BARDOT’S GINGHAM FROLIC

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As our first bridal group is arrayed in joyful ginghams, our resident historian Laura McLaws Helms is revisiting perhaps the most famous gingham wedding look—Brigitte Bardot’s second wedding dress from 1959. 

BRIGITTE BARDOT BEING FITTED BY JACQUES ESTEREL, 1958.

BRIGITTE BARDOT BEING FITTED BY JACQUES ESTEREL, 1958.

When one of the most famous stars on Earth married in gingham, the entire world paid attention. Twenty-four-year old actress, sex symbol and divorcée Brigitte Bardot had previously married (then assistant) director Roger Vadim in 1952 in a high-collared, bustled dress accessorized with muff and veil—a fittingly modest gown for a teenager raised in a strict Roman Catholic family. By 1959 she was an international star, well known for her sex kittenish persona on-screen and her many romances off. Citing her affairs as the cause, Vadim and Bardot divorced in early 1958—and within weeks her two-year affair with actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (who was also married) also collapsed. Though the tabloids reported Bardot had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide, she soon began an affair with Jacques Charrier, who she was acting alongside in Babette Goes to War

Finding herself pregnant in late spring 1959, the two decided to marry—and Bardot chose for her dress the very opposite of her first wedding gown. Clearly free from her family’s conservative hold, Brigitte asked her favorite designer, Jacques Esterel, to make her something youthful, unexpected and pretty. He chose a soft pink gingham (called Vichy in France), trimmed with white lace—a shirtwaist with white round buttons all down the front, a very full skirt with low pockets, a cinched waist and slim bodice, three-quarter sleeves and rounded neckline. Coquettish and playful, this gingham dress showed off her still teeny waist (revealing no evidence of the baby that would be born just six months later) and very clearly sent off signals that this was a very different kind of marriage to her first. 

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The two married in Louveciennes, France, at the registry office on June 18th, 1959. While the ceremony was taking place photographers burst into the registry office and formally asked Brigitte for permission to photograph the wedding. According to reports, Brigitte stamped her foot and shouted ‘Non, non, non,’ before burying her face in her hands and bursting into tears. Calm by the time they went outside, the photographs show her luminous, fresh, glowing and on the arm of an incredibly handsome man. What girl wouldn’t want to be her? Is there really any surprise that there was a run on gingham fabric in Paris? According to a newspaper report just one month after the marriage, “You can’t buy a yard of checked gingham in Paris, not even enough for kitchen curtains, since Brigitte picked the fabric for her wedding dress. Paris streets are full of sports cars with girls in pink checked gingham shirtwaist dresses and pink kerchiefs tied over hair-do’s that show a long, blonde lock. Paris collections are attended by many bigger girls, wearing same.” And is there also any surprise that by January 1960 Americans could send off for a line-for-line pattern of it so that to sew up their own copy? “The Bardot Look”was the style of the spring/summer season for all Seventh Avenue Junior collections in 1960—“Entire groups are frankly inspired by Brigitte Bardot’s Riviera wardrobe that she wore last summer on the French Cote d’Azur. It has resulted in a run on pastel gingham checks and clean cool cotton strips in the childlike personality the Paris cinema star affects.” Noted BB trademarks: “full skirts, feminine touches, head kerchiefs, gingham checks and brevity.” 

The man partly responsible for the BB aesthetic actually had his start as an engineer and composer. It was not until Esterel had a chance meeting with Louis Féraud in Cannes in 1950 that he was introduced to fashion. After assisting Féraud for two years, Féraud lent two seamstresses Esterel so that he could open his own maison in Cannes in 1953; it was there that Bardot wandered in one day and was captivated by his gaily-pretty designs that suited her Lolita-esque persona perfectly. In 1958 he opened a shop in Paris and began showing as part of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Bardot’s patronage helped gain him customers, but he was always known more for showing off-beat ideas in his collections rather than being a serious couturier. Esterel died suddenly from a blood clot in the brain in 1974, at age 56. 

Though Bardot and Charrier divorced in 1962, the power of her fresh gingham dress lingers. Feminine, pretty, gay—a rainbow of gingham-clad bridesmaids is a Marshmallow dream wedding. 

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