, Marie Salomon, is in a black wedding dress. She married Rev. Edward L. Arndt on 1 May 1887 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
A collection of letters written by Emilie (Lohmann) Koenig, a Lutheran pastor’s wife in Indiana in the 1850s, sheds more light onto this matter. In a letter dated 11 September 1853 written to her family in Germany, a newly immigrated Emilie wrote about her upcoming nuptials:
We will have a very quiet evening together tomorrow. I am happy we will not have the usual riotous nuptial eve which is celebrated here by noisy rites at the bride’s home the evening before the wedding. Our wedding day will also be a very quiet one. . . . I will wear my black dress and the veil and, I hope, the wreath you braided for me.1
Emilie’s letter describes what can be seen in the Arndt wedding photograph: a bride in black with a veil. The wedding dress, photograph and letter together demonstrate the commonness of black wedding dresses more than a century ago.