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Something Old, Something New: Jessie Wilson

Something Old, Something New: Eight First Daughters’ Fashionable White House Weddings highlights the glamorous weddings of eight women who took their vows at the White House over two centuries and how their bridal fashion reflects both the taste of each era and their own personal styles. This exhibit was curated by Jillian Staricka, the 2023 Digital Exhibits Intern and MA student in Costume Studies at New York University.

Jessie Wilson

Married to Francis Sayre on November 25, 1913

This table details the known items of Jessie Wilson’s wedding ensemble. A wedding ensemble is comprised of all the garments and accessories worn by a bride on their wedding day. The wedding ensemble is part of the trousseau, a collection of garments, accessories, and personal items that a bride will take into their new marriage.

On the afternoon of November 25, 1913, Jessie Wilson married Francis Bowes Sayre in the East Room of the White House. Jessie’s trousseau reflected American workmanship and the still-dominant Paris fashions, having garments made in both countries. Although the first family attempted to keep the details of her wedding gown a secret, the press, including the breaking news and fashion industry trade journal Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), leaked descriptions of it much to the dismay of the bride. Weeks before the day of the nuptials, WWD reported details about Jessie’s wedding gown that were unknown to even her closest friends. The rapid spread of information from newspapers all over the country contributed to the public’s thirst for access to the wedding. Jessie’s Baltimore-made gown was simple yet voguish, following her general style which was described as “modish but not extreme.” The double ring ceremony was held in the East Room, where the intricate floral decor and Art Nouveau motifs complemented the softness of Jessie’s bridesmaids’ dresses of rose-colored draped chiffon. Striking a balance between a more intimate family affair and appeasing elite members of society, Jessie and Francis held two simultaneous dinners that night: one in the Family Dining Room and one in the more public State Dining Room.