According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition, 2000):
trous·seau, n. [French, from Old French, diminutive of trousse, bundle. See truss.] The possessions, such as clothing and linens, that a bride assembles for her marriage.
Throughout history, single young women all over the world have prepared for their change in marital status by accumulating a trousseau. A traditional trousseau -- stored in a hope chest -- included bridal accessories, jewelry, lingerie, toiletries and makeup, plus bed linens and bath towels for her new home.
Oftentimes the garments in a trousseau were hand-sewn by a a mother, aunt, grandmother, or the girl herself, if skilled with a needle. Wealthier families procured the skills of a professional seamstress to outfit the bride-to-be.
Elaborate trousseaus were a sign of wealth and social standing during the Victorian era:
"The society woman must have one or two velvet dresses which cannot cost less than $500 each. She must possess thousands of dollars worth of laces, in the shape of flounces, to loop up over the skirts of dresses... Walking dresses cost from $50 to $300; ball dresses are frequently imported from Paris at a cost of from $500 to $1,000... There must be traveling dresses in black silk, in pongee, in pique, that range in price from $75 to $175... Evening robes in Swiss muslin, robes in linen for the garden and croquet, dresses for horse races and yacht races, dresses for breakfast and for dinner, dresses for receptions and parties..." from "Lights and Shadows of New York" by James McCabe, 1872.
"A visiting and reception dress was of maroon velvet, trimmed with wide bands of cocks' feathers of the same shade. A second rich costume was of black brocaded silk and plain silk. ." -- from "Miss Vanderbilt's Trousseau," Harper's Bazar, December 15, 1877
THE TROUSSEAU IN LITERATURE
Literature carries many references to the trousseau. Symbolic of transition, a family's financial status, domestic arts, leaving home, and virginity, trousseaus are mentioned in the works of Gustave Flaubert, Anton Chekhov, and Edith Wharton. Some excerpts:
"Mademoiselle Rouault was busy with her trousseau. Part of it was ordered from Rouen; her night-dresses and night-caps she made herself, from patterns lent her by friends." -- from Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
"We had a fair here at Ascension," said the mother; "we always buy materials at the fair, and then it keeps us busy with sewing till the next year's fair comes around again. We never put things out to be made. My husband's pay is not very ample, and we are not able to permit ourselves luxuries. So we have to make up everything ourselves."
"But who will ever wear such a number of things? There are only two of you?"
"Oh... as though we were thinking of wearing them! They are not to be worn; they are for the trousseau!"
"Ah, mamam,what are you saying?" said the daughter, and she crimsoned again. "Our visitor might suppose it was true. I don't intend to be married. Never!"
She said this, but at the very word "married" her eyes glowed. -- "The Trousseau," by Anton Chekhov
While beautiful cedar hope chests are still manufactured and sold, many who purchase this furniture item simply use it for everyday storage. Nonetheless, a woman preparing for a wedding, honeymoon, and new life certainly needs new things (as well as a place to store them).
For most brides, gifts for the home accumulate quickly at engagement, shower, and wedding parties, thanks to the generosity of friends and family. Cash gifts and items taken from one's former home help to fill in the balance.
So what's left to purchase for the modern trousseau? New clothes, vacation wear, sports gear, luggage.
What belongs in your own trousseau? Things that make sense for your lifestyle, and things that you love. Someone who wears austere all black is going to feel self-conscious in loud, frilly holiday wear. So select resort wear in subdued neutrals, if that's your style. Remember, shopping for a trousseau shouldn't calll for an image makeover; you're just collecting some new things you probably need anyway.
On the wedding night, if you normally sleep in a T-shirt or the altogether, you may feel silly encumbered in a long, flowing negligee. Yet a short, sexy, white-satin chemise can certainly help you feel like a bride on that special night. And that's one instance when the groom will likely appreciate your new trousseau, too.