It has long been an accepted expedient for bridegrooms to hire their wedding regalia; more often than not the Best Man’s duties include the return, next day, of two morning suits and two toppers. And now, it seems, a similar duty sometimes devolves on the chief bridesmaid on behalf of the bride.
Soon after the war, a London dress firm announced themselves as “Bridal Specialists.” The idea was to act as fairy godmother to girls coming out of the forces who had so many clothes to buy as well as their wedding garments. But the young are incorrigibly conventional: “something borrowed” they must have for luck; but something hired, what next!
It was not until evening-dresses had been added to the repertoire and were being hired by well-dressed, moneyed women short of clothes coupons, that girls began to feel that to hire a wedding dress was not to do a shamingly undone thing.
Clothes coupons are old history now, but clothes are much more expensive than they were. This, combined with the capricious desire in nearly every feminine heart for a white wedding, has led to this one firm hiring out during what is probably known as the peak nuptial season, several hundred wedding dresses a week.
The dresses cost from 4½gn. to 20gn. to hire, including all accessories: headdress, veil, flowers, gloves, shoes. Bridesmaids’ dresses are from 2½gn. to 6gn.; children’s 2gn. There is no deposit. The dresses are cleaned after each wearing, and none is worn more than five times before being discarded. There is a postal service for provincial hirers; if the bride cannot come to London to make her choice and be personally fitted, she writes for a catalogue or sends her own sketch of the dress of her dreams. From this sketch, a dress is chosen for her by the “show-room visualisers.” One imagines these visualisers as wearing confetti-tinted spectacles, and having a permanent pew at the back of St Margaret’s, Westminster.
The choice of dresses is very large and a new collection is designed each season. There is, however, a perennial demand for something “traditional.” Most people’s idea of a wedding dress is a kind of hybrid period dress, in which the medieval and the ecclesiastical are hopelessly confused, the whole being topped off with a neo-Italianate head-dress – and, as like as not, a Victorian posy. Also, of course, they see a high modest neckline and long sleeves; for in these decolletés days, when a little exposure goes no way at all, a mildly low-cut or short-sleeved wedding dress is quite out of the question. Tradition is against it. Yet, how long is tradition?
The white wedding-dress itself was an innovation of the early nineteenth century not, as is generally believed, a symbol of virginity. It came in simply as a fashion trend following the manufacture of lace, which had brought about a vogue for wearing white in court circles. But right up to late Victorian times wedding dresses were often coloured, frequently grey or lavender; and up to Victoria’s accession they were often low-necked, and short-sleeved. In fact, they followed the fashion of the day, instead of casting back, as they do in our times, to earlier periods. It was really not until daytime skirts became short and skimpy, in the 1920s that the wedding dress became a separate fashion feature, virtually fancy dress.
The hire of an evening dress, inclusive of gloves, evening bag, and shoes, is from 2½gn. to 10gn. They are cleaned after each hiring, discarded after five. Furs are from 1gn. to 7gn. This evening dress service is most useful for those who only hit the high spots once or twice a year but want to hit to kill; and also for those who hit them so often in the same places and with the same circle of friends that their wardrobes are unable to give a continuous variety performance. In addition, there is a brisk tourist trade with visitors to this country travelling light by air and not wishing to pack evening clothes. And again, British women going on cruises can make special arrangements for longer periods of hire, thus being able to take three or four dresses with them for the cost of buying one.
So there we are. Never again need we turn down the last minute invitation which finds us with not a stitch we would care to be seen dead in; and never again need we refuse that attractive proposal to get married next week and sail in luxury for a honeymoon in the Bermudas.