Monday, June 4, 2012

The Victorian Wedding versus My Own Wedding

By Karen V. Wasylowski

Today is my wedding anniversary.  Richie and I have been married nineteen years, not very long considering our ages, but an astounding number to me.  It is absolutely frightening that so many years have sped by us - like the blink of an eye really.

We had a huge event, even though we were older than the average couple planning their first wedding ever.  I remember going to the Bridal Shop with my friend and the ten year old receptionist there asking me, "Mother of the Bride?"  I nearly bopped her on the head.

It was the first marriage for both of us and although I was prepared for a small ceremony, with me wearing an appropriate and tasteful suit and nifty Princess Beatrice like hat, my husband-to-be had his own ideas.

"I'm wearing a tuxedo."

"You can't wear a tuxedo.  I'm wearing an appropriate suit."

"What in the world is an 'appropriate' suit?"

"It is a suit appropriate for my advanced age and position in society."

"Well, you can wear an appropriate suit if you like but I'm wearing a tuxedo.  I'm only getting married once in my life and it's going to be in a tux."

After that it was all downhill.  White wedding gown and veil for me, tuxedo for him, four bridesmaids, four groomsmen, two hundred close friends and family, an orchestra, dancing til midnight...  It was one of the best parties I'd ever been to, before or since.

It was the happiest, most blessed, day of my life.

So today, I want to examine Victorian Weddings.  Within a 19th Century American etiquette book: "Our Deportment: or the Manners Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society" by John H. Young, A.M., F.B. Dickerson Publisher, 1882, is a section entitled "A Victorian Wedding".  Let's see how Richie and my wedding - a low key, slightly more modern wedding - compares.

"After the wedding invitations are issued, the fiancee does not appear in public."  

 On retrospect, I do suppose the entire "Chippendales" episode involving me, my bridesmaids and a pseudo cowboy called "Joltin' Jake" was a huge mistake.  Just kidding.  The girls and I were pretty tame.  We preferred pigging out on ice cream, frozen snickers bars, and old Robert Redford movies.

Queen Victoria

"The most approved Bridal costume for young ladies is of white silk, high corsage, a long wide veil of white tulle reaching to the feet, a wreath of maiden-blush roses with orange blossoms.  The orange blossoms are only suitable for the ceremony."

No problem there.  My gown was white and my veil was gorgeous.  I lost my shoes sometime during the reception, however, and found out later that my mother had taken them.  She had Alzheimer's and forgot where she put them while I was dancing.  I have nightmares of them being flushed down the toilet or being served to diners in the restaurant next door.  Both ideas are completely possible when your parent has dementia. Richie and I lived through crazier things than this until she passed three years later.

Victoria and Albert

"The bridegroom and ushers wear full morning dress, dark blue or black frock coats, or cut aways, light neckties and light trousers.  The bridegroom wears white gloves.  The ushers wear gloves of  some delicate color."

Not even remotely possible.  Although they all did wear their tuxes, a cattle prod would have been needed to get these fellows into delicate colored gloves.  In fact, they loaded a Confessional with bottles of champagne and kept slipping into the side booths, 'absolving' each other of their sins.  Within a half hour before the ceremony they were thoroughly sin free and foxed senseless.

"Ceremonials for entry into the church in the highest social circles in New York are as follows:  the bridesmaids, each leaning upon the arm of a groomsman, first pass up the aisle to the altar, the ladies going to the left, the gentlemen to the right. The groom follows with the bride's mother, or someone to represent her, leaning on his arm, whom he sets at a front pew on the left.  The bride follows, clinging on the arm of her father (or a near relative) who leads her to her groom."

Not very different from today, except for the groom bringing the bride's mother in - that seems odd.  Most grooms now are already wobbling at the front of the altar, waiting nervously, restrained by their best man, the words "Help Me" invariably chalked onto the bottom of their shoes.  In my case my brother walked me down the aisle since my father had passed away years before.  After two steps he began to stumble (he had knee surgery the WEEK before the ceremony - the rat).  I supported his weight for only one or two steps before he regained his footing.  I told him later I was prepared to drag him by the hair down that aisle.  Luckily I was spared that indignity.

Victoria's engagement ring - the first engagement ring ever made.  A snake was the symbol of eternal love, the emerald was her birthstone.

"A jeweled ring has been for many years the sign of betrothal but at present a plain gold circlet with the date of the engagement, is preferred.  It is removed at the altar by the groom, passed to the clergy man, and used in the ceremony.  A jeweled ring is placed upon her hand by the groom on the way home from the church, or as soon after the ceremony as convenient.  It stands guard over its precious fellow, and is a confirmation of the first promise."

Isn't that the sweetest sentiment?  I tried to convince Richie that matching earrings, bracelet and necklace were traditional also.  No, he didn't believe it either.

"The Bridal Tour
The honeymoon of repose, exempt from all claims of society, is now prescribed by the dictates of common sense and fashion, and the same arbiters unite in condemning the harassing bridal tour.  It is no longer de rigueur to maintain any secrecy as to their plans for travelling, when a newly married couple depart upon a tour."

My heavens, what in the world does that mean?  I remembered in "Oklahoma" the couple was chased out onto the roof - a shivaree they called it in the west.  Did people really terrorize couples like that in Victorian times?  

Richie and my version of 'harassment' was when about thirty of our friends showed up at the hotel the next morning, rousted us out of bed (we both had horrid hang-overs), overfed us at the buffet and dragged us home to open their gifts.  

As I said, it was the best day of my life.  

It was actually the very first day of my life.

I love you Richie.  Happy Anniversary.

Visit my other website,

And follow the link there to buy my book, 
a very funny and poignant continuation of Pride and Prejudice

"Darcy and Fitzwilliam:
A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer"

Coming soon - a sequel to my continuation of
Pride and Prejudice
(confused yet?)

"Darcy and Fitzwilliam:
Sons and Daughters"


  1. Absolutely lovely. Congratulations on your nineteen years together.

  2. Thank you Tarah. We are going to eat really good today. No diet!

  3. Karen, did you know? Calories don't count on your anniversary.

  4. I totally enjoyed this post. You even had me laughing at one point. Happy Anniversary!

    "It was actually the very first day of my life".....what a wonderful testament to the love you both share. :)

  5. Thank you Leah, what a sweet thing to say.

  6. Sounds like it was a wonderful wedding, happy anniversary, Karen!

  7. Elizabeth Gayle FellowsJune 8, 2012 at 9:16 PM

    A Very Happy Anniversary, That is wonderful... and the post is superb. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing. Thank you... The historical traditions of marriage are fascinating... and as one reads your posting, it is easy to see from whence we came with the beliefs and traditions that were strong in the past... I guess the way things were done makes us all who we are today...

  8. I smiled all the way through reading this lovely post! Thank you!

  9. I'm only getting married once in my life and it's going to be in a tux

    I'm glad he convinced you to do the big wedding! Thanks for sharing this sweet story.


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