‘A good wife knows how to select her corredo’

Up to the 1960s, in the days leading up to the wedding, it was custom for a Sicilian bride’s family to assemble a letto. This was an elaborate display of embroidered linens, usually hand sewn by her family, and were meant to symbolise all she needed to set up home with her new husband. Neighbours and relatives would come to visit in the days leading up to the wedding in order to admire the letto, no doubt also gossiping and comparing it to others they had seen. These linens were the young woman’s trousseau or corredo. The image below shows the intricate needlework typically involved.

Sample of nineteenth century Sicilian corredo
Sample of nineteenth century Sicilian corredo. Image provided courtesy of Museo Giuseppe Pitrè, Palermo
The elaborate public display that was made of them in many Sicilian households was some indication that marriage, at least up to that point, was about families – old and new – and the practicalities of setting up a home, as much as it was about love.

The corredo was not just a Sicilian ritual; all over Italy and at least up to the 1960s, it was typical for a young woman to assemble some kind of corredo before marriage. In some regions, it was seen as her family’s responsibility to provide it, while in others, she would typically work on it herself. One man who lived in the countryside south of Rome who married in the early 1960s met his wife in the 1960s when she was milking cows on a neighbouring farm. He knew that she was serious and responsible – in short, ‘good wife material’ – because she spent her evenings sewing for her corredo, even though she wasn’t even engaged.

Grand Hotel, 1962: ‘A good wife also knows how to select her corredo’
From the 1960s onwards though, the corredo began to change. As Italian society became more affluent – with refrigerators, cars and televisions becoming normal fixtures of the Italian household rather than symbols of impossible wealth – young women and their families began to bring more than embroidered linens to a marriage. Ciara Meehan has suggested on her blog that there were similar trends in 1960s Ireland. Gradually the focus of the corredo shifted from beautiful and intricate needlework to the household items typical of the 1960s and 1970s, advertised on television and in glossy magazines and easily bought by those who could afford them. In a March 1962 issue of the magazine Grand Hotel (left), readers were told that part of knowing how to be a good wife was choosing the correct corredo.

It was now more about taste than skill, women were told, since they were expected to buy rather than make. Being or at least appearing wealthy enough to afford such furniture, was also key. The material, as well as the emotional aspects of marriage were clearly key to how Italian society was changing between the 1950s and the 1970s, and this story will also be part of the exhibition.