For those of you who know me, you already know that I love weddings. Pretty dresses, free food and booze, and dancing? Yes please! Does this mean that I want to get married now? No! I can’t even buy groceries. Nor do I know what I want to do with my life, but I do enjoy stalking my classmate’s weddings. What can I say; I think I should have been a party planner. I love hearing about the engagement stories, seeing the beautiful dresses, and seeing the party take shape—will it be quirky? Rustic? Elegant? I will also admit, I enjoy hearing all these details and thinking what I would do differently. How I would make it better.
While I love the dresses, and obviously I love the atmosphere, and when I get married I want to have a nice party, I have to wonder: when did weddings become such a big industry? Royalty, of course, and to some extent the wealthy, always had big and expensive weddings, but the rise in mega-weddings for the average person fascinates me—especially when it’s a peer.
This past weekend, I went to the wedding of an old high school friend. A and I were close all through high school, carpooling to school and swim practice everyday once we got our driver’s licenses, and we often hung out on the weekends, but somewhere along the way, we fell apart. I didn’t expect an invite, nor did I get one, but this didn’t stop me from following her engagement and wedding planning. Facebook helped, but so did having friends in the bridal party. When a mutual friend of ours invited me to the wedding as his date, I leapt at the chance. Not only was I excited about this particular wedding, but also it was the first wedding of a friend. Granted, I attended the wedding of college acquaintances, but that was really because I was “dating” the groom’s roommate.
The fact that so many of my peers are getting married fascinates me, and I started thinking about the history of weddings. After doing some reading, I found some interesting factoids about staples of the modern wedding. Many of the items we deem traditional, actually spring from the Victorian times. It seems like a long time ago to us, but in the grand scheme of things, these “traditions” are infants.
Let’s begin with the white wedding dress. In the Victorian woman was seen as pure, innocent and angelic—represented by the virginal color white. Because of these ideals, white was already a popular color for women’s clothing. White was also chosen by Queen Victoria as the color of her wedding dress when she married Prince Albert. Previously, women wore their best dress, no matter what the color and often these dresses were a darker color, as they were more practical. An example of earlier wedding gown is found here. However, the rise of the middle class during the Victorian Era allowed women to imitate the wealthy, who were imitating the Queen and eventually white became the standard color for all brides. Regency gowns were also often a white or cream color, but lighter colors were popular for all formal gowns, especially amongst the wealthy.
Wedding rings, on the other hand, have been around much longer than the white wedding gown. In Roman times, and other past eras, men were the dominant figure in the relationship and the ring served as a branding of sorts. A woman with a ring on her finger was obviously taken. Some cultures in the Middle East even created complex puzzle rings that fell apart if taken off or attempted. In this way the husband could identify unfaithfulness or attempted infidelity.
Rings for the woman, no matter what the material is a common theme amongst cultures. The advent of wedding bands for the husband is a newer tradition. During World War II men began wearing wedding rings to remind themselves of their wives and families back home. From the 1940s the majority of men wear wedding rings as a sign of their unity. It wasn’t until I started this blog post that I realized that my dad does not wear a wedding ring. Since my parents are older, I wondered if my father’s lack of ring stems from my parent’s wedding era, or my dad’s line of work. Turns out (and if I had thought of this, it’d be obvious), metal on the fingers is not a good thing in my dad’s line of work–electrician.
While I think that my friend A’s wedding is traditional in many ways—a real preacher presided, the bride and groom gave traditional vows, prayer and hymns played a large role in the ceremony, the bride wore white etc.—it was also untraditional. The wedding party took pictures before the wedding, so obviously the groom saw the bride before she walked down the aisle, the father and the mother walked the bride down the aisle, and there was no bouquet toss or garter toss. Most importantly, in her traditional vows, A and her groom chose a set of pre-prescribed vows that did not include the phrase “obey,” for which I will always respect her. It reminds me of These Happy Golden Years when Laura Ingalls refused to tell Almonzo that she would obey him.
While A and I aren’t as close anymore, I wish her all the best. And I have to admit, I am a little jealous of her and my other married or engaged high school peers. Do I want marriage right now? No, I’m way too selfish, but I like the idea. I guess I’m a little lonely for the kind of companionship that my girlfriends can’t provide. Someone to tell a huge group of people, “no disrespect for all the beautiful people in the room, but I can honestly say that I am the luckiest guy in the world, and with the most beautiful woman.”
If you’d like to read more about the history of weddings check out: