Vintage Weddings

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 wedding.

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 benchmark

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 church organ.
  • 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 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 the family.
  • 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 Reception

  • 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 festivities.
  • 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 comfortable with.

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