The Archives' Brides

By the Archives
March 11, 2010
John Frederick Peto and Tena [Christine] Pearl Smith's marriage certificate
Marriage certificate of John Frederick Peto and Tena [Christine] Pearl Smith, 1889 Jun. 16. John Frederick Peto and Peto family papers, circa 1850-1983. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Photograph of Maude Ramsdell Beal on her wedding day
Maud Ramsdell Beal on her wedding day, 1908 May 26. Unidentified photographer. Gifford Beal sketches, sketchbooks and papers, 1902-1953. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


Photograph of Nancy Douglas Brush and Robert Pearmain with Gerome and George de Forest Brush
Nancy Douglas Brush and Robert Pearmain on their wedding day with Gerome and George de Forest Brush, 1909 Sept. 11. Unidentified photographer. Nancy Douglas Bowditch papers, ca. 1900s-1970s. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Design notes on Christo's wedding dress
Christo’s wedding dress design notes, 1967. Joan Kron papers, 1959-1971. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

With 13% of the Archives’ staff planning a wedding this year, I wondered whether we could find inspiration among the collections.

It would take a bold bride to wear Christo’s 1967 “Wedding Dress.”

The chains of wedlock may be heavy, but the silk ropes of wedlock are even heavier.  Are there strings attached to this bride’s marriage?  Does her dress represent the behemoth wedding industry?  Or is she merely the ultimate fashion victim?

Julie Schweitzer is a processing archivist at the Archives of American Art.



what a tease! who is getting married?
i love the christo entry.

We are five brides in the DC office plus a groom up in New York. You know, the more I look at the Christo dress, the more it starts to look like an escape parachute.

As a wedding photographer its cool to see many of these images

Great article with vintage photography. The men's suits are still around these days but the bridal dress is more streamlined i'd say. Thanks for the post.

Is that the baggage she brings into the marriage?

Great pictures, I absolutely love looking at vintage wedding pictures.

The wedding dresses was gorgious. Great post.

I really love the last photo. Is that the actual dress, or just a photo-representation of how much fabric was used in that dress? either way, i like the art of the pic more than anything! =)

Very interesting. As a photographer who does weddings and still lives "in the past" shooting a lot of 4x5 film (not at the weddings) the historical view of photography at weddings has always fascinated me.

These pics are just amazing! I love the sophisticated suits of the gentlemen and the opulent bridal gowns! Sometimes i dream of living in a past century...

That is indeed a lot of baggage to bring into a marriage. This bring back fond memories of my own wedding! We must preserve these timeless photos!

I absolutely love the vintage photographs. Things were so much simpler back then. We should learn from them.
Thanks for the information.

I agree - vintage styles will always be appealing to most generations. More reason to preserve those items and photos from previous generations in our families.
Trends in wedding gowns, wedding invitations, personalized ribbon and other such complements for weddings usually does a circle and many items return to fashion no doubt.

Nice collection of old photos.
Christo's wedding dress: Fashion slave vs. symbol. I like the symbolic value of this dress, though many people may disagree with the actual meaning. I guess it may be more relevant back in the older days and probably reflects society at the time better than today. At least in the western world marriage is mostly a voluntary act and so could in fewer cases be considered an act of tyranny.
I work myself with tailored clothes and have many marriage couples as customer - be it only for men - as I make suits and not dresses. I've yet to come across such creativity in my customers! But wouldn't it be fun to have a little bit more experimentation - all though perhaps not to go so far as to Christo's example.
Thanks for a nice post.

Fascinating pictures. Its interesting to see the old trends in bridal gowns.

wow vintage styles wedding photos , amazing, My wife would love these as she loves to to look back on photo's of her granny. these photo's will remind her again, classic site and information , thanks for sharing , Kevin

I like old photo collection above. It amazed me. That will give new idea for me.

Is that the actual dress, or just a photo-representation of how much fabric was used in that dress? I love the sophisticated suits of the gentlemen and the opulent bridal gowns!

The traditional wedding dress still has a lot of fabric even today. I think the men's suits in the 1909 picture are more revealing of the time period. Cool old pics though, remind me of some in the family.

Very neat post, however, what is with that last picture. It is so neat to see how much time and devotion went into old weddings and certificates.

I think alot of people might go this way if they could see it before they made the decision to go contemporary. It is definetly a classy look.

Is that the actual dress, or just a photo-representation of how much fabric was used in that dress? I love the sophisticated suits of the gentlemen and the opulent bridal gowns!

Hmmm, that Christo dress does look like a parachute, but nonetheless interesting to say the least. I do appreciate the middle photograph...reminds me of my grandparents wedding. Such nostalgia, makes me wish I were alive then. Good stuff.

I love the marriage certificate in the first photo! It makes one wonder why we've moved away from such classic style. Every modern certificate I've seen has been bland and boring.

What is interesting is how little has changed in wedding photography. We still do some of these basic shots (like the bride with the groom and the groomsmen all together.) Sure we may pose them a little differently, but the fundamentals are still present today.

I gather Joan Kron looked at marraige as a laundry "ball and chain" very clever.

I did not know about Christo's wedding dress and found out that: Christo, 1967 Wedding Dress - white satin and silk ropes for opening night fashion show, Museum of Merchandise.
Anyway, the photo is just astounding.

Looking back to see how simple but elegant wedding planner's did their creation. For me classic is still the best...simple but elegant.

how times have changed lol! So glad I did not grow up back in the day when ladies had to wear long dresses all the time!

I love the classic look. Was it from old couples?

I love a good wedding as much as anybody, but have always wondered why any young couple would want to burden themselves with the debt of a large wedding. Perhaps the Christo dress represents the huge loan which finances the nuptials!

I'd love to have an album of black & white vintage pictures for my wedding, but I am not too sure my boyfriend or family would agree.

Vintage photography and fashion. What more can one ask for? Amazing photos. In fact, I know someone who is having her wedding dress designed after a vintage wedding dress that her mother wore on her wedding day. It will be new, but copied. Beautiful, fashionable, gorgeous.

The marriage certificate is incredible. As is the Christo wedding dress - obviously more for its ideas that for practicalities sake!

I can not understand why vintage weddings are not more popular. I think it may be because even though you can pick up a vintage wedding dress for a song the average bride only has about a 1% chance of being able to fit into it even with a corset and months of dieting.

Wow! Seeing the wedding photo from September 11th 1909 is really interesting. I am involved in Gold Coast Wedding Photography with my brother Derek Smith, and am always interested in finding inspiration.
It is interesting to see that only the bride appears to be smiling in the shot.
Usually today we get the whole bridal party to smile.
Thank you for sharing these photos.

Christo's wedding dress feels like a wedding dress meets DaDaism. It would take an equally artistic man to say "I do."
the head piece on Maud's veil is rather interesting. It adds about a foot of height. I wonder if the veil would have been tossed over her head, and the top piece would have kept the veil from hitting her face.
And, look how Maud's fore arms are exposed. In 1908 I would have thought that as much of her body would have been covered as possible in the photograph. I can see that she is holding her gloves, but the fact is she chose to take them off for the portrait. I have been photographing weddings for years now, and over time I have seen the dresses get more and more provocative. I think it would be safe to say that the first brides that started to use less fabric in their wedding gowns really got an earful.

What great old photos! As John commented, it seems that wedding photography (at least the posed portion) is much the same now as it was 100 years ago. Of course, the ability to shoot candid photos has changed greatly since the cameras of that period required a LONG time between shots just to change the film - and a flash photo was a major undertaking!

Those pictures are pretty amazing. You really don't see things like this anymore. Interesting how our culture has changed and weddings are not near the same as they used to be.
I can't imagine how hot it must have been to wear those kind of clothes and dresses in the summertime, they must have all gotten married in the spring or fall!

As a wedding photographer I found this article especially interesting. The style of photography is both familiar and yet quite wooden from a modern perspective. How much this is down to the prevailing style of the time and how much to the limitations of the equipment it is hard to judge, but from my own point of view, this summer we photographed a wedding at the Brighton Pavilion here in the UK and I had to use old-fashioned techniques because I couldn't use flash and the interior of the building was very dark. By old-fashioned techniques I mean I had to get everyone to stand very still during the photographs. The end result was not that disimilar from the above! Good luck to all the staff from the archives getting married this year. Pat

Its definately a very classy look, though i'm still skeptical many women would prefer to wear this because of how much fabric is actually used.

Looking back to see how simple but elegant wedding planner's did their creation. For me classic is still number one!

The Christo device is packaged like a ball and chain but appears to be "designed" to unfurl like a kite. Obviously a metaphor, but I wonder if it is a comment on the relationship between a woman and marriage or a commentary on formal wedding attire.

I love looking at older wedding photos like this. Its amazing how similar, yet different dresses have changed over the years. Wonderful preserved images!

Lot's of interesting comments. I agree, the vintage photos are great. There's something captivating about them.

I agree, wedding photography really hasn't changed much at all. These almost look like the pictures you can have done in a studio where they make it look like the old days. Even more, I noticed the wedding dress in the one photo above looks just like a dress you'd find at a bridal shop today. When they say traditional at these shops I guess they are right on the money.

The photos were so reminiscent of the old days. Its so great to look at how the styles of wedding dresses have evolved from being simple to much more complicated styles.
The Christo dress is just outrageous. No bride would love to wear such a dress on a very special day.

Hello, I have enjoy your blog very nice and your blog post are wonderful and Interesting just knowing the history on fashion I just love It. I myself am a fashion designer and a online retailer working along with major department stores and designer fashion outlets of all types I enjoy fashions and the new trends year round and your post were great on wedding fashion history and other wonderful topics I will be returning soon to read more of your interesting new post. Just what the consumers and bloggers need to know a little history on how It all began “GREAT WORK” and Thank You.

Christo's is very interesting. It reminds me on today's cutting edge fashion. It is usually way out there but aspects of it get incorporated in more tame designs. Certainly would make for an interesting walk down the aisle.

Beautiful photos, I love the designs on them, perfect inspiration for me, I'm working on wedding favour designs, for chocolates and chocolate bars, there seems to be a bit of a vintage trend still so I like to try and incorporate a little magic from bygone days. Thanks for the inspiration.