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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Wedding Etiquette

( Originally Published 1902 )

Courtship and Marriage.

Preceding the marriage comes the courtship, an event which, since the world began, has been one of vital interest to man and woman, but which is so varied in its incidents and characteristics that no set rules of etiquette can be made to apply to it. It may suffice to say that when a gentleman feels such admiration for a lady as to induce him to make a proposal of marriage to her, it is the more manly and courageous way to do so verbally instead of in writing. During courtship anything that offends good taste, or is conspicuous in the conduct of a betrothed pair, should be sedulously avoided, such as making public each other's sentiments. These concern the pair alone; they lack interest for the public at large, and etiquette demands that they should be kept secret.

A sufficient public announcement of the engagement is made by the ring, which it is usual for the gentleman to give the lady, as a token of the new relation existing between them. This may be a diamond solitaire, if the means of the gentleman will permit. Otherwise, a plain gold band is in order. It must be worn on the third finger of the left hand.

When the engagement is once formally made, it may be made known by the young lady or her mother to relatives and intimate friends. Good form, however, requires that the gentleman should gain the consent of the guardian or parents of the lady before making his proposal to herself. This is particularly important if he is in moderate circumstances and she wealthy.

The length of the engagement must depend largely upon the wishes of the parties most particularly concerned. Of late years it has become the fashion to shorten the time, and unless the marriage is likely to take place within six months it is better to make no public announcement of the engagement.

Hasty marriages, on short acquaintance, are in all cases to be avoided. The loving pair should grow to know each other well and intimately before courtship is allowed to pass its preliminary stage of attractive acquaintance; and many an unhappy marriage has come from undue haste in this particular, ardent fancy being permitted to take the place of cool reflection and growing knowledge.

There is a delight in courtship, moreover, which is often unwisely abridged by too quick a marriage. In the words of one wise maiden. who was asked why she did not marry when she had so many lovers, " Being courted is too great a luxury to be spoiled by marrying." But all this is matter for which it is useless to attempt to lay down rules. Men and maidens have followed. their own inclinations in regard to the length of the period of courtship since civilization began, and will probably continue to do so.

It is only when the engagement has been made and formally announced that etiquette can have anything to do with the matter. A couple once betrothed, and the betrothal made public, have placed themselves, in a measure, in the hands of society, and must yield in some degree to social obligations, if they wish to avoid invidious comment.

Wedding Preliminaries.

After the wedding day is fixed the happy couple are especially obliged to conform to the rules of etiquette, there being fixed laws laid down for every detail of the subsequent ceremonies. One thing should be borne in mind, that the wedding belongs to the family of the bride. It is their affair to send the invitations, provide the music, the decorations, the wedding breakfast, etc.; the duties of the groom being restricted to providing the certificate, naming the clergyman, and a few others. The announcement of the engagement is generally followed by a dinner given by the parents of the bride, to which some of the relatives of both families are invited. Subsequent dinners are apt to be given by relatives and intimate friends of the engaged couple.

The gentleman's parents, relatives, or friends call as speedily as possible upon the young lady and her parents or guardians. The selection of the wedding day is usually left to the choice of the bride-elect and her mother, and to their taste are similarly left such details of the occasicn as the arrangement for the wedding, the character of the trousseau, or bridal outfit, the breakfast or reception, the choice of bridesmaids, the style of the ceremony, etc.

Any time of the year may be regarded as suitable for a wedding to take place, though certain periods, such as Easter week, are often preferred. In Europe there is a strange prejudice against the month of May. As regards the day of the week, Wednesday or Thursday are apt to be selected ; while Friday is looked upon as unlucky. In this country Friday holds the same doubtful position, but any other day of the week, and any month of the year, are quite in order.

Marriage is regulated in this country by the laws of the State, a license being required in some States, and not in others. This the intending husband should procure, he being accompanied by the father, guardian, or near relative of the lady, that the requisite information required by the law may be given.

The bridal trousseau does not include plate, china, furniture, or any household ware, but is restricted to the bride's attire, of which sufficient is usually provided to last during the first few years of wedded life. Too great a quantity of wearing apparel is to be avoided, whatever the wealth of the bride or her family, since the rapid changes in fashion are likely to make some of it useless before it can be worn. The extent and character of the trousseau, of course, must be governed by the means and taste of the bride and her family.

Bridal Gifts.

The custom of presenting gifts to the bride has grown until it has become much of a burden and something of a farce, from the absolute uselessness of many of the articles sent and the annoying duplication that is likely to take place. In every case the presents should be in accordance with the means and probable style of living of the recipients, and as far as possible in harmony with their tastes and surroundings. Nothing is more ill-advised than to send some gorgeous ornament for a plain, simply furnished house. Simple, tasteful selections, however, are rarely out of place, and there is a wide choice of articles which every family can use. The variety is endless, ranging from the costliest silver and jewels, clocks, lamps, fans, odd bits of furniture, camel's hair shawls, etc., down to a pretty vase, a bit of embroidery, a picture, or a piece of china painted by the hand of a friend. No one should hesitate to send a present whose money value is small, such gifts are often the most welcome, and a present which owes its existence to the donor's own labor is regarded as especially flattering.

Gifts are usually packed where they are bought, and sent directly from the shop to the bride's house. They should be sent during the week preceding the wedding, and not less than two days before the event. It is so customary to make an exhibition of the presents on the day of the wedding or the preceding. day, that it is very necessary that they should arrive in good time.

The display of the wedding presents is a point to be decided according to the bride's wishes. Some people think it ostentatious, others devote much time and care to their arrangement, and it is undoubtedly gratifying to many to be permitted to see them.

One rule, however, is invariable-the bride must acknowledge every gift by a personal note. It must be borne in mind that the gifts are hers, her own private property, which she can claim from the hands of the sheriff, if misfortune supervenes, and leave by will to whom she elects. Of course, gifts may be sent specially intended for the groom.

If people do not know what to send, or what the young couple require, they should take some means to discover, for nothing is more annoying than to receive duplicate presents. It is not uncommon for soupladles, butter-knives, tea-urns, and other articles of table use or house-ornament to be given so profusely that the young couple are almost as well fixed to set up a store as to begin housekeeping.

It is customary for the gentleman to make his bride a present of jewelry to be worn at her wedding, where his means will permit him to do so. If a wealthy man, he often presents the bridesmaids with a souvenir of the occasion, a fan, bracelet, ring, or bouquet. He buys the wedding ring and furnishes the bride's bouquet; but there his privilege or duty ends. The bride's family supply the cards, carriages, and wedding entertainment.


The bride's bouquet should be composed exclusively of white flowers, such as gardenias, white azaleas, or camellias, with a little orange blossom intertwined. It is the privilege of the groomsman to procure and present this to the bride.

It is generally considered a delicate attention on the part of the bridegroom to present a bouquet to his future mother-in law. This maybe composed of choice variously colored flowers, whilst those of the bridesmaids should be white, with an edging of pale blush roses. These also are presented by the groom.

To save trouble and anxiety with regard to bouquets, it is the best plan to order them from some practical florist. He will know exactly what to send, and will deliver them fresh on the day of the marriage.

The Bridesmaids.

The bridesmaids are usually selected from among the sisters of the bride, or her cousins or friends. The head-bridesmaid is ordinarily her most intimate friend. Occasionally the sisters of the bridegroom assist as bridesmaids, but the bride's own sisters should always be given the preference.

The number of the bridesmaids, of course, must be governed by circumstances. Six is a usual number, though more are frequently selected. An even number must always be chosen.

The dress of the bridemaids is usually of some light white material. They frequently wear wreaths and veils, but of a lighter and less costly character than those of the bride. Bonnets are often worn instead of veils. It is desirable for them all to be dressed as nearly alike as possible.

In this country the bridesmaids either provide their own dresses or may accept them from the bride.

The Groomsmen.

The number of groomsmen must correspond to that of the bridesmaids. These gentlemen have little to do, with the exception of the first or principal groomsman, who is charged by the bridegroom with the management of the whole affair, and should be furnished by him with money to pay all the expenses. He is usually his brother or most intimate friend.

Where a ring is used he should take charge of it, and present it to the bridegroom at the proper moment. He must hand the minister his fee, and pay the sexton and other persons entitled to payment their legitimate charges.

It is his duty to undertake all the arrangements for his friend on the eventful day, and to see that they are properly carried out.

The dress of the groomsmen should be similar to that of the bridegroom, the dress worn being that suitable to the hour of the day, in the same fashion as for any other entertainment. They should be dressed as nearly alike as possible.

The Bride.

After the wedding invitations are issued the bride does not ordinarily appear in public. On the morning of the wedding day she usually breakfasts in her own room, and remains there till the hour arrives to dress for the ceremony. It is the privilege of the bridesmaids to perform this service.

The bride's costume is, as a rule, of white, either silk or satin, or of material in accordance with the means of the parties. A bridal veil of lace or of tulle is usually worn. The gloves, of course, should be white, and the shoes of white kid or white satin. It is customary for the bride to make some slight presents to the bridemaids on the morning of the marriage. These should be simple, it being borne in mind that the gift is merely to serve as a memento of the occasion, and that no article of much value is demanded.

After dressing, the bride remains in her room until the carriage is announced, or the time has arrived to descend to the drawing room if it is to be a home wedding. The bride's carriage is the last to leave the house. It should contain but one occupant besides herself-her father, or the person selected to give her away at the altar.

The Ceremony.

The ushers are selected by the gentleman, though the lady is generally consulted in the choice. Six is the number ordinarily chosen, and their duties are to show people to seats in the church, and to present the guests to the bride and groom at the wedding reception. They, and the groomsmen as well, should all wear boutonniers or button-hole bouquets, made of some handsome white flowers.

The bridal procession is formed by the ushers, who walk first two and two, followed by the bridesmaids, also two and two; then the child-bridesmaids, if this pretty custom is adopted, and then the bride, leaning on her father's right arm. Sometimes the children lead the others. At the altar the ushers separate, moving to the right and left, the bridesmaids do the same, thus leaving room for the bridal pair.

Upon the entrance of the bridal party within the doors of the church, the organist will playa "Wedding March," and as they take their places at the altar will change this to some low, subdued, but sweet and appropriate melody, which he should continue with taste and feeling throughout the service. As the bridal party leave the church, the music should be loud and jubilant.

The front pews in the church should be reserved for the families and especial friends of the happy pair. These are generally separated from the others by a white ribbon drawn across the aisle.

The wedding party should stand according to the positions decided upon by the wishes of the bride and groom. Usually the bride takes her place upon the left of the groom, her father stands a little in advance of the rest, behind the couple, and her mother just in the rear of her father. The bridesmaids group themselves on the left of the bride, the groomsmen on the right of the bridegroom, all in the rear of the principals.

The clergyman, who should be already in his place, at once begins the marriage ceremony.

When a ring is used, to avoid the long delay of drawing off the glove, brides now cut the finger of the one on the left hand, so that it can be slipped aside to allow the putting on of the ring; this is the routine almost in variably followed at church weddings.

The responses of the bride and bridegroom to the clergyman should be given clearly and distinctly, but not in too loud a tone. On the conclusion of the ceremony the newly-married couple and their attendants withdraw in much the same manner as on advancing, the bride now taking her husband's left arm.

The Wedding Breakfast.

The English fashion of a wedding-breakfast is now often followed in this country, the guests being specially invited a fortnight in advance. On such an occasion the gentlemen, on reaching the house, leave their hats in the hall; but the ladies do not remove their bonnets.

In going to the table, the bride and groom precede, then the bride's father with the groom's mother, the groom's father with the bride's mother, the best man with the first bridesmaid, the other bridesmaids with gentlemen selected as their escorts, and finally the remaining guests. The dishes usually provided are bouillon, salad, birds, oysters, ices, jellies, etc.

The health of the bride and groom is proposed, usually by the groom's father, and response is made by the father of the bride. The health of the bridesmaids may also be proposed; but the occasion is ordinarily more pleasurable if strict formality is dispensed with.

After remaining for an hour or two with the guests, the bride retires to change her wedding dress for a traveling costume. She is met by the groom in the hall, the necessary good wishes and kisses are exchanged, and the pair drive away, often followed by a shower of rice and slippers.

As regards the desideratum of wedding cake, it is no longer the fashion to send it ; but small boxes of it, neatly tied with white ribbon, are prepared, of which each guest may take one upon leaving the house, if desired.

What is above said -relates to the marriage of a maiden. In the case of the marriage of a widow certain changes in dress and ceremony are requisite. A widow must never be attended by bridesmaids, nor must she wear a veil or orange blossoms ; the proper dress at church is a colored silk and bonnet, pearl gray or some other delicate shade being preferable, though she is privileged to wear white if she desires. She should be accompanied by her father, brother, or some near friend.

A House Wedding.

A fashionable wedding at home calls into requisition the services of both florist and caterer; the former to decorate the rooms, the latter to furnish the marriage feast. A variety of floral devices may be employed, from the marriage bell and monogram to a bower of ferns large enough to receive the bride and bridegroom.

The part of the room to be occupied by the bridal party should be marked off by a white ribbon. After the clergyman has taken his place, the bride and groom enter together, followed by the mother, father, and other friends. Hassocks should be ready for the bridal pair to kneel upon, in case this is deemed necessary as a part of the ceremony.

Where money is lacking to defray the charges of florist and caterer, or in country localities where their assistance cannot be had, the loving hands of friends may decorate the rooms with foliage and blossoms, and the table be supplied with simple dishes such as the household means can furnish. Wedding-cake, light cakes, ices, and coffee arranged on a table prettily ornamented with flowers is a sufficient entertainment at a quiet home-wedding, and, let it be added; is in far better taste than a more ostentatious display which is beyond the means of the family, and leaves a burden of debt behind.

In fashionable circles, after the return of the bridal party the members of both families give a dinner in their honor, and the bridesmaids, if able to do so, give them some entertainment.

Brides sometimes announce, when sending out their wedding-cards, two or more reception days ; but they do not wear their wedding-dresses, though their toilettes may be as handsome as they desire. When invited to balls or dinners, however, the wedding-dress is perfectly appropriate for a bride to wear-of course without the wreath and veil.

Sending Cards.

In some circles the young couple send out cards with their wedding invitations, stating the day and hour they will receive callers after their return from their wedding tour. No one who has not received such a card should call upon a newly married couple. Such cards should be as simple and unostentatious as possible. Where they are sent out, the wedding journey must be terminated in time to allow the new couple to be at home at the time indicated for the reception of their visitors. Visitors should call punctually at the time appointed. In some places it is customary to offer the guests wedding-cake and wine. The mother, sister, or some intimate friend of the bride must assist her in receiv ing these calls. This rule is imperative.

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