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,by its lavish use of
fabric, signaled the end of post-war austerity .
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
The late 1940s -1950s Wedding
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 several decades.
- 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
- After the couple were pronounced married the groom
would be 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 then on.
- 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 typewriter.
- 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
- Usually an afternoon tea affair, the reception was
commonly held in the church hall.
- 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
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 comfortable
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