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General George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis were married January 6, 1759 at Martha’s estate in New Kent, Virginia.   In celebration of their anniversary, we thought we’d take a quick look at what was worn by the happy couple for this Museum Monday focus.

Although the most well-known painting of the Washington’s wedding is the lithograph below by Lemecier available from the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, it wasn’t painted until 1853 – well after the actual wedding date occurred, which was quite common during that time period.  This date difference most likely is the reason Martha Washington’s wedding gown  in the painting (as imagined by the artist almost 100 years after the event) is quite different from the replication gown housed at Mount Vernon.

Descriptions of the Washingtons’ wedding attire are thus:

“Martha was married in a yellow brocade dress that was trimmed with lace at the neck and sleeves. Some historians describe her wedding dress as a gold damask dress.

Underneath her gown she wore a white silk petticoat with silver threads. Her shoes were purple satin and trimmed in silver metallic lace and sequins. She wore pearls in her hair. George wore ‘a blue suit with a white satin waistcoast and blue buckles on his shoes.’ “
Source: Ruth Ashby, George & Martha Washington, page 17.
Mt. Vernon has the following gown on display as Martha Washington’s wedding attire:
                                                                                    
Although the gown currently featured at Mt. Vernon is a replication, Mrs. Washington’s original shoes are actually still at Mt. Vernon.  The last time they were brought out for public display was a brief 42 days in 2009 and, due to their fragile condition, there is no expectation for them to be displayed again for quite some time.  However, shoe-aholics can still get a glimpse of the very stylish shoe Martha specially ordered for her wedding, as they have been painstakingly replicated as seen below.  These are the shoes currently shown with the replicated dress at Mt. Vernon.


Some may find it odd that the bride chose such “unusual” colors for her wedding ensemble.  The tradition of white bridal gowns actually didn’t start until 1840 when the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert made it the prefered color of brides who opted to follow in the footsteps of the Queen’s choice of gown color. Although brides may have worn white to their weddings prior to the mid 19th century, it wasn’t expected, nor the norm.  After 1840 however, the fashion trend stuck.

The purple and gold color combination she chose for her special day was worn often by Martha, as seen in this reconstruction portrait of what historians and anthropologists best believed she looked like in her 20s, when George and she first met.

Photo: The Washington Post, Courtesy of Michael Deas

Although not much in imagery through paintings or replications exist regarding Mr. Washington’s wedding suit, we can imagine it could be something similar to this:
 
George and Martha certainly had a savvy sense of style for their wedding.  But more importantly, they had a vast love for each other that held strong through 40 years, till President George Washington’s death in 1799.  Hidden Dirk Mercantile wishes a happy anniversary to the “First Couple” of our nation!
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