Women in White Dresses

Labor Day, a federal holiday since 1894, used to represent lots of things:  first and foremost, it was a day to celebrate labor, and consequently parades were held in cities large and small.  I don’t see this kind of commemoration occurring anymore, but maybe it still does, somewhere in America.  With Memorial Day, Labor Day created a nice bookmark to frame/end summer, and this is still a role it plays today.  It also came to symbolize back to school, back to regular schedules, back to structure, which is also a role that it has retained.  And on a more frivolous note, Labor Day meant the end of white:  women (and men) were supposed to put away their summer whites and bring out their darker, more serious clothes.  I don’t think that this is still a fashion rule (hence winter whites), but the Labor Day holiday provides an opportunity to look back at the wearing of white.

Women in their white dresses, circa 1795-1970:

James Northcote, Lady Wearing a White Dress, 1795.Victoria & Albert Museum

Photograph by Thomas Eakins of a “Woman in White laced-bodice Dress” in his studio, 1880s.  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Two images from the Smithsonian Art Inventories:  William Merritt Chase, Woman in White, 1886 (Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art) and Cecilia Beaux, New England Woman (Mrs. Jedidiah H. Richards), 1895 (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art).

Turn-of-the-century women in white:  a photograph from the Bieber Studio in New York City, an advertisement from the Ladies’ Home Journal, poster by Charles Cox and magazine cover by Ruth Eastman, all New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Les Grandes Modeles, 1934

Two editions (1947 & 2010) of  The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, first published in 1860. 

Leon Levinstein, Beach Scene: Woman in White Dress Asleep in Sand, Coney Island, 1970s. Metropolitan Museum of Art

This photograph looks much earlier to me (look at the shoes) but portrays a nice end of summer image.  The party’s over!

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