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.