Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Le Trousseau

A trousseau de mariage is the French equivalent of our "hope chest" or collection of dowry linens. Trousser is an old French verb that means "to package," and today it also refers to a "kit" or group of "supplies," for example a trousse de secours is a first aid kit, and a trousse scolaire is a child's school supplies, e.g. pens, pencils, erasers etc.

Many people might think of the finest linens going into a bride's trousseau, something like this~

Undoubtedly a fantastic piece of hand-loomed linen & hand embroidery, seamed down the middle and with the beautiful contrasting thread over the letters~

In reality, the traditional trousseau was much more utilitarian, and its contents were very precise.

For the "household linens," the bride would bring:

18 pairs of sheets (top &bottom)
30 pairs of pillowcases
24 aprons
96 dishtowels
46 bath towels
60 table napkins, and
5 tablecloths

These would usually be "marked" with the initials of the husband's family name on the left, and the wife's family name on right right, separated by an "x" or a dot or a line. Here is an exception, his first & last initials, followed by her family name~

"Personal" linens or linge du corps would be the couple's clothing; both would be marked with their initials, his would be his first name and family name, again with a dot or cross or star in between~
and hers would be her first name and husband's family name; she would also bring the following items with her~

24 shirts
12 pantaloons
2 combinations (shirt +pantaloons?)
8 corset-hiders (short little shirts)
8 skirts
2 matinees or morning coats
48 hankies
18 pairs of undergarments

All of this would be assembled by the girl and her mother, over approximately a decade, prior to marriage.

But as time went on, the traditional trousseau rules loosened. You started to see variations, including numbers alone~

Here a dish towel is stamped and dated~

The monograms were used across France, as we know from certain fabrics which are clearly associated with certain regions; here a beautiful 19C toile from the area around Arles, in Provence~
You saw a magnificent example of this fabric recently in Veranda Magazine, the blue check cloth layered on the dining table of the over-the-top cover house in Provence; these three cloths are men's kerchiefs~
We found these at the Paris Flea, and the dealer noted as well that she had rarely seen such fine and tiny embroidery, on a man's item, no less~

Many items of course are never marked or monogrammed; we will stock unmarked and single items as well as sets; though an assortment of similar dishtowels look dreamy too; these are in the pile to go to the lavoir so excuse a few wrinkles~

Put a ribbon or napkin ring (or here, a French curtain ring) around a set of mismatched ones....
...and you have a very interesting and conversation-worthy napkin.
All of these items will be for sale at our Rose Bowl "store" on Sunday, October 12th. Find us in the Antiques section, space A03.

More on our linen sets soon~


Mom in High Heels said...

That is fascinating! Why so many sheets and pillow cases? That's a lot of linen! Of course if it's supposed to last over the lifetime of a marriage, I guess it's not. Thanks for the info!

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

How interesting! Everything is so elegant! ♥