The marriage ceremony
Weddings are everywhere accompanied with some degree of ceremony, and are usually considered as occasions of festivity. The preliminaries having been arranged by the contracting parties, and the lady having named the happy day, preparations are made for the wedding.
Those who belong to the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches are usually married at Church, in the morning, and by the prescribed forms. In some cases, there is a wedding party given in the evening; in others, the happy couple make a short wedding tour, and issue cards of invitation on their return.
Among other denominations, the parties are married by a clergyman or magistrate; and in the state of New York, marriage being considered by the law only a civil contract, it may be witnessed by any person. Where a wedding is celebrated in the usual forms, cards of invitation are issued, at least a week beforehand. The hour selected is usually 8 o’clock, P. M. Wedding cake, wines, and other refreshments, are provided by the bride and her friends for the occasion.
The bride is usually dressed in pure white — she wears a white veil, and her head is crowned with a wreath of white flowers, usually artificial; and orange blossoms are preferred. She should wear no ornaments but such as her intended husband or her father may present her for the occasion — certainly no gift, if any such were retained, of any former sweetheart.
The bridesmaid or bridesmaids, if there be two, are generally younger than the bride, and should also be dressed in white, but more simply.
The bridegroom must be in full dress — that is, he must wear a dress coat, which, if he pleases, may be laced with white satin; a white vest, black pantaloons, and dress boots or pumps, with black silk stockings, and white kid gloves, and a white cravat. The bridegroom is attended by one or two groomsmen, who should be dressed in a similar manner.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen
It is the duty of the bridesmaids to assist in dressing the bride, and making the necessary preparations for the entertainment of the guests. The chief groomsman engages the clergyman or magistrate, and upon his arrival introduces him to the bride and bridegroom, and the friends of the parties.
The invited guests, upon their arrival, are received as at other parties, and after visiting the dressing rooms and arranging their toilets, they proceed to the room where the ceremony is to be performed.
In some cases, the marriage is performed before the arrival of the guests. When the hour for the ceremony has arrived, and all things are ready, the wedding party, consisting of the happy couple, with the bridesmaids and groomsmen, walk into the room arm in arm; the groomsmen each attending the bridesmaids, preceding the bride and bridegroom, and take their position at the head of the room, which is usually the end farthest from the entrance; the bride standing facing the assembly on the right of the bridegroom — the bridesmaids taking their position at her right, and the groomsmen at the left of the bridegroom.
The principal groomsman now formally introduces the clergyman or magistrate to the bride and bridegroom, and he proceeds to perform the marriage ceremony: if a ring is to be used, the bridegroom procures a plain gold one previously, taking some means to have it of the proper size.
After the ceremony
As soon as the ceremony is over, and the bridegroom has kissed the bride, the clergyman or magistrate shakes hands with the bride, saluting her by her newly-acquired name, as Mrs. _____ , and wishes them joy, prosperity and happiness: the groomsmen and bridesmaids then do the same; and then the principal groomsman brings to them the other persons in the room, commencing with the parents and relatives of the parties, the brides relatives having precedence, and ladies being accompanied by gentlemen.
In this manner all present are expected to make their salutations and congratulations, first to the newly married couple, and then to their parents and friends. And where the wedding ceremony has been performed before the arrival of the guests, they are received near the door, having of course first visited the dressing rooms, and introduced in the same manner.
The groomsman takes occasion before the clergyman or magistrate leaves, to privately thank him for his attendance, at the same time placing in his hand the marriage fee, which is wrapped up nicely in paper, and if more than the legal sum, as is frequently the case where the parties are wealthy, it is usually in gold. The bridegroom, of course, takes an early opportunity to reimburse his groomsman for necessary expenses.
When the presentations and congratulations are over, that is, when the guests have arrived, the bridal party, which till now has kept its position, mingles with the rest of the company, and joins in the dating or other amusements.
The bridal chamber
The festivities should not be kept up too late; and at the hour of retiring, the bride is to be conducted to the bridal chamber by the bridesmaids, who assist her in her night toilet. The bridegroom upon receiving notice will retire, without farther attendance or ceremony.
The practice of kissing the bride is not so common as formerly, and in regard to this, the taste of the bridegroom may be consulted, as the rest of the company follow the example of the groomsman; but the parents and very near relatives of the parties, of course act as affection prompts them.
The chamber frolics, such as the whole company visiting the bride and bridegroom after they are in bed, which was done some years ago, even at the marriage of monarchs, and the custom of throwing the stocking, etc., are almost universally dispensed with.
After marriage the bridal party usually travel for a week or two: upon their return, it is customary for the bride to be “at home” for a few days to receive visits. The first four weeks after marriage constitute the honeymoon.
You need not retain the whole of your previous acquaintance; those only to whom you send cards are, after marriage, considered in the circle of your visiting acquaintance.
The parents or friends of the bride usually send the cards to her connections; the bridegroom selects those persons among his former associates whom he wishes to retain as such. The cards are sometimes united by a silken cord, or white ribbon, to distinguish those of a newly married pair from ordinary visitors ; but it is doubtful whether it be in good taste.
A married lady may leave her own or her husband’s card in returning a visit; the latter only would be adopted as a resource in the event of her not having her own with her.
A lady will not say, “My husband,” except among intimates, in every other case she should address him by his Christian name, calling him Mr. It is equally good ton, when alone with him, to designate him by his Christian name.
Cobbett, in his “Advice to a Husband,” says,
“I never could see the sense of its being a piece of etiquette, a sort of mark of good breeding, to make it a rule that man and wife are not to sit side by side in a mixed company; that if a party walk out, the wife is to give her arm to some other than her husband; that if there be any other hand near, his is not to help to a seat or into a carriage.
I never could see the sense of this; but I have always seen the nonsense of it plainly enough; it is, in short, a piece of false refinement. It, being interpreted, means that so free are the parties from a liability to suspicion, that each man can safely trust his wife with another man, and each woman her husband with another woman.
But this piece of false refinement, like all others, overshoots its mark; it says too much; for it says that the parties have lewd thoughts in their minds.”
This is the sensible view taken of part of the etiquette of marriage, by a man of extreme practical sense.
Acquaintances after marriage
When a man marries, it is understood that all former acquaintanceship ends, unless he intimate a desire to renew it, by sending you his own and his wife’s card, if near, or by letter, if distant. If this be neglected, be sure no further intercourse is desired.
In the first place — A bachelor is seldom very particular in the choice of his companions. So long as he is amused, he will associate freely enough with those whose morals and habits would point them out as highly dangerous persons to introduce into the sanctity of domestic life.
Secondly — A married man has the tastes of another to consult; and the friend of the husband may not be equally acceptable to the wife.
Besides — Newly-married people may wish to limit the circle of their friends, from praiseworthy motives of economy.
When a man first “sets up” in the world, the burden of an extensive and indiscriminate acquaintance may be felt in various ways. Many have had cause to regret the weakness of mind which allowed them to plunge into a vortex of gaiety and expense they could ill afford, from which they have found it difficult to extricate themselves, and the effects of which have proved a serious evil to them in after-life.
When a man is about to be married, he usually gives a dinner to his bachelor friends; which is understood to be their congé, unless he chooses to renew their acquaintance.
>> Also see:
- How to win the favor of ladies (1850)
- The etiquette of marriage: Popping the question (1850)
- The etiquette of courtship: Love letters (1850)
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Source publication: Facts for the people, or Things worth knowing
Publication date: 1850
Notes: From the chapter "Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen" / The etiquette of courtship & marriage