Thursday, October 28, 2010

A 1930s Trousseau

This is a cross post from my Wedding Blog over at, but I thought you all might get a kick out of it. I guess I've got 30s on the brain again. I hope you enjoy!

Delineator Cover ca. 1932 (I think)

Trousseau. Not a term we tend to use very often anymore. I'm sure there are plenty of Brides who have never even heard of the term "trousseau." So what is it and why was it important?

Lets think back to the days before feminism. Back to the days when women were not expected to work more than part time outside the home. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word trousseau as:

trous·seau, n. [French, from Old French, diminutive of trousse, bundle. See truss.] The possessions, such as clothing and linens, that a bride assembles for her marriage.

In short it was those items such as bed linens, napkins, clothing, crocheted doilies, candlesticks and anything else that a woman was going to take with her into her husband's home. The concept is similar to that of a Hope Chest. You fill a box with all those things you'll need to for married life.

This isn't a very popular practice anymore. Most women today work full time and we simply purchase what we need when we need it. Our culture is also not one that focuses on preserving items long term. How many of us buy a dress at Express or Kohls with the expectation of carefully storing it, always wearing a smock or apron over it when working in it, carefully altering it by hand when size adjustments must be made, and with the intent to wear said dress for the next 15 years? Certainly not me.

In the 1930s the Trousseau was a very common practice and many magazines for young women had lists suggesting what one should include. Here is a list from the April 1930 Good Housekeeping magazine.

Trousseau Budget 1930
White Satin Wedding Gown - $39.50 (about $496 today)
Tulle Veil (3 yards at $3.25per yard) - $9.75 (about $122)
Going away 3-piece suit - $16.95 (about $214)
Afternoon Dress for Formal Parties - $29.50 (about $375)
Street Dress of Silk or Wool - $25.00 (about $314)
Coat in Tweed or cloth - $39.50 (about $496)
Sweater, Cardigan, and Skirt Costume - $16.75 (about $210)
Washable Silk Sports Frock - $6.95 (about $87)
Sleeveless picque Dress with Jacket - $10.75 (about $135)
Lacy Diner Dress with Jacket - $25.00 (about $314)
Evening Wrap (to be made at home) - $15.00 (about $188)
Two Hats, One of Felt, One of Straw - $18.00 (about $226)
Shoes: Street, Afternoon, Evening Slippers, and One Pair of Bedroom Slippers or One Pair of Mules - $33.50 (about $420)
Negligee in Satin or Silk - $15.00 (about $188)
Lingerie, Girdles, and Stockings - $65.00 (about 816.00)
Accessories: Bag, 4 Pairs of Gloves, and 1 Dozen Handkerchiefs - $20.00 (about $251)
Grand Total: $386.15 or about $4,848 in today's money.

Note that this was published in April 1930, about 7 months after the great stock market crash that started the Great Depression in the United States.

The September 1933 issue of the Delineator Magazine suggests a similar Trousseau, but one that's slightly more affordable. The magazine focused on needle work, dressmaking, and millinery. They were know for providing images of the latest fashions with just enough information to recreate a similar look at home. Making your own Trousseau was often much more reasonable pricewise. The September 1933 Delineator gives us this illustration and description.

A 1933 Trousseau
"The going-away outfit. She chooses a suit for a dramatic get-away. Or, if she is marrying simply, at the City Hall, she wears this for the ceremony, too. It is eel brown ribbed wool and the fur is flattering blue fox." "Her wool gadabout frock. For this backbone-f-the-trousseau frock she hits on olive green, with the touch of satin that is inevitable on smart wool frocks. The beret and the gloves are sating too." "Her dress-up frock. It's satin-and she uses the dull side for the dress itself, the shiny side for the small touches. It would be marvelous in rosy red, but every bit as smart in black or eel brown.

"A go-with-everything wrap. It's a wager one-the smartest wrap of the year. It belongs to her white frock but it's worn with the dinner dress, too. If she prefers a contrasting fabric, we suggest velvet or bengaline." "Her 'grand' evening frock. To look grandest, this season, white satin is the thing at night. That's why we urge it for this frock with the Vionnetish neckline. The wrap belonging to this dress is the black one." "And this for small evenings. A dress that can take dinners, dancing, the theatre, or any other kind of 'don't dress' evening in its stride. It's black satin and the coat of the white satin frock will go perfectly with it."

So if one were so inclined what would one include in their modern day trousseau? Susan Breslow Sardone recommends new clothes, sports wear, vacation wear, and luggage. She suggests that you keep your trousseau true to your personal style. Don't think of it like an image make-over, you're just collecting things that you will need.

I can tell you that my "trousseau" consists of several mismatched dish sets from college, banged up clothing from high school and art school (mostly covered in paint), and two pairs of twin sheets. Oh, and about 3 bath towels.



BaronessVonVintage said...

how fascinating! Boy, do I love that beautiful romantic blue in the bridesmaid's dress and bouquet on that Delineator cover. So dreamy.

Tasia said...

I think it's cool to see how much things cost in today's dollars. And to see clothing as an investment - like the Street Dress of Silk or Wool for $314, I never pay that much for RTW clothing! And most twenty-somethings getting married wouldn't, either. I like the idea of it all, preparing yourself for the new phase of your life with a chest full of well-made wardrobe essentials.

I also like the Washable Silk Sports Frock - what? Silk to play sports?

Nancy said...

Tasia: I guess a Silk Sports Frock breaths well?

Tasia said...

I suppose it's better than a Polyester Sports Frock, at least! :)

Sarsaparilla said...

Fabulous post!! That 1930 trousseau budget is outlandish! I probably spent that same amount on my 1980's trousseau.

Hope the wedding plans are going well!