When I graduated from high school, my dad made me a blanket chest out of walnut wood. I had seen one in an antique store that was completely out of the question to buy. I took him over to see it and he made me my very own blanket chest that I still cherish today. It took the place of the traditional cedar chest that was popular in my day. As girls prepared for having their own home, we stored things that were given to us in hopes we would marry… maybe that’s where the name Hope Chest came from! Some mother must have coined the phrase in hopes that her daughter would marry.
Emma Reeves interned with us last summer and I asked her to do a little research on the Bridal Trousseau. I know you will enjoy reading her essay on the bridal trousseau, which includes information on the Hope Chest.
The Bridal Trousseau
by: Emma Reeves
A wedding is always a joyous time of celebration. There is a delightful sense of anticipation in the air for the bride and groom and the journey that they will embark on together. Beginning centuries ago, it was traditional that a bride-to-be would have a trousseau, a collection of items that she gathered to prepare for her future marriage. The items would have been made or collected throughout her young life, with the goal of the trousseau sustaining the new couple in their marriage. The word trousseau is derived from the Old French diminutive trousse, meaning to wrap in a package or bundle. This made it easier to transport the collection to the bride’s new abode.
Trousseaus in the form of dowries date back to ancient civilizations, including Babylon, Greece, and the Roman Empire, but the marital gifting reached a peak of popularity during the Renaissance, specifically in France. A trousseau often showed how wealthy the family of the bride-to-be was. French trousseaus consisted mainly of linens, many of which were family heirlooms. It was not uncommon for a trousseau to contain mostly handmade linens such as dishtowels, nightgowns, petticoats, bedding, or tablecloths. In Victorian England, if a bride was especially wealthy, she might host a trousseau tea in order to show off the items to family and friends. In more recent times, a typical trousseau could contain a wide array of items such as bridal accessories, jewelry, cushions, china, silverware, pillows, quilts, clothing, or lingerie.
There was one linen item that many trousseaus contained: a bridal handkerchief. While the origin of this tradition is difficult to pinpoint, it seems the Romans used a bridal handkerchief of sorts. The handkerchief was wet with perfume and used to wipe the bride’s face, then worn on her shoulders or neck. Once this tradition arrived in France, the handkerchief evolved into an elaborate handmade creation that was used only by royalty or the upper class. The fabric frequently was as fine and smooth as gossamer with embroidery and lace decorating the edges.
Over the years, bridal handkerchiefs began to be used by all brides, regardless of social class. Some handkerchiefs were more elaborate than others, but all were personal to the bride. Embroidering the combined initials of the bride and groom became customary in the mid 19th century. For the monogram, the two letters were interlaced or superimposed as a representation of the marriage union.
The more modern version of the trousseau is the hope chest, also referred to as a dowry chest, cedar chest, or glory box. A hope chest represented the hopes for a young woman’s future marriage and wellbeing. These chests were typically crafted from cedar in order to best protect the linens inside from moths. The Lane Furniture Company of Virginia was a popular manufacturer of hope chests; having learned production techniques from making ammunition boxes in World War I. Often the chests as well as their contents became family heirlooms. After her wedding, a new bride would store her wedding dress inside of the chest to preserve it for her daughter.
Hope chests were used throughout the 1900s, but faded out by the late 1970s. Upon her high school graduation, a young lady would receive a hope chest, either a family heirloom or a new one. She would then fill the chest with items that she and her mother had either made or collected for her future wedding and home.
Although trousseaus and hope chests are no longer in fashion, a young woman can still begin preparations for her future home. Linens can be embroidered and dishes collected in order to give her stability when she embarks on her new life. Her loved ones can assist her in making and gathering these items as a way of showing their love for her. Wishing blessings on a newly married couple’s journey is a courtesy that will always be in fashion.
Do you have a most cherished bridal gift?