Although the creation of Domestic Science as a teachable university degree was meant to further the careers of young women as dieticians, hospitality matrons, and healthcare workers, it also had the effect of standardizing ideas of cleanliness and economy in the home. For the first time, girls were not simply learning from their mothers how to properly care for their households. So when it came to setting up their first home, it followed that the early decades of the twentieth century also saw an increase in standardized models for young brides to follow.
Last year I discovered The Bride Book, a 1938 manual for young brides and wives published in London and circulated across the UK. It seems to have been the standard go-t0 book for any young woman getting married. It is full of advice on everything from wedding invitations and trousseau suggestions to “personal daintiness” and help on picking out the right linoleum for your kitchen. It’s hard to imagine now how much work would have gone into creating the perfect household at this time – technology was changing every day, and everyone was eager to have the latest “modcons” (“modern conveniences”) in their homes.
When it came to the wedding itself, the rule of thumb was traditional, but with a fanciful twist. Clearly, some things never change: this is how the chapter entitled “Your Wedding Dress” begins:
“There is little doubt that the bride’s wedding gown is the most thrilling and romantic dress of her entire trousseau. Coming down the aisle of the church, leaning on her father’s arm, her white gown shimmering softly and falling in graceful folds about her white-shod feet, she is the incarnation of romance. Everyone turns to look at her. “Here comes the bride!” This is her big moment! No wonder such anxious care and thought are always expended on the selection of the material and line of this lovely gown.”
It’s interesting how the passage calls attention not just to the overall effect of the dress, but specifically to its fabric choice (“material”) and its cut (“line”). The chapter goes on to outline the perfect dress suggestions for the tall bride, the short bride, the thin bride, and the full figure (a much nicer label than “stout” or “chubby,” which you often see in old publications!).
Another vintage tradition was the trousseau, which was in some ways just a fancy way of saying your wardrobe and linens. Many brides moved out of their parents’ home and into their own household immediately following their wedding, and the schoolgirl clothes of their unmarried life suddenly would not have been appropriate for their new status as Mrs So-and-So. A trousseau, often put together in a Hope Chest (usually made of cedar to protect against moths) was a chance to put together all the things a married woman would need on a daily basis: hats, gloves, handbags, girdles, stockings, lingerie — everything she required in her new life. So often now we live with our partners before we marry, and are adults long before we get hitched, that the need for a trousseau has all but died out. If you are engaged, or know someone who is, consider reviving the tradition of the trousseau. If nothing else, it’s a chance to reinvent your wardrobe (though you can decide whether or not a set of new girdles is really necessary…)
There is so much still to share of The Bride Book, but I will keep it for a further edition of History of Domestic Science. I will however leave you with today’s entry of The Beauty Calendar, a weekly checklist of suggestions to keep a young bride looking fresh and lovely. Check back tomorrow for Friday’s beauty tips.
A Beauty Calendar – Thursday
Thursday: face. Cover the face with a cleansing cream and leave it on for five minutes. Then remove it with skin tonic. Now apply a beauty mask. You can make one with Fuller’s Earth and Skin Tonic mixed to a thick paste, or you can dip cotton-wool into the unbeaten white of an egg and apply this all over the face, with an upward movement. Lie down flat on your back for half an hour. Keep your eyes closed and try to relax. Then take off the Beauty Mask with skin lotion, apply a good coat of skin food and leave this on for five minutes. After you have taken away all traces of the cream, rub ice over your skin. Your face will feel fresh and renewed.