Vintage wedding etiquette: What guests needed to know (1914)

Bride from 1914 having her picture taken with a Kodak camera

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

What to expect before, during and after a wedding

From the best man to the most remote acquaintance of the affianced couple, a wedding invitation brings to the recipient a certain sense of joyousness and pleasurable anticipation. The church wedding is, therefore, the most popular, as it admits of such a large circle of friends sharing in this important celebration.

New York wedding etiquette and bride from 1912

Wedding invitations and regrets

Invitations simply to the church ceremony do not require an answer. It is, however, a very nice courtesy to send a formal note of regret when it is impossible for the invited guest to attend. The wording of this note follows the wording of the engraved invitation as nearly as possible, and reads usually in this wise.

Mr Henry Girard
regrets his inability to accept
the kind invitation of
Mr and Mrs Edward Bowman
to the wedding of their daughter
on Saturday afternoon. December the
fifteenth, at four o’clock.

If the wedding is in a city church, an engraved card usually accompanies the invitation, stating the address of the church and the fact that it will gain the bearer admittance on the day of the ceremony. In the case of intimate acquaintances, the card also states the pew and aisle where the guest is to be seated. One card is sufficient for two people, but It should by no means be forgotten, as without it a guest may be debarred.

Before the wedding ceremony begins

Upon entering the church vestibule, guests are met by men friends of the bridegroom who stand waiting to assign seats. Should these ushers be engaged for the time being, guests wait for their return.

When one of the men presents himself, names should be given distinctly unless the admittance card bears the number of the pew to be occupied. The usher then offers his arm to a girl or woman, who rests her fingers lightly on it, and proceeds with him down the aisle, followed by her escort. Introductions at such a time are not necessary, and it is perfectly proper to exchange pleasantries. When a man is alone, the usher walks with him to the allotted pew.

A subdued chatter among the guests is usual until the strains of the wedding march begin, when the ushers start down the center aisle in procession, the audience rising simultaneously. As the bridal party makes its way to the chancel, the guests turn in their seats to face it and remain thus until the bride reaches the altar steps.

Bride from 1914 having her picture taken with a Kodak camera

Vintage wedding etiquette for the marriage ceremony

The marriage ceremony is so short now that everyone in the church remains standing, simply bowing heads during the few short prayers and at the benediction. As the bride passes out of the church, the audience turns again to match her progress. Once the bride and bridegroom are in their carriage, the ushers return to escort relatives of the family to the door, after which the remaining guests file out with greetings to those near them whom they may know.

When the ceremony alone is attended, a street suit or frock with hat and gloves comprises the proper costume for a woman, while for men, frock coat and tall hat or the regulation business suit is correct. At an evening wedding, full dress suits are essential for men, and light gowns with suitable headgear are worn by the feminine contingent.

Vintage wedding book - Something Old
The reception with friends and family of the bride & groom

If a card of invitation to the wedding reception accompanies the church invitation, or if the invitation is to the reception alone, a note of acceptance or regret should be sent at least a week before the appointed date. The acceptance to such an invitation should read as follows:

Mr Henry Girard
accepts with pleasure the kind invitation of
Mr and Mrs Edward Bowman
to the wedding of their daughter
on Saturday afternoon, December the
fifteenth, at four o’clock.

The envelope is addressed to Mr and Mrs Bowman and should be inscribed on white or cream paper of superior quality. When the reception follows directly after the ceremony, guests go at once to the bride’s home.

After removing wraps in a dressing room provided for that purpose, guests stand in line first to pay their respects to the mother and father who are stationed just inside the door of the reception room. They then pass on to shake hands with the bride and bridegroom and express simple wishes for a happy future. These greetings are very short. Where bridesmaids are in attendance, they speak with guests as they file past and direct them to the room where refreshments are served.

There is a general tendency to remain longer at wedding receptions than at any other formal function. If the house is not over-crowded, many stay until the bride takes her departure in her traveling frock.

MORE: Vintage wedding dresses for stylish brides from 1914

A word is always spoken with the mother and father before donning wraps. As guests pass through the front hall on their way out, two cards — one for each parent — are left on a silver tray near the outer door.

On the same stand are piled boxes containing wedding cake, one of which is to be taken by each person or presented by the butler or some other attendant, whose post is near the door. A short call within a fortnight is a necessary courtesy to the hostess after being entertained at the wedding reception.

Vintage wedding etiquette for the home wedding

Should the ceremony and reception take place in the bride’s home, guests should arrive at least fifteen minutes in advance of the hour set in the invitations. The outer wraps are removed, ladies retaining their hats in the daytime.

The guests gather in the large drawing-room downstairs, and just before the bride appears, two ushers stretch satin ribbons from end to end of the room, making an aisle, on either side of which the guests are grouped. All remain standing during the ceremony, and as soon as the clergyman leaves the room or steps among the guests to converse, each person makes his way to offer congratulations to the bridegroom and best wishes to the bride.

In the matter of presents, an invitation to the church alone does not demand an appreciation of this sort. It is, however, perfectly proper to send to the bride some unpretentious token of friendship. When a person is invited to the bride’s home, a wedding gift should be dispatched to the bride a week or two before the day of the ceremony, with the sender’s calling card enclosed.

Men who have known the bride intimately usually send some personal gift like a bit of jewelry, a fan or a dainty parasol. A friend of the bridegroom gives something in the way of home furnishings. Whatever it is, the present should be in keeping with the donner’s income, rather than his or her good wishes. Extravagant gifts from friends whom she knows cannot afford them bring to a bride more regret than joy.

New York wedding etiquette and bride from 1915

Vintage wedding etiquette: The duties of the maid of honor and the best man

The girl who is invited to serve as maid of honor consults the bride’s wishes in all matters of dress, though it has become quite general for the bride to furnish the entire outfit for the girl friend who waits on her. Other bridesmaids also have their wedding frocks made in accordance with a design selected by the bride. No jewelry is worn, save the necklace or another token of the occasion. Hats, gloves and shoes are occasionally furnished by the bride.

One rehearsal, at least is necessary before the wedding, and all bridesmaids, including the maid of honor, should not fail to be on hand.

At a church ceremony, the maid of honor follows the line of ushers up the center aisle, while the bridesmaids, walking in couples, bring up the rear. Then comes in bride on the arm of her father or some other relative. With the men, the bridesmaids form a semi-circle in front or the chancel rail, an even number of girl and men standing on each side of the bride.

Just before the ring is to be put on, the maid of honor steps forward, assists the bride to remove her glove from the left hand, and takes the bouquet from her to hold until the end of the ceremony. As soon as the benediction has been said, the bouquet is returned to the bride and the maid of honor lifts the veil from her face. Following the bride and bridegroom from the chancel, the maid of honor joins the best man in the procession down the aisle, the bridesmaids and ushers falling in behind.

New York wedding etiquette and bride from 1916

The duties of the best man are more complicated than those of the maid of honor. It is, therefore, well for the best man to familiarize himself with the wedding ceremony that he may be ready to prompt his friend, who is invariably the most nervous member of the bridal party.

With the ring in one of his vest pockets and the minister’s fee in the other, the best man follows the bridegroom, who in turn is led by the clergyman to the foot of the chancel steps. Immediately the signal is received in the vestry room that the bride is ready.

ALSO SEE: 17 wedding flower arrangements & bouquets (1916)

When the bridegroom turns to him during the ceremony, the best man should not fail to have the ring out of his pocket. After passings out to the vestibule with the procession and seeing the bride comfortably in her carriage, he returns at once to give the fee to the clergyman. His further duties at the reception, as well as those of the maid of honor, are to be watchful of the interests of the bride and bridegroom rather than of any of the guests.

It is very bad form for either of these assistants to become engrossed in their own pleasure until after the friends are safely out of the house and on their way.

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.