To Victoria's Wedding Day
"When the celebrated
Theodore Parker married Miss Cabot, he entered in his journal on his
wedding day the subjoined resolutions, the keeping of which made a married
life a happy one:
1. Never, except for the best of reasons, to oppose my wife's will.
2. To discharge all duties for her sake freely.
3. Never to scold.
4. Never to look cross at her.
5. Never to weary her with commands.
6. To promote her piety.
7. To bear her burdens.
8. To overlook her foibles.
9. To save, cherish, and forever defend her.
10. To remember her always most fervently in my prayers.
Thus, God willing, we shall be blessed."
From the circa 1878-1898 scrapbook
of Lulu Soper Middleton
"The Wedding Day has arrived, the most important event in a Victorian
girl's life. It is the day her mother has prepared her for from the moment
she was born. The Victorian girl knew no other ambition. She would marry,
and she would marry well."
Transcribed from the original, Godey's Lady's Book, July
1855, pp. 29 32 by Hope Greenberg. 11/21/95.
Copy freely as long as this notice is attached.
Naming the Day
The wedding itself and the events leading up to the
ceremony are steeped in ancient traditions still evident in Victorian
customs. One of the first to influence a young girl is choosing the month
and day of her wedding. June has always been the most popular month, for
it is named after Juno, Roman goddess of marriage. She would bring
prosperity and happiness to all who wed in her month. Practicality played
a part in this logic also. If married in June, the bride was likely to
birth her first child in Spring, allowing her enough time to recover
before the fall harvest.
June also signified the end of Lent and the arrival of
warmer weather. That meant it was time to remove winter clothing and
partake in one's annual bath. April, November and December were favored
also, so as not to conflict with peak farm work months. October was an
auspicious month, signifying a bountiful harvest. May, however, was
considered unlucky. "Marry in May and rue the day," an old
proverb goes. But "Marry in September's shine, your living will be
rich and fine."
In the Southern United Sates, April was favored, as it
was less hot, and a bride's favorite flowers were in bloom--jasmine and
Brides were just as superstitious about days of the
week. A popular rhyme goes:
Marry on Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Tuesday for crosses,
Friday for losses, and
Saturday for no luck at all.
The Sabbath day was out of the question.
The Wedding Ensemble
Once the bride chose her wedding day, a prerogative
conferred upon her by the groom, she could begin planning her trousseau,
the most important item of which was her wedding dress.
Brides have not always worn white for the marriage
ceremony. In the 16th and 17th centuries for
example, girls in their teens married in pale green, a sign of fertility.
A mature girl in her twenties wore a brown dress, and older women even
wore black. From early Saxon times to the 18th century, only
poorer brides came to their wedding dressed in white--a public statement
that she brought nothing with her to the marriage. Other brides wore their
Color of the gown was thought to influence one's future
Blue--love will be true
Yellow--ashamed of her fellow
Red--wish herself dead
Black--wish herself back
Grey--travel far away
Pink--of you he'll always think
Green-ashamed to be seen
Ever since Queen Victoria wed in 1840, however, white
has remained the traditional color for wedding gowns and bouquets. A woman
then used her dress for Court Presentation after marriage, usually with a
The early Victorian wedding dress had a fitted bodice,
small waist, and full skirt (over hoops and petticoats.) It was made of
organdy, tulle, lace, gauze, silk, linen or cashmere. The veil was a fine
gauze, sheer cotton or lace. The reasonable cost of a wedding gown in 1850
was $500, according to Godey's, with $125 for a veil. By 1861, more
elaborate gowns cost as much as $1500 if constructed with lace.
Formal weddings during this period were all white,
including the bridesmaid's dresses and veils. Veils were attached to a
coronet of flowers, usually orange blossoms for the bride and roses or
other in-season flowers for the attendants. The bride's accessories
included: short white kid gloves, hanky embroidered with her maiden name
initials, silk stockings embroidered up the front, and flat shoes
decorated with bows or ribbons at the instep.
The American Frontier bride of the 1850s and 60s
usually chose cambric, wool or linen dresses in a variety of colors. Few
wore white, as the dress was used later for special events and church.
Many had a warm, colorful shawl in paisley or plaid which draped her
shoulders at the wedding. The shawl was then used for christenings, social
events and an extra blanket in winter. A warm shawl was more cherished
than a wedding dress.
For the mid-Victorian bride (1870s) there was an
emergence of middle class wealth, and with it a display of their new
riches. Wedding gowns fashioned by Worth in Paris were the ultimate status
symbol. And if one couldn't afford an original, one copied them. Full
court trains were now part of the wedding ensemble, as were long veils, a
bustle, elegant details and two bodices--a modest one for the wedding and
a low one for special occasions.
The late Victorians (1890s) saw the bustle disappear, a
demi-train and large sleeves now in fashion. If the bride married in
church, the dress must have a train, with a veil of the same length. The
veil could be lace or silk tulle. From the mid-Victorian era to the 1890s,
the veil covered the bride's face and was not lifted until after church.
The veil was not used as a shawl after the wedding any more, however.
White kid gloves were long enough to tuck under the sleeves, and had a
slit in one finger to slip the ring on without removing the glove.
Slippers were of white kid, satin or brocade and the heels rose to one
For the widow who remarried in the early and
mid-Victorian eras, she did not wear white, had no bridesmaids, no veil
and no orange blossoms, (a sign of purity.) She usually wore a pearl or
lavender satin gown trimmed with ostrich feathers. In the later decades,
she was allowed attendants as well as pages, but no veil or orange
blossoms. She could wear a shade or two away from white, preferring rose,
salmon, ivory or violet.
As for jewelry, diamonds have always been popular. When
white dresses were in vogue, pearl and diamond combinations were
fashionable. The mid-Victorians had a more extravagant display of wealth,
often a diamond tiara for the ceremony. Combination pieces of diamond
jewelry that could be separated later as individual pieces were popular.
Traditionally, the jewelry worn by the bride was a gift from her husband.
The earlier in the day the wedding, the less jewelry.
Finally, for the bride, you may recall the English
rhyme: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something
blue, and a lucky sixpence in your shoe." Something old was often a
family heirloom and the bride's link with the past. Something new could be
her dress or a gift from the groom. Something borrowed was of real value
like a veil or headpiece, and returned to the owner. Something blue was
often the garter or an embroidered handkerchief. The touch of blue
symbolized faithfulness, while the sixpence ensured future wealth.
A Groom's Attire
The grooms, too, were concerned with fashion on their
wedding day, and turned to magazines for advice on how best to be turned
out. In the early Victorian era, the bridegroom wore a frock coat of blue,
mulberry or claret, and a flower favor in his lapel. By 1865, men's coats
were tailored with a special "flower-hole" for this purpose. His
waistcoat was white, and his trousers of lavender doeskin. Black was out
of the question. The best man and groomsmen wore frock coats also, but in
a more subdued tone. The American frontier groom wore a flower on the
lapel of his best suit, using whatever was in the bride's bouquet.
By the mid-Victorian era, frock coats were seldom worn,
the morning coat being preferable because of its smarter appearance. Some
grooms still wore frock coats, however, and did so with a vest of black
cloth, dark gray trousers, a folded cravat of medium color, and lavender
gloves stitched in black.
Fashions changed rapidly in the late Victorian years,
from no need for gloves in 1885, to a must for gloves in 1886. By now,
however, men wore pearl colored gloves with black embroidery. By 1899, the
frock coat was back in style along with a double-breasted, light-colored
waistcoat, dark tie, gray striped cashmere trousers, patent-leather button
boots and pale tan kid gloves. Throughout the Victorian era, a black top
hat was a necessity.
By the end of the Victorian era, boutonnieres were
large--a bunch of lilies, a gardenia or stephanotis sprig. If the wedding
was in the evening, as now allowed by English law, full dress tailcoats
were in order, with white gloves and white waistcoat. The father of the
bride dressed like the groom and groomsmen, and according to the time of
day for the wedding.
Attendants, Children and
Gowns for the bridesmaids had to be both practical and
beautiful, for they became a part of the girl's wardrobe after the
ceremony. Some generous brides provided the dresses for their attendants.
During the early Victorian years, skirts were full and bodices tiny.
Tradition called for an all white wedding, but color could be added for an
accent if the overall effect remained white. Bridesmaids covered their
heads with short white veils falling from a coronet to just below the hip.
Weddings at home did not require a veil, and often headpieces of flowers
and ribbons were worn.
By the mid-Victorian era, bustles were the height of
fashion. White was no longer the color, but was still worn at some
weddings, often in combination with another color. By the 1890s, the
Victorians were more willing to try innovative new fashions, closely
following fashions from Paris. Large sleeves were in style, emphasizing
the shoulders. Grey, violet and lilac were popular in England, while
Americans preferred white, rose or green. By 1898, fashion dictated that
the bridesmaids' dresses be in direct contrast to the bride's, so as not
to distract from the beauty of her gown. That custom is still in practice
Children were a symbolic part of the Victorian wedding
and had their own dress etiquette. Little girls could be flower girls or
ring bearers. If older, they could be junior bridesmaids or maids of
honor. Regardless of their role, their dresses were of white muslin tied
with a ribbon sash that matched their shoes and stockings. The dresses
were either long or short depending upon the prevailing styles and ages of
the girls. The boys had the important role of holding the bride's train.
They dressed as court pages in velvet jackets, short trousers and round
linen collars fastened by large bows of white crepe de chine or surah.
Their laced shoes were black, unless it was a formal wedding, in which
case they wore white silk hose, and buckles on their shoes. Their velvet
suits could be black, blue, green or red, with a matching hat, which was
optional. The hat was removed for a church ceremony.
Social customs dictated what the mothers and female
guests wore, also, the difference subtle yet present. At a daytime
wedding, guests wore walking or visiting costumes. The mothers, and other
female family members, wore reception toilettes, being more elegant than
daytime costumes, but less formal than evening dress. All women had to
wear bonnets in church, but they were optional for at-home ceremonies.
Bonnets were not worn for evening receptions. In the late Victorian era,
black was suggested as an appropriate color for the mother of the bride.
These were never made of black crepe, however, which signified mourning.
If the mother was in mourning, she could put aside her crepe for the
ceremony and wear purple velvet or silk in America, or cardinal red in
England. Queen Victoria, the mother figure at many weddings, always wore
black and white because she was in mourning for her "dearest
Everyone is finally primped and curled. It is time for
the ceremony to begin!
Liaisons, a place for readers and writers of historical romances to
discuss and learn the craft of writing, and the pleasure in reading it.
Culture and Dress
of the Best American Society.
By Richard A. Wells, A.M.
King, Richardson &: Co.,
Springfield, Mass.; Cincinnati; Sacramento; Dallas, Texas.
From the chapter on COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE:
THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY
The Marriage ceremony varies with the fortunes and
wishes of those interested. In regard to the form of the rite, no
specific directions are necessary; for those who are to be married by
ministers, will study the form of their particular church - the
Methodists their "Book of Discipline," the Episcopalians their
"Book of Common Prayer," the Catholics their Ritual, etc.,
etc. In most cases a rehearsal of the ceremony is made in private, that
the pair may the more perfectly understand the necessary forms. If the
parties are to be wedded by a magistrate, the ceremony is almost nominal
- it is a mere repetition of a vow. The Catholic and Episcopal forms
have the most ceremony, and doubtless are the most impressive, though no
more effectually marrying than the simplest form.
There are, however, some generally received rules
which govern this momentous and interesting occasion, and to these we
refer all interested.
When the wedding is not strictly in private, it is
customary for bridesmaids and groomsmen to be chosen to assist in the
duties of the occasion.
The bridesmaids should be younger than the bride,
their dresses should be conformed to hers; they should not be any more
expensive, though they are permitted more ornament. They are generally
chosen of light, graceful material; flowers are the principal
The bride's dress is marked by simplicity. But few
jewels or ornaments should be worn, and those should be the gift of the
bridegroom or parents. A veil and garland are the distinguishing
features of the dress.
The bridesmaids assist in dressing the bride,
receiving the company, etc.; and, at the time of the ceremony, stand at
her left side, the first bridesmaid holding the bouquet and gloves.
The groomsmen receive the clergyman, present him to
the couple to be married, and support the bridegroom upon the right,
during the ceremony.
CONGRATULATIONS AFTER THE
If it is an evening wedding, at home immediately
after "these twain are made one," they are congratulated:
first by the relatives, then by the friends, receiving the good wishes
of all; after which, they are at liberty to leave their formal position,
and mingle with the company. The dresses, supper, etc., are usually more
festive and gay than for a morning wedding and reception, where the
friends stop for a few moments only, to congratulate the newly-married
pair, taste the cake and wine and hurry away.
CEREMONY IN CHURCH
When the ceremony is performed in church, the bride
enters at the left, with her father, mother, and bridesmaids; or, at all
events, with a bridesmaid. The groom enters at the right, followed by
his attendants. The parents stand behind, the attendants at either side.
The bride should be certain that her glove is readily
removable; the groom, that the ring is where he can find it, to avoid
delay and embarrassment.
LEAVING THE CHURCH
When they leave the church, the newly-married couple
walk arm-in-arm. They have usually a reception of a couple of hours at
home, for their intimate friends, then a breakfast, then leave upon the
A rich man may give the officiating clergyman any sum
from five dollars to five hundred, according as his liberality dictates.
A person of moderate means may give from five dollars to twenty.
LET JOY BE UNCONFINED
On such festive occasions, all appear in their best
attire, and assume their best manners. Peculiarities that pertain to
past days, or have been unwarily adopted, should be guarded against;
mysteries concerning knives, forks, and plates, or throwing 'an old
shoe' after the bride, are highly reprehensible, and have long been
exploded. Such practices may seem immaterial, but they are not so.
Stranger guests often meet at a wedding breakfast; and the good breeding
of the family may be somewhat compromised by neglect in small things.
THE WEDDING BREAKFAST
If the lady appears at breakfast, which is certainly
desirable, she occupies, with her husband, the center of the table, and
sits by his side - her father and mother taking the top and bottom, and
showing all honor to their guests. When the cake has been cut, and every
one is helped - when, too, the health of the bride and bridegroom has
been drunk, and every compliment and kind wish has been duly proffered
and acknowledged - the bride, attended by her friends, withdraws; and
when ready for her departure the newly-married couple start off on their
wedding journey, generally about two or three o'clock, and the rest of
the company shortly afterward take their leave.
In some circles it is customary to send cards almost
immediately to friends and relations, mentioning at what time and hour
the newly-married couple expect to be called upon. Some little
inconvenience occasionally attends this custom, as young people may with
to extend their wedding tour beyond the time first mentioned, or, if
they go abroad, delays may unavoidably occur. It is therefore better to
postpone sending cards, for a short time at least.
Fashions change continually with regard to wedding
cards. A few years since they were highly ornamented, and fantastically
tied together; now silver-edged cards are fashionable; but,
unquestionably, the plainer and more unostentatious a wedding card, the
more becoming and appropriate it will be.
No one to whom a wedding-card has not been sent ought
to call upon a newly-married couple.
CALLING ON A NEWLY-MARRIED
When the days named for seeing company arrive,
remember to be punctual. Call, if possible, the first day, but neither
before nor after the appointed hour. Wedding-cake and wine are handed
round, of which every one partakes, and each expresses some kindly wish
for the happiness of the newly-married couple.
A JOYOUS PERIOD
Taking possession of their home by young people is
always a joyous period. The depressing influence of a wedding breakfast,
where often the hearts of many are sad, is not felt, and every one looks
forward to years of prosperity and happiness.
RETURNING WEDDING VISITS
Wedding visits must be returned during the course of
a few days, and parties are generally made for the newly-married couple,
which they are expected to return. This does not, however, necessarily
entail much visiting; neither is it expected from young people, whose
resources may be somewhat limited, or when the husband has to make his
way in the world.