While searching for objects to put on display in our upcoming exhibit ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Wedding and Funeral Traditions in Chemung County (opening to the public on October 18th), it was not so much what I found that caught my attention but rather it was what I did not find. CCHS has over fifty bridal gowns in its collection but only one groom’s suit.
The wedding suit from 1880 with two wedding gowns of the same period
(photo from previous CCHS exhibit)
This 50:1 ratio seems high but I imagine it is not very unusual in museum collections. Women’s wedding gowns, especially from the late 19th Century through today, were often dresses made or purchased for that one, special event. It was highly unlikely that the bride would ever wear her wedding gown again. The dresses were kept and cherished by the bride and sometimes passed on to her daughters before ending up in a museum’s collection. As many weddings seem to be focused on the bride – it’s her big day! – it makes sense that so much emphasis is placed on her dress.
The lack of grooms’ outfits may be that men are just not very sentimental about the clothing they wore at their wedding. There are several other possible reasons why suits are so outnumbered by gowns. The groom could, and often did, wear his suit again for other events and occasions. It was not a one-of-a-kind, one-time garment. Military men often wore their dress uniforms at their weddings, completely bypassing the need for a special suit. And in modern times, many grooms rent a suit or tuxedo for their wedding that is returned after the ceremony.
|Groom and his attendants, 1959|
The shortage of men’s wedding clothing could also be simply a lack of information in the museum’s records. There are ten tuxedos in the CCHS collection though none have been positively associated with a groom. This 5:1 dress to suit ratio is much better and will assure that the lovely bridal gowns we put on display will not be alone.
|Wedding portrait, 1880|