Trousseau - brides and grooms bun­dle up the love


So if they’re not plan­ning to sling a bun­dle over one shoul­der and elope, what prac­ti­cal and lux­ury items can women and men to­day pre­pare be­fore their wed­ding?

The trousseau was once the trousse or “lit­tle bun­dle” tied to the end of a stick and car­ried over the shoul­der of a run­away, but the Old French word has since come to mean a much larger bun­dle that en­com­passes ev­ery­thing from the hum­ble col­lec­tion of tex­tiles a bride pre­pared be­fore her mar­riage, to the ex­trav­a­gant trousseaux and dowries of queens and princesses. To­day the trousseau in­deed lives on, up­held by the sweeter nos­tal­gic side of the tra­di­tion - as well as the drive of re­tail and the wed­ding ma­chine. Yet as mod­ern men and women know, they can say “I do” or “I don’t” to cer­tain tra­di­tions for their wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion; and trousseau re­mains one of the most sen­si­ble and de­light­ful. So if they’re not plan­ning to sling a bun­dle over one shoul­der and elope, what prac­ti­cal and lux­ury items can women and men to­day pre­pare be­fore their wed­ding?

The an­swer, of course, is that a mod­ern trousseau should be what­ever they like - or need. The trousseau might be only the dress and wed­ding day ac­ces­sories, or the shop­ping a bride-to-be does be­fore the wed­ding; beau­ti­ful lin­gerie for the wed­ding night and new clothes for hon­ey­moon. Mod­ern brides do in­deed “do” the trousseau, and it can be great fun. It can also be more than a lit­tle sen­ti­men­tal too, so if they’re aim­ing to fill a hope chest or glory box with fam­ily heir­looms and child­hood trea­sures, maybe in­clude some mono­grammed hand­ker­chiefs for those weepy mo­ments. But, ac­tu­ally don’t cry, be­cause this is one of the fun parts about or­gan­is­ing a wed­ding. A trousseau might be a glo­ri­ous ban­quet of colour, tex­ture and va­ri­ety, like the trousseau of con­tem­po­rary In­dian brides, a cool vin­tage lug­gage set for their hon­ey­moon, or just some much needed new tea tow­els that they don’t ex­pect to re­ceive as wed­ding gifts.

In­deed, through­out his­tory trousseaux and dowries have pro­vided the house­hold items that are to­day of­ten given as wed­ding presents - and cer­tainly some bride’s “lit­tle bun­dles” were big­ger than oth­ers. The trousseaux of roy­alty and wealthy women of the past were con­sid­er­able, with evening dresses in vel­vet and silk, ev­ery kind of night­dress and un­der­wear as well as shoes, boots, hats and gloves - of­ten in du­pli­cate. French queen Marie An­toinette had a set of dolls made that “mod­elled” tiny repli­cas of her ex­ten­sive trousseau, while 19th cen­tury Amer­i­can pioneer Laura In­galls Wilder, au­thor of the Lit­tle House on the Prairie books, sewed her own sim­ple trousseau of aprons, ta­ble cloths and bed clothes in muslin - Laura’s mum even tied the whole thing up in a real lit­tle bun­dle with a clean white sheet.

While girls of yore were hand stitch­ing the lace onto their wed­ding-night knick­ers, what did Mr Right have to sort out for mar­ried life? We know he was obliged to pro­vide an ap­pro­pri­ate res­i­dence for the cou­ple to live out their mar­i­tal bliss, but did he cast off his thread­bare bach­e­lor slacks and buy new clothes, or was he ex­pected to sup­ply any house­hold ne­ces­si­ties? Men of means in Re­nais­sance Italy gave their fu­ture bride a “wed­ding chest,” as well as house­hold fur­ni­ture and a great deal of the wed­ding fin­ery; jew­els, head­dresses and loads of other gifts. This Re­nais­sance man also pro­vided his own wed­ding chest that, like that of his be­trothed, had com­part­ments for cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories and some­times even a mir­ror. The “Re­nais­sance Man” of to­day knows the worth of a set of fine new clothes and good qual­ity un­der­wear for him­self - and how to choose some beau­ti­ful things for his bride. The mod­ern male’s trousseau could eas­ily hark back to the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance and be a gift to his bride - and to him­self.

Whether it is a wed­ding chest, hope chest or “bot­tom drawer,” the idea of up­grad­ing, or pur­chas­ing fresh li­nens and un­der­wear for the new life sig­ni­fied by mar­riage is as ap­peal­ing as it ever was. If the trousseau is just the “bit of shop­ping” done be­fore the big day, then there is the sim­ple tra­di­tion of the “bot­tom drawer” to stash the hon­ey­moon wardrobe un­til af­ter the wed­ding. For oth­ers how­ever, the hope chest has be­come a ro­man­tic way to dream of the fu­ture and mar­ried life. The first hope chests were cedar chests in which ar­ti­cles of a bride’s trousseau were stored and cus­tom­ar­ily the chest was filled over time, as a young woman ad­vanced to­wards mar­riage­able age. To­day the hope chest, or glory box, has be­come a deeply in­di­vid­ual pur­suit. A hope chest might con­tain old love let­ters, fam­ily heir­looms, sil­ver­ware, crys­tal, jew­ellery, baby clothes and photo al­bums as well as scented flower petals, beau­ti­ful lace, bed li­nens, and lin­gerie, all care­fully packed for fu­ture use or keep­sake.

Brides-to-be con­tinue the “lit­tle bun­dle” tra­di­tion with a mar­vel­lous mix­ture of prac­ti­cal­ity and cre­ativ­ity - and men can do it too, why not? Brides and grooms can pre­pare a very per­sonal trousseau for their wed­ding night, hon­ey­moon - or both, and for some women the trousseau can be­come a ro­man­tic and sym­bolic rite of pas­sage; fill­ing a hope chest with hand­made and sen­ti­men­tal pieces. What­ever a bride and groom choose to in­clude in their “lit­tle bun­dles,” the trousseau is one tra­di­tion that for ro­man­tic and sen­si­ble rea­sons is here to stay.

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