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Something Old, Something New: Eleanor 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.

Eleanor Wilson

Married to William McAdoo on May 7, 1914

This table details the known items of Eleanor 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.

Eleanor Wilson and William Gibbs McAdoo married on the evening of May 7, 1914. Eleanor, the younger sister of Jessie Wilson, had a smaller but exquisite wedding in the East Room. Because details of Jessie’s wedding gown had been leaked before her wedding, or perhaps in an attempt to get ahead of the press, the White House invited famed fashion journalist Anne Rittenhouse to write an exclusive story and to illustrate the final fitting of items in Eleanor’s trousseau before the wedding. The sketches for the trousseau were released by Women’s Wear Daily prior to the wedding, but the illustration of the bridal gown was held until after the ceremony had taken place. The sketches and stories were copied many times over by newspapers across the country, where news of the much-awaited wedding was eagerly consumed. Owing to Eleanor’s strong sense of personal style, she had tremendous influence on the final items in her trousseau on purchasing trips and subsequent fittings to the Kurzman showroom in New York City. She selected shiny ivory white satin for her wedding gown and requested Charles Kurzman add long sleeves of tulle on the gown, along with long sleeves on many other dresses in the trousseau–her preferred style. Even with the couple’s scaled-back guest list, the public’s zest for information about the bride’s stylistic choices and images of the exciting event was just as strong. In fact, Eleanor’s use of Women’s Wear Daily to take control of the press’s narrative actually generated an even more exciting and truly fascinating historical record because the White House-approved sketches and details of her entire trousseau heavily supplement the few photographs of the wedding day that do exist, and the press was able to report on accurate details of Eleanor’s fashion choices.