The growing popularity of “Vintage” weddings has
spawned a whole industry.
But what exactly does “Vintage” mean?
Well, strictly speaking the word is a term
applied to wine, so it is always accompanied by
the year in which the wine was made.
The meaning of the word was broadened when
antique dealers sought to differentiate between
a genuine antique (something at least 100 years
old) and furniture and other items made more
recently but old enough to be regarded to be
classic or back in fashion – which usually means
somewhere between 50 and 100 years old.
For weddings Vintage
largely means the
wedding will have the look and feel of the
1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and maybe the 1960s, with
the most popular being the 1950s, probably
because of the very flattering fashion
silhouette of the time, the full skirted, tiny
waisted silhouette introduced by Christian Dior
in 1947. The “New Look” that signaled the end of
post-war austerity by its lavish use of fabric.
As with furniture, theme weddings from older
periods in history are identified by the era –
so we have Edwardian, Victorian, Elizabethan,
and Mediaeval themed weddings, for example.
While, strictly speaking, a 1920s themed wedding
could be called Vintage, it is more commonly
referred to as a Roaring Twenties themed
In order to decide what aspects of the period
you want to feature in your wedding it is
necessary to understand how weddings were done
in the period. Change was slow, so understanding
the 1950s wedding serves as an excellent
The late 1940s -1950s Wedding Ceremony
- The ceremony would have been held in
church (unless you were divorced or for
other reasons the church would not marry
you), in which case the only alternative was
a Registry Office, which at that time really
was an office.
- The most popular time for a wedding was
2.30 pm on a Saturday afternoon.
- The bride’s gown was expected to be modest
– high neck and long sleeves, or short
sleeves and above elbow gloves – and the
only acceptable colour was white. Wear
anything else and you would be the subject
of gossip unless you were a widow marrying
again – and then you would dress as if you
were marrying in the Registry Office and
wear a suit in a pastel colour. While many
brides wore the ballerina length dress we
now associate with the era, most wore a
floor length gown.
- Under the gown you would be tightly
corseted - pointy boobs and no natural
curves showing, and definitely nothing
allowed to wobble.
- Almost invariably the bride wore plain
white satin pumps, and the bridesmaids wore
similar shoes dyed to match their gowns.
Flower girls wore satin ballet shoes.
- The bride would be driven to the church by
whomever in the family or circle of friends
had the best car. No hired limos. Definitely
no stretch limos. If no car was available a
taxi would be used.
- The bride would enter the church first, on
her father’s arm, followed by her
bridesmaid(s) and flower girl(s)
- There would basically be one choice of
music – Wagner’s Bridal March (Here Comes
the Bride) for the processional and the
Mendelssohn Bridal March for the
recessional. And it would be played on the
- The bride would be given away by her
father (Who gives this woman?)
- And she would be required to promise to
obey her husband (just accepted, not a
subject for discussion).
- Only the bride would receive a ring.
- The only ritual would be the ring exchange
- invented rituals such as the Unity Candle
or the Sand Ceremony wouldn't appear for
- The minister would deliver a sermon
heavily emphasising the expectation that the
bride would submit to her husband and be
lead by him as head of the family.
- After the couple were pronounced married
the groom would be given told “You may kiss
the bride”. At that point everyone
understood that, through marriage, he had
gained both conjugal rights (sex) and the
right to discipline his wife (“within
reason”, the maximum size of stick being
specified as to be no thicker than his
thumb). And that the bride no longer was
regarded to be employable by the public
sector or the majority of private sector
firms, so she would be staying home from
- Mothers had no role in the ceremony
(although the bride’s mother was regarded to
be the hostess for the occasion) and parents
would not be acknowledged in the ceremony.
- The marriage register and certificate
would be handwritten or signed using
whatever pen the church or registry office
provided. Usually a fountain pen but in the
later years may have been a ballpoint pen.
Definitely no feather pens! Very
occasionally the presentation certificate
might have been typed on a manual
- While a few photographs might have been
taken at the house or as the bride was
getting out of the car at the church, no
photographs would be taken during the
ceremony apart from, perhaps, a long shot of
the couple at the altar taken from the door.
There would be a short photo session on the
church steps and that would be that.
The late 1940s - 1950s Wedding Reception
- Usually an afternoon tea affair, the
reception was commonly held in the church
- Tea, coffee, finger sandwiches and small
cakes would be served, with champagne
supplied only for the toasts. Champagne in
saucer glasses, not flutes (aficianados call
this shape the champagne 'coupe’ . It has a
wide and shallow bowl and is the oldest type
of Champagne glass).
- Only men would speak – giving toasts and
responding to them, with the best man
reading real and fictional telegrams, some
at least mildly off-colour, designed to
embarrass the virgin bride.
- And dancing was not generally part of the
- The wedding cake would be on a silver
stand and would be in the English style,
rich fruit cake with Royal Icing (basically
icing sugar and egg white that set rock
hard). It was a challenge to cut!
- At the end of the reception (around 5-ish)
the bride would change into day clothes – a
suit or dress and jacket plus a hat – toss
the bouquet and together the couple would
drive off in a car that had been decorated
with just married signs and strings of tin
cans dragging on the road.
- Everyone else would go home with the
possible exception of the bridesmaids,
groomsmen and other “young” people who might
party on at a night club.
As you can see, there is an awful lot about the
weddings of the period and the underlying
attitudes of the time that no 21st century bride
would want to replicate.
Opting for clothing styles of the period, an
afternoon tea reception, and a ceremony that
follows the traditional format without any of
the gender-role stereotypes or obvious
inequalities (talk to me about this), can,
however, result in a lovely wedding with a
genuine 1950s feel that everyone will feel