Images from Consuelo: Glitter of a Dollar Duchess

Project Objective:

6 November 1895: Twenty minutes passed as the guests waited wondering if the bride was going to appear. All of New York society had gathered to see William K. Vanderbilt’s daughter, Consuelo, marry the Duke of Marlborough. None of the Duke’s family had made the trip across the Atlantic for the momentous event. Non of the bride’s family had been invited as a result of her parents recent divorce and her mother’s refusal to invite her ex-in-laws. The bridesmaids had already assembled at the alter decked in ivory satin, blue velvet portrait hats decorated with powder blue ostrich feathers, pearls hanging from their necks and matching blue velvet chokers with butterfly pins. The doors of St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue opened.

The bride appeared at her father’s side and they began to make their way down the heavily flowered aisle. Dressed in a Worth concoction of Brussels (Point-de-Gaze) lace tiers covering an ivory satin gown, the bride’s tear-stained face was covered by a knee length tulle veil anchored by a wreath of orange blossoms, a Victorian symbol of purity. Her 15-foot train following behind her was embroidered with seed pearls and silver (Balsan, 42 and The New York Times). Thousands stood outside waiting to see the new American Duchess of Marlborough. It all seemed so perfect—at least to everyone except the bride.

As the Industrial Revolution swept through America making millionaires out of many, these Nouveau Riche sought to establish themselves in high society. For a number of heiresses, this search ended in Great Britain. As America was gaining wealth, many of England’s titled men were struggling to maintain their massive estates with the loss of much of their estate income. These heiresses brought wealth, lots of wealth. For the measly cost of marrying one of them, their estates, their title, their legacy, could be saved. For the families of the brides, it gave the opportunity to claim their daughters were British aristocrats. The highest prize in this game was a Duke. And nothing less than a Duke was “good enough” for Alva’s daughter. These heiresses shipped across the Atlantic were nicknamed the “Dollar Princesses”. Consuelo was the most famous. Each of them had to learn how to blend into the tradition that defined the British Aristocratic society.

For this project, I created a handcrafted wedding gown inspired by Consuelo’s marriage to the Duke of Marlborough. I explored the blending of tradition with modernity, as illustrated in the many American Nouveau Riche that “invaded” British society. Using a traditional vocabulary of ivory satin and silver embroidery, I created my own modern wedding gown for Consuelo.

You can see Katherine's entire process of planning and creating this project at her Master's blog:


Referenced Sources:

Balsan, Consuelo Vanderbilt. The Glitter and the Gold. Maidstone: George Mann, 1953. Print. Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s memoirs.

“She is Now a Duchess.” The New York Times 7 Nov. 1895. Print.