A scene called “Preparing the Trousseau” was painted in 1861 by the lesser known French painter Louis Francois Picard (1820 – 1866). It depicts a romantic setting with five women packing a dress and other garments into a chest, the trousseau.
Although artistically the painting is not that exceptional, it is still touching in many ways. The image is rich in symbolism of womanhood, tradition and ritualism. It combines a naturalistic and representational art form well suited to illustrate a folklore or craft (that was later picked up by a movement called regionalism epitomized by Thomas Hart Benton). And the painting offers a narrative about clothing that is rarely seen in art.
The trousseau is a dowry of bridal garments, but the original meaning was simply a bundle or package, and it did not acquire its modern meaning until the 1830s, a generation before the painting. The modern meaning suggests something treasured, cherished beyond its commercial value.
The trousseau was the vessel by which certain commemorative items of clothing were passed on from generation to generation. For example, a wedding dress that might have been worn by a grandmother and passed for two generations is stored lovingly in a chest to see the light again in another time and place.
The tradition continues for certain weddings to this day. A friend of mine recently incorporated her grandmother’s ivory lace into her wedding dress, thus bringing to New York a treasured piece of her Mexican heritage.
Garments that survive time and transportation are so antithetical to today’s fast fashion culture that we should reflect on this a little. Few garments we buy now are bought to last. The planned obsolescence of our consumer culture has infected every part of our lives, including what we wear. We buy garments opportunistically, often on a whim, with no intention for them to last more than a wearing or two. When you buy apparel with such indifference, it rewards you with the same meaninglessness.
At Frances Smily Couture, we design for you exceptional clothing and ask you to make every occasion exceptional. We believe that scarcity adds authenticity and, in turn, adds value. It’s a tradition that’s timeless. If you buy something with discernment and deliberation, it will reward with durability and dependability. Put that in your trousseau for future generations.