On June 12, 2011, Oscar and I tied the knot in a vintage Victorian themed wedding. Seven years later, I think it’s about time I shared the details our of wedding, the planning, the party, and especially my wedding dress and the groom’s attire.
How We Met
Oscar and I met May 1st, 2009 at a bar. At least that how I like to say it, because being at a bar is completely not my thing. It was actually a country dance hall with bar inside one of our local casinos here in Reno, Nevada. I really missed vintage dancing after I moved away from the San Francisco Bay area, but there was no vintage dancing here, only country and salsa. I choose the country bar that night while Oscar showed up with a dancer friend with plans to go to the salsa dance in another part of the casino. They swung by the country hall first, where his friend introduced me to Oscar and then promptly ditched him to talk to some other friends. Now I am an introvert and randomly talking to strangers terrifies me, but I knew it was something I needed to change about me, so I pushed aside my nerves and went over to talk to Oscar.
He was very tall (6’2) and I am only 5’2, but he was very friendly and kind and seemed happy that I made an effort to talk to him. We talked about the dance and then discovered we both knew swing dance. Throughout the night, we just kept talking and sharing a finding more things in common. Not only did he dance, but he used to dress up in ’40s clothes (zoot suits, fedora hats, the whole ’90s swing revival look). We had both been away from dancing/dressing vintage for a few years, and were excited to meet someone to do these things with again. Most of the next year of dating involved finding events to crash in “costume,” which required learning about many different decades and how to dress myself as well as a man, not only accurately but on a tight budget. The frustration of that is what led me to start VintageDancer in November 2009. You can read more about that story here.
The Victorian Wedding Dress
After dating about a year, we became engaged in April 2010. I dreamed of an outdoor garden wedding ceremony before it became too hot, so that limited our options to June. I was going to be a classic June bride 🙂 With over a year to plan our wedding, we took our time, enjoyed being engaged (truly an amazing time), and planned for our future (kids sooner than later since we were 31 and 35).
Besides an outdoor ceremony, I also knew I wanted a wedding dress with color as well as a historical look (Victorian era was my first fashion love). I looked through my Dover Victorian Fashion Designs clip art book and found this picture of an 1896 Worth dinner gown. It was love at first sight. Blue is my favorite color, so the fact that it has a lot of lace, an hourglass silhouette, and hints of blue made it perfect for me. I then googled for the original illustration for even more details about the gown, which appeared in Harper’s Bazaar on Saturday, April 15, 1893:
“An elegant ball gown of sky blue damask has a distinguished style given by its rich trimmings of embroidered lace and petals. The charming design of pink chrysanthemum petals is broidered on the delicate blue ground. The corsage is trimmed all around in white tulle and lace gracefully festooned. A double garland of pearls mounted en tulle with crystal pendants started on the bust and curves to the right at the hi where it is fastened by a clasp. The damask skirt has garlands of pearls and crystals festooned diagonally across the front above a flounce of embroidered lace, which drapes down the left to join the side of the damask train. At the foot of the skirt, which is gored, is an umbrella shape, a deep flounce of embroidered lace is added under a ruche of tulle.”
Isn’t this dress dreamy!
For my gown, I wanted the overall look of the original gown with layers of blue, white lace, pearls, beads, and tulle/lace. I didn’t want the pink chrysanthemum petals or a lot of embroideries that I would have needed to hand stitch. My first task was to purchase the Truly Victorian 1892 Ballgown top (without sleeves) and coordinating 1893 Bell skirt. Then I needed to find the fabric and trim. This turned into a multi-state in-person search. Ultimately, I found sky blue satin damask at my local fabric shop as well as the lace for the skirt overlay and ruched bodice drape/sleeves. I found sheer burnout silk silvery-blue fabric from Thai Silks that gave the dress dimension similar to the original embroidered ground. Finally, the embroidered/lace/sequin trim was from San Fransico’s Britex Fabrics (a very big but very expensive store — my one yard of trim cost about $50). The beads were from Fire Mountain Gems.
Once the supplies were together, I handed off my dress to be made by two wonderful friends who volunteered their time and much better sewing skills (thanks Lauren and Patty!). I finished off the dress with beading, hand hemming the silk skirt, attached the Britex lace and bodice trim, and arranged the drapes of lace across the bodice. I also added some jewelry for my “somethings.” Here are some detail shots:
Other details about my outfit include my hat, which I custom ordered from EmilyWayHats (Etsy). She added a blue satin lining at the crown to match my Victorian wedding dress. I removed the hat for the indoor reception and had my hair styled in waterfall curls with sprigs of baby’s breath. Another friend, Karin Bell of Bell’s Beauties (Auburn, CA), made me a pair of ear cuffs. I can’t have pierced ears, so these ear cuffs were a pretty and comfortable way to wear earrings. The necklace I found at a craft fair. The long satin gloves, gosh, I have no idea where I bought them.
My wedding shoes are a funny story. I couldn’t find any white or blue Victorian boots that fit my almost wide feet, and since there was dancing at the wedding, I wanted to be able to dance in comfort, so I choose to wear my old white and black dance sneakers. My dress was long enough so no one saw them anyways. Shhh, don’t tell anyone!
Underneath the wedding dress was even more Victorian clothes! My friend who made the skirt also made a petticoat of light cotton voile. And my other friend made a corset of white cotton trimmed in lace and purple using Laughing Moon pattern #100, an 1880s corset. The corset was key in a little surprise for my soon to be husband. My photographer, the amazing Photography by Monique, and I had a little boudoir session before I got dressed for the wedding. I won’t show you most of the photos. They are innocent, not risque, but since they are for my hubby’s eyes only, I am not going to post them here except for these two, my favorites:
I highly encourage brides to get a boudoir shoot for their groom. It was a lot of fun and a great gift, not just for my husband but for me to remember how I looked when I was still young. I was surprised to hear most brides refused to have them done. Come on ladies! Embrace who you are, regardless of the # of pounds you put on before the wedding (at least 10 for me), and trust your photographer to work some magic. (She did!)
The Victorian Groom Attire
I am not the only one who looked amazing for our wedding. My handsome tall Oscar looked dashing in his formal tails. We did out best to source the most accurate clothing we could afford at the time. We found a tailcoat at a men’s formal wear rental store closing sale ($75) and modern tuxedo pants at Jos A. Bank (they have a higher rise than most other brands). I first attempted to sew him Victorian formal pants, but I missed a critical step in the pattern drafting and the pants came out as hip huggers. Ooops.
We found his wingtip tuxedo shirt brand new at the thrift store (it had pleats, but we’ll overlook that) and white and blue bow ties locally. Oscar wore two vests/waistcoats for the wedding. The reception vest was a blue paisley Victorian vest by Scully Rangewear. For the ceremony we wanted a traditional white U collared formal vest but I couldn’ find one so we settled for a basic white paisley vest I think I found online somewhere. Oscar’s shoes were Stacy Adams Madison cap toe oxfords in black. The top hat and gloves were ordered from Men’s Warehouse. The boutonniere for Oscar and our immediate family were made by EricaCavanagh on Etsy
The best part about wearing a historical gown and formal wear for a wedding is that we get to wear them again and again and again… as long as they still fit. Since our wedding we have worn our outfits at least twice, the latest being this past weekend for a historical fashion show we participated in. While my ensemble has gone unchanged, we have upgraded Oscar’s attire over the years to be a bit more historically accurate. His latest Victorian outfit consists of:
- Waistcoat / Pants – Formal U collar waistcoat and striped morning suit pants were handmade by Mr. Allen Jeffries. We also have some Victorian shirts by him that we just need to get a detachable wingtip collar and shirt links for.
- Boots – We upgraded to Stacy Adams Madison cap toe boots instead of Oxford shoes, which were not common yet.
- Top Hat – Someday we will get a silk top hat, but this Bollman classic wool top hat is much better than the cheap Men’s Warehouse tophat he wore for the wedding.
Victorian Wedding Ceremony
Our Ceremony took place in Virginia City, Nevada, an old historic gold mining town. Oscar found us the B Street House Bed and Breakfast with a beautiful tiered garden to be married in. On the wedding day, I cascaded down the long steep stairs to the Inn’s hallway where Oscar sang me a song (awww) and then out into the gardens where only our immediate family and the Justice of the Peace waited. We did not plan the ceremony or vows. We intended to, but just let the Justice of the Peace do her thing and it turned out perfect. Short, sweet, and simple with the most beautiful poem as our vows. Family photos followed the 3 minutes ceremony and then we enjoy some time with our photographer taking pictures in the house and around the nearby streets and buildings. I loved the old west backdrop and felt like a movie star with a personal photographer following us around. Good photos are worth every penny!
Here are some of my favorite photos:
The Vintage Reception
Our Victorian wedding theme mostly ended in Virginia City. We traveled back down the mountain into Reno for the reception at the California Building (built in 1938). We asked our guests to dress “vintage” in whatever era they liked. We had guests in ’50s Hawaiian shirts, steampunk bustle gowns, 1940s day dresses, and 1920s gangster suits. It was so fun to see what our friends came up with, especially those who were less than enthusiastic about dressing up in the first place. We also warned our guests that there would be dancing and they were required to participate in at least one dance. Guests were given a dance card when they arrived with the names of the 5 set dances we had planned. We hired our friend and Victorian dance master to lead everyone in the grand march (just walking) and a few more easy set dances he taught and called. Even the most reluctant guests agreed dancing was “pretty fun.”
Here are some other quick details about the reception:
- Our “first dance” was set to Rainbow Connection sung by Jason Mraz, a cross- step waltz.
- We served tacos and tea sandwiches, red or white sangria, and fruit infused water. The tacos were the best part!
- Our tables were decorated with vintage linens, milk glass vases, faux flowers, vintage hats, candy, and some games for the kids.
- Beside set dances, we also danced to The Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Our Cake Curse
Every wedding has an unexpected mishap. Ours was our wedding cake. We love Tres Leches cake, so we had a local baker make a sheet pan of it to serve to guests, but I also wanted a pretty cake for the cutting ceremony. I chose a detailed blue tiered cake with white scrollwork – very vintage! It would be topped with a dollhouse-size set of vintage chairs (from my mother’s childhood dollhouse) that hinted at the couple from the movie UP. We also played the UP theme song for our wedding procession.
When I walked in the door to our reception, I immediately glanced over at my cake and was horrified. The delicate thin lines were piped with a thick star tip. It was a big gloppy mess! I tried not to look at it the rest of the day and overemphasized to our guests how yummy the tres leches cake is instead. I still don’t know exactly what happened. Did the baker not have the right tip? Or the experience to decorate it? I did call and get a refund so I am sure she knew she messed up. To make up for the disasterm I had a mini version of the intended wedding cake made for our 1 year anniversary by another bakery. Finally it looked great, but tasted horrible! The wedding cake curse continued.
So there it is. Our Vintage Victorian themed wedding. It was a *mostly* perfect day with great memories, pictures, friends and family. Our honeymoon on the Queen Mary ship hotel was pretty awesome too, but I will save that for another day.
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.