Friday, April 27, 2007

The Vanishing Trousseau

The trousseau is another feminine custom that has practically fallen into disuse. While the trousseau presently seems to be limited to the apparel of a bridal party and the collecting of lingerie, it once consisted not only of clothes but of everything a young lady would take with her into her new life as a matron. Often it would take years to gather together the treasures meant for adorning a future home, as well as embroidering linens and making quilts. There would be special heirlooms passed down from grandmothers and usually it would all be stored in a cedar chest until the bride set up her new residence with her spouse. According to Mildred Fenwick in the 1969 Vogue's Book of Etiquette:

Traditionally, the bride has not only a clothes trousseau, but one for her new house as well. This includes her good china, silver, glass; bed, bath, and table linens; and the necessary pots and other cooking utensils for her kitchen. Like many traditions, however, this one is observed or not, depending on individual circumstances. Most brides try to acquire at least a minimum of these appointments, for three reasons. First, a minimum, regardless of quality, is essential for even the simplest way of life unless one lives in a hotel. Second, handsome household appointments tend to become a luxury after marriage, and if a woman does not start out with them she often finds that she never gets around to buying them later. Third and last, quality endures and quality shows. It is true that fine china can get broken, but not as easily as pottery.

I encourage all the young brides who come to me for a wedding consultation to have a bridal registry, even if it is at Target. Stores like Target may not carry fine china and silver, but they have bed linens and pillows and towels and so many things for the kitchen. Before the wedding is the time to try to foresee what you might need later and suggest it in the registry to those who want to buy gifts. So many young couples have set up housekeeping together, long before marriage is even discussed, so that planning the trousseau and registry is not quite what it used to be. Share

8 comments:

sc said...

Trousseau also is the French word for dowry.

Believe it or not, in the days before feminism, both nunneries and men generally insisted that an intended bring a dowry of a certain size into the deal. In India, dowries are still measured in cows.

I personally think haggling over dowries is distasetful; but then again, it also made clear that the husband or cloister had obligations.

In any event, haggling dowries is probably more humane than exposing your children to the likes of Bella Abzug.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, sc, and some convents still require a dowry.

Georgette said...

It is funny that sc mentions that "trousseau" is French for "dowry" because reading this, I thought of the Indian dowry.

The dowry is something that has always intrigued me here in India. It is the source of so much abuse of young women and their families, who suffer beatings, and the wife burning you hear so often about, at the hands of the husbands and their families. If a boy's family gets it into their heads that they can get more money out of the girl's family, even after marriage, they will abuse her and beat her and force her to beg her parents for more. Because of this, it is now officially illegal to require dowries of money in India, but hardly anyone observes it, except in very religiously observant Muslim and Christian families. But even among the Muslim and Christian families, particularly the lower classes, the families often require dowries.

As a tradition, families collect things for their daughters' dowries from the time their girls are born. Besides the linens, clothing, jewelry and often large sums of money that are expected especially in the Hindu families, the kitchen essentials are a must-have in the dowry. The richer families also collect furniture--usually just the bridal bedroom furniture, as most often she goes to live in the groom's family home, which is already furnished. But today for the young professional couples, the entire household of furniture is usually supplied, along with cars and large kitchen appliances! It gets quite expensive.

But there were many other things once considered essential in the dowry, especially in the upper class families, which are quickly going out of fashion, that may be not be provided except in the very old families. These include the elaborate silver "paan" services and special duvan coverings and pillows (embroidered in real silver and gold threads) on which the new bride would sit to receive guests in her first year. Heirlooms (such as the family jewelry) were less likely to be passed on through the daughters, since she would go to live with her husband's family. Those are usually passed to the sons' wives.

elena maria vidal said...

Georgette, that is fascinating! Yes, in many societies the dowry has been used to abuse women, although it was originally intended as a protection. Poor Katherine of Aragon was so tormented when her mean old father would not pay her full dowry. Very interesting, thank you!!

alaughland said...

when I became a teenager I recall my mother setting aside table and bed linens from time to time mentioning she was accumulating them for the time when I would be married. When I went off to my new home she packed a box of her own kitchen ware to supplement items I did not receive as wedding gifts so my kitchen would be complete.

Coffee Wife said...

I had a trousseau for my wedding! A friend of mine, who is a seamstress, sewed the clothes for me. The rest of my trousseau is in America waiting to be shipped here. You can see pictures of the clothes here if you are curious (they are simple clothes. I'm not rich!):

http://www.wendysmodestdress.com/id44.htm
(Scroll down to second pic and you'll see her working on the clothes and she even calls it a trousseau!)

Scroll to the 7th picture down and you'll see me posing with my honeymoon wardrobe. So fun and old-fashioned!:
http://www.wendysmodestdress.com/id18.htm

elena maria vidal said...

Dear Coffee, there is nothing lovelier than simplicity and custom designed clothes! What a lovely trousseau and what a great website! I am so glad that there are still creative women around who can sew for themselves and others! I had a trousseau, too!

Trickey said...

Hi,
Georogette is right in saying that Dowry is a prominent part of Indian culture. its practiced by almost every part of society even the richest but its cloaked more politely in culturally acceptable terms like" after all they are giving it to their daughter "

Muslims and Christians are no exception to the rule as I am a Christian myself and from the time I was born my mother started accumulating my dowry. All this irrespective of the fact that I was an educated doctor with my own flourishing practice.

One shameless family went right out to ask for support for their doctor son when he went abroad for work(if he did not get a job)and for me to do my post graduate as they "liked" me but wanted me to do my PG for a "Better relationship with our son after marriage"

I didn't understand the logic then and I still don't! But people are greedy and dowry is just an excuse to sell daughters and buy safety and respect for them in a completely foreign household. These are my personal experiences and Please fell free to tell me other wise.

Sorry for the ranting :)