Victorian Weddings: How To Get Married in the 1860s (and early 1870s)

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The following information is excerpted from the British book Cassell’s Household Guide,  published in 1869, and other sources as indicated.

From Les Modes parisiennes and Journal du Beau Monde, 1862. See plate description below.


WITH the peculiar sympathy which attracts two persons to unite their hands and hearts, and to take each other “for better or for worse,” the rules which govern social life have very little indeed to do. It is only in as far as outward observances may or may not influence the welfare of the devoted pair that it is necessary to observe the customs prescribed by the code of society. From the prominent position which every engaged couple occupies in the eyes of their immediate circle, little acts of inadvertence are liable to be judged with more severe criticism than, from their trivial nature, such acts would at other times excite. It is of no avail to protest against the right of one’s acquaintances to comment on matters that are purely personal; people will observe lovers with intense interest, and pass judgment on their conduct in a manner that no other situation in life warrants. The only mode by which to disarm officious meddling is in all outward forms to comply with the observances generally approved and practised by refined and educated people.

Beginning with the engagement of two young persons. In England greater freedom in the choice of a husband or wife exists than in any Continental society. Abroad parents generally choose for their children, and, as mutual affection and suitability of tastes are not always the chief considerations, it is not wonderful that very ill-assorted unions are frequently the consequence. In France, for instance, the amount of dower that a bride takes to her husband is considered a more important question than the amount of love or esteem she entertains for the object of her parents’ choice. Suitable partis are bespoke, so to speak, from their birth. Business connections and family interests are strengthened by such marriage ties, just in the same manner that a partner in a firm is considered more or less eligible on account of his capital or experience. Marriages of affection are not necessarily incompatible with marriages formed from interested motives, but mutual affection is not considered necessary as a starting point.

In England the contrary is the case. From the highest to the humblest sphere of life, English maidens, as a rule, enjoy very much greater freedom of choice in matrimony, and very rash and improvident matches are sometimes the result At the same time, the cases are few indeed when the bride-elect marries in open defiance of her parents’ wishes; a lasting and disappointed love is more often preserved when direct disapproval of a marriage is entertained by parents.

According to English custom, a gentleman generally ascertains the state of a lady’s feelings towards himself before he makes a positive declaration of his love. His proposal having been conditionally received, the lady usually refers him to her father or nearest relative for sanction of the union. If all preliminary statements are satisfactory, the young couple are considered engaged, without any further formality than the exchange of rings or some similar love token. If it should happen that delay arises before the engagement can be completely effected, it is not customary for the young people to meet in the interval. The lady in such cases usually pays a visit to distant friends, or in some manner contrives to absent herself from circles where she is likely to meet her admirer. All correspondence by letter is suspended, and, in fact, the lovers live towards each other as perfect strangers for the time.

The delays which most commonly arise in the acceptance of a suitor by a lady’s parents and guardians are those occasioned by marriage settlements and similar business transactions. It is a generally-recognised custom that, when a lady has a fortune, some portion of it should be settled on herself, for her own especial use and absolute benefit, leaving the interest which is derived from the principal of her fortune to the use of her husband. The principal is generally held under trust for the joint lives of the husband and wife, to be ultimately divided amongst the children (under trust or otherwise) that may issue from the marriage.

A lady who has a fortune at her own disposal sometimes sets all such prudential measures as settlements at defiance, and consigns herself and her belongings to the absolute disposal of her future husband. Believing, in the ardour of her affection, that no change from time or circumstances can ever alter the conduct of her devoted admirer towards herself, she resents every attempt on the part of friends to convince her of the necessity of any kind of self-protection. She is apt to infer that acts of prudence are simply acts of suspicion, and will not consent to any accordingly. That the latter course is sheer folly may be proved by every one not hopelessly under the influence of love-blindness. Far from misconstruing just measures, a really disinterested man is anxious that his bride-elect should receive every protection her guardians may judge necessary to her future welfare; at the same time it is only reasonable that the conditions imposed on himself should not be of too stringent a nature. Every man that marries undertakes a pecuniary liability, in the form of a wife, and should not be stripped of the means of meeting that liability. The higher in the social scale of society that observation is made, the more closely are honourable dealings apparent in the matter of marriage settlements.

There is, besides, another point of view from which to regard marriage settlements. Similar engagements are of an enduring nature, whatever may afterwards betide in the way of losses to the persons concerned: thus, if a man is not actually under a fiat of bankruptcy at the time of making a marriage settlement, the amount of money which he settles before marriage on his future wife is reserved to her use in the event of his afterwards becoming insolvent towards other creditors. The same rule applies to women. Under every circumstance, whatever amount may be agreed on for the benefit of either party, that amount is secured in perpetuity for the individual’s benefit. The instances are numberless in which the marriage settlement framed for a wife’s benefit—in the view, perhaps, of providing for her use mere pin-money —has been the sole income left to a family when, by unforeseen misfortune, the bulk of income from all other sources has disappeared. On this account alone, if for no other, ladies about to marry should suffer their natural guardians or nearest friends to act in accordance with the principles of prudence and common sense observed in other transactions of daily life.

Women that have no money escape, to a certain extent, many preliminary troubles of a business nature when forming a matrimonial engagement. There is one stipulation, however, which most sensible parents make when young persons without any but precarious means of living are about to be united, namely, Insurance. The man, as the bread-winner, is usually expected to insure his life before marriage, and to settle the amount of the insurance on his wife. Of course, it becomes a matter of honour and of means to keep up the payment of the insurance premium afterwards. ^Whenever it is possible, the parents of a young lady although herself penniless, should endeavour to obtain from her future husband the promise or settlement of a certain sum of money, however small, which she may call her own, and dispose of at will. Very few women, even when happily married, like to ask their husbands for trifling sums, or to give account of every farthing expended on their personal wants. Although not openly confessed, the restraint is galling, and embitters many lives. Nay, the need of a certain amount of pecuniary independence frequently leads to unpleasant results; and the bond of confidence once having been broken, it is impossible to limit the breach which may ensue. Money, we know, is not always at the root of all conjugal discords, but many owe their existence to that source alone.

The anxieties of business transactions being happily at an end, engaged couples are subject, in good society, to certain restraints which are almost if not equally irksome. Lovers do not usually bear in mind that the whole period of their engagement is a period of probation. They are mutually under trial. The opportunities of sharing each other’s company previously may have been few; in all that constitutes their habits of thought and living they may be totally ignorant ; and it by no means follows that, because an engagement has been entered into, marriage is certain to crown the intimacy. In no case does the old proverb, “many a slip between cup and lip,” hold good with such disappointing force as in projected marriages. The strict surveillance to which a maiden is during that time subject often constitutes the “rugged course” of which lovers so bitterly complain. For instance, no young lady who values her status in the eyes of society ever appears at theatres or other places of amusement alone with her lover, she is either attended by her mother, sister, or some other female chaperon. Neither should she frequent promenades and other places of general resort, without the companionship of a sister or friend. Retiring from a circle of friends in the same apartment, and whispering apart in conversation to each other, is also forbidden by every rule of good taste. A gentleman may pay particular attention to the lady he is about to marry, but at no time should his attentions be of a nature to excite smiles and comments on the part of others present. Whatever makes people look absurd is a violation of propriety, and should be scrupulously avoided. Lovers’ quarrels are a fertile topic, and are supposed to be inseparable from an engaged state. What do they arise from ?—generally from fickleness and jealousy. On the one side there is too much exaction, and on the ether too great a proneness to take offence. These disagreeable scenes might be’ avoided by two persons not imposing on each other unaccustomed restraints. If a lady, for example, objects to smoking, and a gentleman to seeing his future wife waltzing, an understanding should be arrived at from the commencement, and the rule observed, or not, as may be agreed. Also, engaged people should not consider that they can henceforward live only for each other, and confine all the amenities and attentions demanded by other members of society to their individual selves. Acts of courtesy and duty towards friends and relatives should not be suddenly relinquished in favour of one person only, and it is both unreasonable and unwise to expect such sacrifices. A state of life equivalent to warm and sincere friendship is the nearest approach to perfect happiness and decorum that engaged couples can aspire to.

Invitations to visit in society are generally given jointly to engaged persons ; but it is not considered good manners for either the lady or gentleman to refuse if the act of courtesy has not been extended to the other. In the case of a young lady being invited to the house of any of her future husband’s friends—she herself being a stranger— it is necessary that an invitation should be given to the mother or some female relative of the bride-elect also.

The escort of her lover is not, under the circumstances, considered sufficient.

In going to or from places, on business or pleasure, engaged people, if alone, should either walk or else use public conveyances—cabs and private carriages should be avoided. In walking in the streets or promenades, the engaged lady may take the left arm of the gentleman, but it is excessively vulgar and indecorous to clasp her hands on his arm, as is sometimes seen.

It frequently happens that two persons, who upon slight acquaintance appeared to be exactly suited to each other, discover, when intimate, that they have been mistaken. The engagement is then broken off. On such occasions the parent or nearest friend is usually appointed to see that all presents and correspondence are returned, an act which it should be a point of honour to carry out most scrupulously. The best mode of proceeding is for each person to seal with his or her own hand the letters each has received. With regard to presents, things that have been worn, such as slippers, and other fancy articles, should not be sent back; they should not, however, be worn any more. Jewellery, books, and articles of furniture, if any have been presented in view of the approaching marriage, should be returned.

The character of presents given to each other by an engaged couple, should be in strict accordance with their position in life and pecuniary means at disposal. Love should not be measured by the costliness of its tokens. A rich man may spend a little fortune on an engagement ring, whilst a poor man may only be able to afford a simple band of enchased gold, to be worn afterwards as a keeper to the wedding ring itself. There is no greater folly than making extravagance in present-giving before marriage a burden to be afterwards defrayed by stint of living and privation of necessaries. Expenses multiply enough in the ordinary course of things at the outset of housekeeping, without having to clear off obligations due to mistaken generosity. Brides that are to be propitiated only by such sacrifices are seldom found to front bravely the cares and unavoidable anxieties of real wedded life.

The absurd revelations which from time to time enliven the proceedings of certain law courts should be warning sufficient against engaged people indulging in the folly of extravagant language when writing to each other. The term “love-letter ” usually means downright nonsense, and is no proof of genuine affection. Plain truth and common sense are not at all incompatible with devotedness and warmth of feeling, and, if preserved, such letters call up no feeling of self-reproach in after life, which is more than can be said of many of the foolish epistles penned before marriage. ,

From The West-End Gazette of Gentlemen’s Fashion, 1867
 This Plate is especially designed to portray the appropriate costume for a wedding. If a customer is generally indifferent as regards his dress, he is sure to be particular and precise when selecting his wedding suit, and the tailor must show no sign of diffidence or ignorance of the correct thing to be worn, or else he loses his customer’s confidence at once. To proceed, then, the bridegroom’s coat should be of blue cloth with a velvet collar, edged with a fine silk cord, and plain buttons. The sleeves have cuffs with one or two buttons. Silk breast facings are quite out of date. The coat is cut short, has four holes in the lapel, two of which are in the turn; it rolls well open with a moderate sized turn, forming a nice front, such as our figure indicates. The skirt is cut as plain as is consistent with ease at the hip, without the disagreeable tendency to open behind. The curve of the side seams, width of back at bottom, &c., is shown very clearly on Fig. 2. Some gentlemen have preferred blue diagonal to cloth for their coat—this is perfectly consistent with good taste at present, as diagonals are so much worn, but blue cloth, we repeat, is the more generally worn, and therefore more correct. The waistcoat should be of white drill, or it may be of a neat fancy quilting, but white is generally preferred. It should be cut double breasted, with three holes and buttons. The trousers must be of angola, light in color, and neat in pattern, so as to appear cheerful and elegant. A soft grey or dove is usually selected, with a narrow line or a mixture, with or without a border. Pale lavender gloves and light blue tie complete the dress.
The groomsman may with propriety wear either a blue cloth or diagonal frock, but without a velvet collar; his vest may be either white or coloured; but his trousers and tie must not be quite so light and gay as the bridegroom’s. Morning coats are not worn on these occasions.

An elopement is the crowning act of folly which some over-ardent spirits are tempted to commit during the course of their probationary state. Far from such a step being proof of devotedness towards each other, it is an act of unmitigated imprudence, and utter selfishness. A young lady who consents to such a proposal virtually throws on her right to the love and protection of her parents throughout her subsequent career, neither does she ensure the lasting respect of her husband. Except in very rare instances, such a course renders him mistrustful of his wife’s constancy. The step is the last he would be inclined to sanction in a child of his own, and should, therefore, be the furthest from his wish to instigate.

The length of a matrimonial engagement depends entirely on the personal convenience and inclination of the engaged couple. Hasty marriages are seldom a wise step ; on the other hand, a long period of courtship affords no guarantee of more perfect happiness in the married state. People who think that by an unusually long engagement they shall be enabled to ” know each other better,” are just as liable to be deceived as those who consider that the intimacy of a few weeks is sufficient. However long an engagement may last, the couple usually endeavour to make themselves as pleasing as possible; therefore, not so much the conduct of engaged people during their courtship is the true test of a disposition as the character generally displayed beforehand. Between persons who have been intimately acquainted for years, less concealment of the real temper is likely to occur. It is when strangers meet, in unfamiliar circles, that there is danger of overhasty marriages being a source of ultimate repentance. Twelve months’ engagement is considered by most people in the middle circles of society quite long enough.

It is the lady’s privilege to fix the wedding day. When it is generally known amongst friends that the marriage is speedily to come off, presents are mostly the result. The nature of presents depends very much upon the style of living the young couple are about to adopt. The widest latitude is allowed in the matter, but generally something of a lasting and useful description is best approved. Plate is always presentable, so are linen, lace, and articles of furniture, musical instruments, carriages, &c. The least acceptable gifts are those which require an amount of expense and trouble to maintain them in order. Fragile articles, also, are not well adapted for wedding-presents. Some people are very fond of giving costly table-ornaments, or sets of choice china and glass. When one article of such sets is by accident broken, the companion pieces are comparatively valueless, and the replacement, which, out of compliment to the donor, is generally thought necessary, is a tax on the purse of the recipient.

Very intimate friends and relatives may ascertain the wishes of the future bride or bridegroom as to the form which the proposed present shall assume; and it may be also mentioned that gifts of money are not out of season when a wedding is in question. Of course, money-presents would only be bestowed by one who was the superior in age and circumstances to the bride or bridegroom elect.

In England it is not de rigueur that the affianced bride should provide any article towards house-furnishing; still, many ladies like to add something to the joint stock, and in such cases household linen is generally the favourite object.

Elegant additions to the wardrobe of the bride are very popular as presents. Even in the most affluent circles, presents of shawls, furs, silks and velvets in the piece, are in accordance with good taste. The above should be of perhaps a more costly nature than the bride would purchase at her own expense, but should be such as she can wear with propriety in whatever station of life it may be her lot to fill.

In France, when means are ample, the bridegroom’s wedding gift to the bride is chiefly composed of expensive articles of attire, including jewellery, &c. In England the bridegroom is not expected to contribute anything to his future wife’s wardrobe. That task rests with her parents, provided she has no fortune of her own. In selecting her wardrobe, or trousseau, as the term is, a bride’s taste should be guided exclusively by common sense to choose only such articles of apparel as befit her position in society. To be meanly clad would reflect discredit on her husband, whilst to be over-dressed would be ridiculous. Good, durable materials, genuine of their kind, whether of one description or another, should-be the chief aim. Cotton velvets, “faced” silks and satins, imitation lace, cheap jewellery resplendent with false stones, gaudy feathers, flimsy streamers, thin, showy boots, outrageously fashionable chignons and bonnets, should be avoided, as so many signs of a frivolous ill-regulated mind. A bride cannot well have too much good body linen—garments of the kind suffering little from change of fashion—and she should have at least twelve months’ outfit of clothes for outward wear. It is not advisable to have all die dresses made up, as many circumstances may tend to render them unwearable at the appropriate season. Changes from ill—health, death, and fashion, may intervene to render a good | wardrobe in a very little time really useless.

Shortly before the wedding-day the bride should pay complimentary visits to her friends. The morning is the best time for calling on such occasions. The bridegroomelect generally receives his friends in a less formal manner. His especial adieu to his intimate acquaintances is made at a supper party or some entertainment of the kind.

WEDDINGS, WEDDING-BREAKFASTS, ETC It is customary for the bridal breakfast to be given at the house of the bride’s parents, and the cost is defrayed by them. If the house is not large enough for the purpose, or any other objections exist, it is not unusual for the breakfast to be given at some hotel that has a connection for similar entertainments, and where as much seclusion is enjoyed as attends meetings of the kind in private life. The Crystal Palace, for example, has become quite a favourite place of resort for bridal parties, where, in the beautiful suites of rooms newly decorated in the south wing, the appointments usual in a well-conducted establishment arc scrupulously observed and carried out. The order for similar entertainments should be given some time previously, and the number of guests specified. The rate at which the contract will be taken should be expressly understood. Having made all necessary arrangements, the host and hostess should refrain from alterations, either in the number of the party, or the description of wines, viands, &c. It is in these heedless changes that disputable charges are liable to be made, converting what otherwise might have been an occasion of unalloyed pleasure into a source of unpleasant reminiscence.

Having decided on placing the management of the breakfast in the hands of competent professional purveyors, the host and hostess need have no personal trouble in the matter. All that is usual to be done on such occasions will be done, and the latest rules observed in the various details subject to the dictates of fashion.

Concerning wedding-breakfasts in private houses, some practical suggestions may not be unnecessary.

Immediately on leaving the vestry, the bride and bridegroom repair to the residence of the bride’s parents, or wherever the breakfast may be appointed to take place. In the drawing-room are usually displayed the presents the young couple have received. This fashion is of questionable taste ; but, being in vogue, the practice cannot be dismissed without a word of comment. Some people carry the display to the extent of announcing the names of the donors of the respective gifts by having written cards affixed; or by placing the ordinary visiting-card of the donor, or the letter that may have accompanied the present by the side of the offering. Some little time is usually passed by the guests in inspecting the presents and bestowing their congratulations on the bride and bridegroom. If, however, any period of time longer than half an hour should be required to elapse before descending to breakfast, biscuits, tea, coffee, and (if in the summer) ices should be handed round to the company.

The precise time at which breakfast is to take place, as also the hour for solemnising the marriage, and the name of the church, should be written on the card of invitation. The following is the usual form of invitation :—

Mr. and Mrs. _______ request the pleasure of __________’s company at breakfast on ________, at ______o’clock.

St,___________’s Church, at __________o’clock.

The blanks should of course be filled in with the names, dates, &c. The address of the intended host and hostess should be written on the top of the paper.

People who wish only to go to the breakfast may please themselves without any offence being taken—religious faith and practice being beyond the control of ceremonious social observances. Many members of Protestant denominations object to entering a Roman Catholic church, but would be glad, nevertheless, to offer their congratulations in person at a breakfast; to such, the course is quite open.

The hour at which the breakfast takes place is generally regulated by the departure of the bride and bridegroom for the wedding-tour. It is the custom for the bride to leave the table to exchange her bridal costume for a travelling suit, and not to return to her friends’ company. The earlier the departure the better, it is considered, according to present etiquette.

The order of arranging a wedding-breakfast is as follows :—Everything must be bright, clean, and in good taste. As many flowers as can be conveniently used— not to the detriment of the guests’ comfort at table —should be introduced. Flowers may abound everywhere. Tea and coffee should be served from a sidetable, and, if required, should be handed to the guests in teacups, leaving milk and sugar to be added to taste. On the table everything intended to constitute the repast should be spread at once. No changes occur at weddingbreakfasts. The only additions not on the table are ice pudding, which should be handed round towards the end of the meal. The favourite viands for wedding-breakfasts are such as are in vogue at first-rate ball-suppers; viz., cold joints, poultry, game, lobster salads, ham, tongues, savoury patties, jellies, creams, fruit, &c. &c.

The wedding-cake is an important feature at a wedding breakfast, and should be placed opposite the bride. At that stage of the repast when the appetite for solid fare has been satisfied on the part of the guests, the principal attendant presents a dinner knife to the bride, requesting her to cut the cake. If the cake be large and thickly iced, this is a task of no slight difficulty, and the bride’s task is considered ended by simply placing the knife in the centre of the cake. The servant then removes the cake from the table, and finishes the work, cutting the cake into pieces about two inches square, and presenting them on a separate plate, accompanied by a small fork, to each guest.

The handing round of the cake, as in everything else connected with the service of the table, commences with the bride. She is throughout the most honoured guest, and is served first, although at her father’s table.

Cake having been offered to every one, the business of toasts begins. This is a very tedious and unsatisfactory affair generally to every one concerned, and it is to be wished that considerable restrictions were enforced in the matter. As things stand, the usual plan is for the oldest friend of the family to propose the health of the bride and bridegroom. If he is sensible and considerate, he will not suffer the enthusiasm of the moment to inspire him with extravagant praise of the fair bride, such compliments being received by the most indulgent of friends at the precise value of their worth; allowing a bride is more interesting on her wedding-day than at any other period of her life, that should be no reason for lavishing on her eulogiums unwarranted by common sense.

In return for the above health, the bridegroom rises and tenders his thanks for the honour done. A very few well-spoken words are sufficient for this purpose, no one expecting him to make a speech upon the now so personal a matter as the excellent qualities of his wife.

Some friend on intimate terms with the family then proposes the health of the parents of the bride, to which the father, or his representative, returns thanks. A similar compliment is then paid to the parents of the bridegroom, with the same response, from the oldest friend on their side.

The clergyman’s health, if he be present, is then proposed and responded to. Finally, the health of the bridesmaids is proposed, generally by some familiar friend, a married man. The honour of returning thanks for this toast is reserved for the ” best man,” the bridegroom’s friend.

From The London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion, 1866

The final toast having been honoured is the signal for the ladies to retire, the bride leading the way. During the progress of the toasts, a very pretty occupation properly falls to the lot of the first bridesmaid, and as it is one which is conducive to a good deal of well-timed complimentary attention, should not be suffered to fall into oblivion. The task alluded to is the distribution of the bride’s bouquet, as wedding-favours, to the assembled guests. These favours, being considered of particularly fortunate omen, are much valued. The bride having selected the flower she wishes especially to preserve as a remembrance of her wedding-day, passes the bouquet to the first bridesmaid, who forthwith begins to loosen the flowers and distribute them quietly to the assembled guests. Every one present should have a flower of some kind given. Of course the privilege of selection is reserved to the bridesmaid, and she does not give the worst to the most esteemed friend present.

The departure of the bride and bridegroom should be arranged to take place without unnecessary delay, immediately after their leaving the breakfast-table. Parents and friends wishing to take a particular and tender farewell generally contrive to enjoy a few minutes’ privacy, no emotion or visible depth of feeling being considered appropriate in a scene of festive enjoyment. All agitation of the kind is very disturbing to every one, and if sincerely felt is best concealed, or indulged in out of sight of less sensitive observers. Every one can understand that parents are moved to the heart at parting with a cherished son or daughter, but it is not necessary to excite undue comment on such an occasion as a marriage.

Directly the bride and bridegroom have left, the general company are expected to disperse. Their carriages should be waiting, ready to be called immediately after the departure of the bridal pair. It is not unusual for the bride’s parents to receive a larger number of friends than could have been accommodated at breakfast, to celebrate the event in the evening. The ordinary evening party is certainly the most suitable form of entertainment. Sometimes the family and most intimate friends go to some place of amusement for the rest of the day.

Marriages if performed by licence, must be solemnised in either parish wherein one of the persons has been for the preceding fortnight resident. The church where the marriage ceremony is to take place must be named in the licence. The parties themselves are not obliged to take out the licence personally, provided that whoever undertakes the office takes oath that both the bride and bridegroom elect are of full age, and, if minors, have the consent of their parents and guardians. Marriage licences may be taken out at the proper office at Doctors’ Commons. The cost is £2 2s. 6d. Special licences differ from the ordinary licence in permitting the parties to be married at any place not named, and at an hour different from that which is otherwise compulsory. Marriages, without a special licence, can only be solemnised between the hours of eight o’clock and twelve in the forenoon of the day.

When a licence is not obtained, the banns must be published on three successive Sundays by the officiating clergymen of the parishes where the persons reside. The banns are generally read after the second lesson in the morning service. Any person knowing of an impediment to such marriages is bound to disclose it. The declaration may be made privately to the clergyman in the vestry. The marriage must be solemnised in one of the parishes where the banns were published, and the clergyman officiating at the ceremony must be furnished with a certificate of the publication of the banns in the other parish.

Nearly all dissenting places of worship are licensed for the celebration of marriages; but it is necessary that the registrar of the district should be present. Marriage, without any religious ceremony, at the registrar’s office, is legal, and comparatively inexpensive, the fees being small and fixed : but the great majority of persons consider marriage a religious as well as a civil contract.

[Susanna’s note: If you want the specifics of English marriage law in the Victorian era, try this awesome resource the fabulous Nancy Mayer sent me: The marriage law of England: a practical guide to the legal requirements connected with the preliminary formalities, solemnization, and registration of the matrimonial contract : with an appendix of statutes, etc, published in 1873

The number of bridesmaids chosen to attend the bride to the altar depends on the style of the wedding. If it is intended to be a very gay and brilliant affair, any number from four to six or eight bridesmaids would be appropriate. If only a quiet wedding, two bridesmaids are sufficient. In the latter case it is considered complimentary to invite an unmarried sister of both bride and bridegroom to discharge the office. The principal bridesmaid is generally either a sister or a very intimate young friend of the bride. If many bridesmaids are to constitute the bridal cortege, and there be young children on either side of the family, their presence is sometimes considered an ornamental and appropriate addition to the group. In village weddings, amongst the upper classes, little children are often chosen to scatter flowers along the path of the bride as she leaves the church.

It is usual for the bridegroom to present each bridesmaid with some token of the joint regard of himself and bride, in memory of the happy event. Lockets, rings, and bracelets are the most popular emblems of the kind. Of late years, crystal lockets, set with a few plain stones, as turquoise, &c, have been in favour as bridesmaids’ gifts. All should be alike, and no difference of cost entailed. The bridegroom gives a bouquet to each bridesmaid, even if he does not present any gift beyond.

Bridesmaids’ bouquets are composed of coloured flowers of the season. The bride’s bouquet, which is also the gift of the bridegroom, should be composed exclusively of pure white flowers.

Beyond the gifts described, the bridegroom has no expenses whateverto incur in connection with the wedding. The bridesmaids’ dresses are purchased at their own cost.

COSTUMES FOR A BRIDAL from The Ladies’ Treasury and Treasury of Literature, 1870
Bridal dress of white gros-grain silk, trimmed with two flounces of Brussels lace, the upper flounce simulating a court train. Sash of grosgrain silk ribbon, the ends terminated with Brussels lace. Veil of white tulle. Head-dress of orange-flower buds. Shoes of white silk, with rosettes of orange-flower buds, and grosgrain ribbon.
Bridesmaid’s dress.—Petticoat of white tarlatan, with nine flounces of gauffred tarlatan. Tunic of white tarlatan, over a jacket bodice of pink silk. The gauffred border of the tunic and jacket is laid over pink gros-grain ribbon. The petticoat is trained, and the tunic very much bunched at the back. Head-dress of pink and white sweet peas. A bunch of the same flowers fastens the collarette of the chemisette.
Young Lady’s Wedding Breakfast Costume.— Tunic and bodice of bright lilac silk. The latter is cut very low in front and at the back, and is encircled with a row of three shades of lilac leaves, pinked out. The chemisette, of net and lace insertion, is high at the back, but square and somewhat low in the front. A row of pinked leaves simulates a semicircular apron in front. The tunic is bordered with the same trimming, and looped on each side of the centre of the back, which slightly bunches it. The petticoat of finest white alpaca, with three rows of lilac coloured pinked leaves, each row being of a different tint.
Hair bound with a hand and bow of lilac velvet.
Lady’s Morning Costume for a Wedding.— Robe and tunic of pearl-grey silk. The flounces of pale pink silk. Trimming, sash, and bows of pale pink glad ribbon. Collarette and cuft of Valenciennes lace.
Child’s dress.—Tunic of green silk, trimmed with quillings of the same. The tunic is made of three breadths of silk, each sloped at the top; the front breadth forms a semicircular apron. Petticoat, or under dress, with bodice and sleeves of white alpaca; the two flounces are corded with green silk ; very narrow green velvet stripes the bodice back and front. Green silk boots. Band and bow of green velvet in the hair.

The selection of the bridesmaids’ dresses rests with the bride. Her taste is generally guided in the matter by the pecuniary circumstances of the parents of the bridesmaids, since upon the latter the expense necessarily falls. Silks are not considered appropriate for bridesmaids’ wear, unless the wearers be past the bloom of youth. Grenadine is a favourite material, but its expensiveness causes it to be little worn except by the wealthy classes. Plain white muslin or tarlatan are the most appropriate, least costly, and generally becoming dresses worn by bridesmaids. Endless varieties of trimmings maybe called into use, to vary the costume according to the fashion of the day and season of the year.

Veils are now so generally worn that very few words need be said in their favour. The rule to be observed is whether the bride wears a bonnet or veil, because the bridesmaids invariably follow her example. Veils are both inexpensive and becoming to a young girl, hence their general acceptance by bridesmaids. The veil worn by the bride should cover her face; those worn by the bridesmaids should be fastened at the back of the head, and only fall over the back and shoulders. A coloured wreath of flowers, or bows composed of ribbon to match the trimmings of the dress, completes the head-dress of the bridesmaids. Bridesmaids’ veils may be composed of plain tulle, unhemmed, or very soft silk gauze. The bride’s veil, if composed of either of the above materials, should be finished with a hem about one inch and a half wide, edged or not with blonde or lace, as may be chosen; lace, however, is generally in favour for brides’ wear; and the veil thus chosen forms a useful addition to her wardrobe as a shawl afterwards.

The material of the bride’s dress is liable to vary with change of fashion, but white is the usual shade. Elderly people and widows generally wear silver-grey, but young people should wear white. From the plain muslin to the richest moire the range of choice may extend. Low bodices are not in much favour for a bride’s dress; the more becoming fashion of high-necked and longsleeved costume is daily gaining ground. In strictly private weddings greater latitude of choice exists.

If people have carriages of their own, the question of conveyance to church is easily settled. If they are not so situated, the bride’s family finds the carriage for the bridesmaids and bride, and the bridegroom finds his own. The carriage which conveys the bridegroom to church is used to convey the bride with himself home to breakfast. Grey horses are generally chosen for bridal occasions. Liverymen usually charge extra for wedding-parties, and it is sometimes found more advantageous to hire the required conveyance for the day instead of for the ceremony only.

In going to church, the bride, with her parents and one bridesmaid, should go in the same carriage, the other bridesmaids having preceded her by some few minutes. The bridegroom goes to the church attended by his “best man,” and should be in the vestry some little time before the arrival of the bride. When all the party has assembled, and the officiating clergyman has taken his place at the altar, the wedding-party instantly approach the altar, the bride on her father’s arm, or on that of his representative, and the bridesmaids, with the rest of the party, following. Immediately on the clergyman leaving the vestry, the bridegroom, attended by his best man, should follow to the altar, in order to be there somewhat before the bride. The bride takes her place at the altar to the left of the bridegroom, with her first bridesmaid within reach at her back, and to her she consigns her left-hand glove and bouquet during the ceremony. The bridegroom removes the glove of his right hand. Some clergymen require the bride to raise her veil during the ceremony at the altar, and it is better not to dispute the point.

On leaving the altar the bride takes the left arm of the bridegroom, and proceeds to the vestry. The signing of the register takes place in the vestry, and is usually witnessed by the bridesmaids and others desirous of signing.

The amount of fees paid to the officiating clergyman, clerk, and others is decided rather by the social status of the principal persons than by legal rights. Some people pay the exact fees, and nothing beyond, others give more. The legal fees vary according to the diocese, and should be ascertained beforehand. A copy of the register should always be taken by the bride, for which the usual fee given is half-a-crown extra. All fees and charges are paid by the bridegroom’s best man, from money supplied by the bridegroom for the purpose.

In returning from church the bride and bridegroom go unaccompanied in the bridegroom’s carriage. They are the first to leave the church. The rest of the party follows in the best order possible, under the confusion which generally ensues in leaving church after a grand wedding.

Wedding favours are found by the bride’s family, and are distributed in the vestry immediately after the ceremony. The coachmen and servants are supplied with favours outside the church during the progress of the service.

The final duty of the first bridesmaid consists in sending cards to friends of the wedded couple. The cards should be previously enclosed in envelopes and addressed. Elaborate cards, attached with silver cord and similar bridal associations, are out of fashion. Either a card is sent, bearing the name of both bride and bridegroom on one card; or two cards, with the address of the joint residence on the card of the bride only. Of late years the custom of sending cards has been generally discontinued, and when such is the case, the advertisement inserted in the public journals announcing the marriage conveys the notice of ” No cards.” The reason is, that certain people may not take offence at not receiving cards.

As a general rule, all persons invited to the wedding breakfast, when no cards are sent, call at the residence of the bride and bridegroom immediately on their return home from the wedding-tour. If a wedding is designed to be of a quiet nature, without breakfast, the parents of the young couple sometimes send invitations to the church only. The latter is a French fashion that is coming into vogue in England, and is found sufficient notification of good feeling towards old friends and acquaintances. All persons receiving such an invitation are expected to call on the young couple on their return home. Such calls are of course returned, in the order observed in visiting, generally.

Formal “At homes” after marriage are now almost dispensed with. The most simple and generally observed plan is for the bride, or her representative, to inscribe in her own handwriting, on the card, “At home after , filling in the blank with the date. The ceremony of calling is then observed just as any other morning call might take place.

A succession of entertainments generally follows upon the marriage of a young couple. At all these the bride takes precedence over ladies of superior age and station to herself. Thus, the bride would be escorted to the dinner-table by the host, and the next most distinguished lady present would be assigned to the bridegroom’s care.

When the round of visiting, entertainments, &c, is at an end, it becomes the turn of the young couple to receive their friends at home.

See also Victorian Wedding Etiquette in 1852

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