Okay, Okay, So We Can’t Wear It

This lady is Ethel Dalziel, as she appeared on her wedding day in 1908 when she married Ronald Cooper in Glasgow, Scotland.

No, you haven’t heard of either. They were simply two people who got married, had a family, and eventually died. They did nothing that got them particularly remembered in the annals of history outside their own family.

As for the dress, well, there are a couple things interesting about that. No, not the design. No, not the materials. Both are pretty typical for a wedding gown of the period worn by a middle class bride. The Brussels lace is very pretty, but hardly unusual.

Now the fact that it has survived two bombing raids during WWII and still has all accessories (shoes, stockings, veil, and even wax orange blossom hair wreath) intact is a lot more interesting. It’s rare to find a gown of this era where provenance can be proven, let alone with the accessories.

And yet this is not the part The Daily Mail finds important, either.

Nope, their primary concern with this dress is that brides today are too darn large to wear it.

You see, Ethel’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hoare, is auctioning off the dress. She tried at first to sell it to a museum, but there were no takers. She did tell the Mail she thought about wearing the gown for her own wedding, but it didn’t fit.

This is unsurprising. Not only was the bride precisely five feet tall, she was wearing a corset when she fit into this dress.

The Mail makes a big deal about how small the dress is, mentioning the eighteen-inch waist and the fact that it’s smaller than a UK size four multiple times.

Yes, the dress is small. It was made at a time when people were – on average – several inches shorter and some pounds lighter than they are today. And did I mention those corsets? Here’s one from roughly the same time period:

See how it affects the waistline?

Also, remember that the bride stood 5’0″ tall. The average woman is taller than that. In fact, the average British woman today is roughly 5’4″, or four inches taller than Ethel was on her wedding day. The Mail does not go into the question of how much taller the average bride is today, nor the corset she would have worn over a hundred years ago.

The average age of brides has also risen over time. In Ethel’s day, the average age of a first time bride 25.63 years. In an article in the Mail roughly two years ago, the reported average age of a first time bride in the UK was thirty and rising. Most adults do gain weight in their late twenties to early thirties.

In short, while the article seems to take issue with the fact that most women today couldn’t fit into this dress and seems to question why anyone who couldn’t wear it might want it, the reason women wouldn’t wear it for a wedding today isn’t that they’re too fat: it’s that they’re too tall, don’t wear corsets, are inclined to be older, and, oh yes, styles have changed drastically.

And of course there could be the reason that it’s a delicate thing that has lasted over a hundred years and two world wars completely intact, so one might want to preserve it simply because there are fewer and fewer of these typical gowns around. The fact that the accessories are also intact and kept with it would make it the highlight of many a private collection.

I don’t need an eighteen-inch waist to appreciate a thing that is beautiful and increasingly rare.

Besides, you folks know what I always say: it’s the job of the dress to fit you, not yours to fit the dress.

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