The Victorian Wedding



To Victoria's Wedding Day

"When the celebrated Theodore Parker married Miss Cabot, he entered in his journal on his wedding day the subjoined resolutions, the keeping of which made a married life a happy one:
1. Never, except for the best of reasons, to oppose my wife's will.
2. To discharge all duties for her sake freely.
3. Never to scold.
4. Never to look cross at her.
5. Never to weary her with commands.

6. To promote her piety.
7. To bear her burdens.
8. To overlook her foibles.
9. To save, cherish, and forever defend her.
10. To remember her always most fervently in my prayers.
Thus, God willing, we shall be blessed."

From the circa 1878-1898 scrapbook of Lulu Soper Middleton
(author unknown)

"The Wedding Day has arrived, the most important event in a Victorian girl's life. It is the day her mother has prepared her for from the moment she was born. The Victorian girl knew no other ambition. She would marry, and she would marry well."

Transcribed from the original, Godey's Lady's Book, July 1855, pp. 29 32 by Hope Greenberg. 11/21/95.
 Copy freely as long as this notice is attached.


The Wedding

The Marriage Ceremony
Naming the Day
The Wedding Ensemble
The Grooms Attire
Attendants, Children and Family
General Rules
The Wedding Breakfast
Congratulations After
Sending Cards
Church Ceremony
Calling on the New Couple
Marriage Fees
Returning Wedding Visits
Leaving the Church
The New Home




Naming the Day

The wedding itself and the events leading up to the ceremony are steeped in ancient traditions still evident in Victorian customs. One of the first to influence a young girl is choosing the month and day of her wedding. June has always been the most popular month, for it is named after Juno, Roman goddess of marriage. She would bring prosperity and happiness to all who wed in her month. Practicality played a part in this logic also. If married in June, the bride was likely to birth her first child in Spring, allowing her enough time to recover before the fall harvest.

June also signified the end of Lent and the arrival of warmer weather. That meant it was time to remove winter clothing and partake in one's annual bath. April, November and December were favored also, so as not to conflict with peak farm work months. October was an auspicious month, signifying a bountiful harvest. May, however, was considered unlucky. "Marry in May and rue the day," an old proverb goes. But "Marry in September's shine, your living will be rich and fine."

In the Southern United Sates, April was favored, as it was less hot, and a bride's favorite flowers were in bloom--jasmine and camellia.

Brides were just as superstitious about days of the week. A popular rhyme goes:

Marry on Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Tuesday for crosses,
Friday for losses, and
Saturday for no luck at all.

The Sabbath day was out of the question.


The Wedding Ensemble

Once the bride chose her wedding day, a prerogative conferred upon her by the groom, she could begin planning her trousseau, the most important item of which was her wedding dress.

Brides have not always worn white for the marriage ceremony. In the 16th and 17th centuries for example, girls in their teens married in pale green, a sign of fertility. A mature girl in her twenties wore a brown dress, and older women even wore black. From early Saxon times to the 18th century, only poorer brides came to their wedding dressed in white--a public statement that she brought nothing with her to the marriage. Other brides wore their Sunday best.

Color of the gown was thought to influence one's future life.

White--chosen right
Blue--love will be true
Yellow--ashamed of her fellow
Red--wish herself dead
Black--wish herself back
Grey--travel far away
Pink--of you he'll always think
Green-ashamed to be seen

Ever since Queen Victoria wed in 1840, however, white has remained the traditional color for wedding gowns and bouquets. A woman then used her dress for Court Presentation after marriage, usually with a different bodice.

The early Victorian wedding dress had a fitted bodice, small waist, and full skirt (over hoops and petticoats.) It was made of organdy, tulle, lace, gauze, silk, linen or cashmere. The veil was a fine gauze, sheer cotton or lace. The reasonable cost of a wedding gown in 1850 was $500, according to Godey's, with $125 for a veil. By 1861, more elaborate gowns cost as much as $1500 if constructed with lace.

Formal weddings during this period were all white, including the bridesmaid's dresses and veils. Veils were attached to a coronet of flowers, usually orange blossoms for the bride and roses or other in-season flowers for the attendants. The bride's accessories included: short white kid gloves, hanky embroidered with her maiden name initials, silk stockings embroidered up the front, and flat shoes decorated with bows or ribbons at the instep.

The American Frontier bride of the 1850s and 60s usually chose cambric, wool or linen dresses in a variety of colors. Few wore white, as the dress was used later for special events and church. Many had a warm, colorful shawl in paisley or plaid which draped her shoulders at the wedding. The shawl was then used for christenings, social events and an extra blanket in winter. A warm shawl was more cherished than a wedding dress.

For the mid-Victorian bride (1870s) there was an emergence of middle class wealth, and with it a display of their new riches. Wedding gowns fashioned by Worth in Paris were the ultimate status symbol. And if one couldn't afford an original, one copied them. Full court trains were now part of the wedding ensemble, as were long veils, a bustle, elegant details and two bodices--a modest one for the wedding and a low one for special occasions.

The late Victorians (1890s) saw the bustle disappear, a demi-train and large sleeves now in fashion. If the bride married in church, the dress must have a train, with a veil of the same length. The veil could be lace or silk tulle. From the mid-Victorian era to the 1890s, the veil covered the bride's face and was not lifted until after church. The veil was not used as a shawl after the wedding any more, however. White kid gloves were long enough to tuck under the sleeves, and had a slit in one finger to slip the ring on without removing the glove. Slippers were of white kid, satin or brocade and the heels rose to one inch.

For the widow who remarried in the early and mid-Victorian eras, she did not wear white, had no bridesmaids, no veil and no orange blossoms, (a sign of purity.) She usually wore a pearl or lavender satin gown trimmed with ostrich feathers. In the later decades, she was allowed attendants as well as pages, but no veil or orange blossoms. She could wear a shade or two away from white, preferring rose, salmon, ivory or violet.

As for jewelry, diamonds have always been popular. When white dresses were in vogue, pearl and diamond combinations were fashionable. The mid-Victorians had a more extravagant display of wealth, often a diamond tiara for the ceremony. Combination pieces of diamond jewelry that could be separated later as individual pieces were popular. Traditionally, the jewelry worn by the bride was a gift from her husband. The earlier in the day the wedding, the less jewelry.

Finally, for the bride, you may recall the English rhyme: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence in your shoe." Something old was often a family heirloom and the bride's link with the past. Something new could be her dress or a gift from the groom. Something borrowed was of real value like a veil or headpiece, and returned to the owner. Something blue was often the garter or an embroidered handkerchief. The touch of blue symbolized faithfulness, while the sixpence ensured future wealth.


A Groom's Attire

The grooms, too, were concerned with fashion on their wedding day, and turned to magazines for advice on how best to be turned out. In the early Victorian era, the bridegroom wore a frock coat of blue, mulberry or claret, and a flower favor in his lapel. By 1865, men's coats were tailored with a special "flower-hole" for this purpose. His waistcoat was white, and his trousers of lavender doeskin. Black was out of the question. The best man and groomsmen wore frock coats also, but in a more subdued tone. The American frontier groom wore a flower on the lapel of his best suit, using whatever was in the bride's bouquet.

By the mid-Victorian era, frock coats were seldom worn, the morning coat being preferable because of its smarter appearance. Some grooms still wore frock coats, however, and did so with a vest of black cloth, dark gray trousers, a folded cravat of medium color, and lavender gloves stitched in black.

Fashions changed rapidly in the late Victorian years, from no need for gloves in 1885, to a must for gloves in 1886. By now, however, men wore pearl colored gloves with black embroidery. By 1899, the frock coat was back in style along with a double-breasted, light-colored waistcoat, dark tie, gray striped cashmere trousers, patent-leather button boots and pale tan kid gloves. Throughout the Victorian era, a black top hat was a necessity.

By the end of the Victorian era, boutonnieres were large--a bunch of lilies, a gardenia or stephanotis sprig. If the wedding was in the evening, as now allowed by English law, full dress tailcoats were in order, with white gloves and white waistcoat. The father of the bride dressed like the groom and groomsmen, and according to the time of day for the wedding.


Attendants, Children and Family

Gowns for the bridesmaids had to be both practical and beautiful, for they became a part of the girl's wardrobe after the ceremony. Some generous brides provided the dresses for their attendants. During the early Victorian years, skirts were full and bodices tiny. Tradition called for an all white wedding, but color could be added for an accent if the overall effect remained white. Bridesmaids covered their heads with short white veils falling from a coronet to just below the hip. Weddings at home did not require a veil, and often headpieces of flowers and ribbons were worn.

By the mid-Victorian era, bustles were the height of fashion. White was no longer the color, but was still worn at some weddings, often in combination with another color. By the 1890s, the Victorians were more willing to try innovative new fashions, closely following fashions from Paris. Large sleeves were in style, emphasizing the shoulders. Grey, violet and lilac were popular in England, while Americans preferred white, rose or green. By 1898, fashion dictated that the bridesmaids' dresses be in direct contrast to the bride's, so as not to distract from the beauty of her gown. That custom is still in practice today.

Children were a symbolic part of the Victorian wedding and had their own dress etiquette. Little girls could be flower girls or ring bearers. If older, they could be junior bridesmaids or maids of honor. Regardless of their role, their dresses were of white muslin tied with a ribbon sash that matched their shoes and stockings. The dresses were either long or short depending upon the prevailing styles and ages of the girls. The boys had the important role of holding the bride's train. They dressed as court pages in velvet jackets, short trousers and round linen collars fastened by large bows of white crepe de chine or surah. Their laced shoes were black, unless it was a formal wedding, in which case they wore white silk hose, and buckles on their shoes. Their velvet suits could be black, blue, green or red, with a matching hat, which was optional. The hat was removed for a church ceremony.

Social customs dictated what the mothers and female guests wore, also, the difference subtle yet present. At a daytime wedding, guests wore walking or visiting costumes. The mothers, and other female family members, wore reception toilettes, being more elegant than daytime costumes, but less formal than evening dress. All women had to wear bonnets in church, but they were optional for at-home ceremonies. Bonnets were not worn for evening receptions. In the late Victorian era, black was suggested as an appropriate color for the mother of the bride. These were never made of black crepe, however, which signified mourning. If the mother was in mourning, she could put aside her crepe for the ceremony and wear purple velvet or silk in America, or cardinal red in England. Queen Victoria, the mother figure at many weddings, always wore black and white because she was in mourning for her "dearest Albert.""

Everyone is finally primped and curled. It is time for the ceremony to begin!

From  Literary Liaisons, a place for readers and writers of historical romances to discuss and learn the craft of writing, and the pleasure in reading it.

Culture and Dress
of the Best American Society.

By Richard A. Wells, A.M.

King, Richardson &: Co., Publishers
Springfield, Mass.; Cincinnati; Sacramento; Dallas, Texas.
From the chapter on COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE:



The Marriage ceremony varies with the fortunes and wishes of those interested. In regard to the form of the rite, no specific directions are necessary; for those who are to be married by ministers, will study the form of their particular church - the Methodists their "Book of Discipline," the Episcopalians their "Book of Common Prayer," the Catholics their Ritual, etc., etc. In most cases a rehearsal of the ceremony is made in private, that the pair may the more perfectly understand the necessary forms. If the parties are to be wedded by a magistrate, the ceremony is almost nominal - it is a mere repetition of a vow. The Catholic and Episcopal forms have the most ceremony, and doubtless are the most impressive, though no more effectually marrying than the simplest form.







There are, however, some generally received rules which govern this momentous and interesting occasion, and to these we refer all interested.

When the wedding is not strictly in private, it is customary for bridesmaids and groomsmen to be chosen to assist in the duties of the occasion.

The bridesmaids should be younger than the bride, their dresses should be conformed to hers; they should not be any more expensive, though they are permitted more ornament. They are generally chosen of light, graceful material; flowers are the principal decoration.

The bride's dress is marked by simplicity. But few jewels or ornaments should be worn, and those should be the gift of the bridegroom or parents. A veil and garland are the distinguishing features of the dress.

The bridesmaids assist in dressing the bride, receiving the company, etc.; and, at the time of the ceremony, stand at her left side, the first bridesmaid holding the bouquet and gloves.

The groomsmen receive the clergyman, present him to the couple to be married, and support the bridegroom upon the right, during the ceremony.






If it is an evening wedding, at home immediately after "these twain are made one," they are congratulated: first by the relatives, then by the friends, receiving the good wishes of all; after which, they are at liberty to leave their formal position, and mingle with the company. The dresses, supper, etc., are usually more festive and gay than for a morning wedding and reception, where the friends stop for a few moments only, to congratulate the newly-married pair, taste the cake and wine and hurry away.







When the ceremony is performed in church, the bride enters at the left, with her father, mother, and bridesmaids; or, at all events, with a bridesmaid. The groom enters at the right, followed by his attendants. The parents stand behind, the attendants at either side.

The bride should be certain that her glove is readily removable; the groom, that the ring is where he can find it, to avoid delay and embarrassment.







When they leave the church, the newly-married couple walk arm-in-arm. They have usually a reception of a couple of hours at home, for their intimate friends, then a breakfast, then leave upon the 'bridal tour.'








A rich man may give the officiating clergyman any sum from five dollars to five hundred, according as his liberality dictates. A person of moderate means may give from five dollars to twenty.









On such festive occasions, all appear in their best attire, and assume their best manners. Peculiarities that pertain to past days, or have been unwarily adopted, should be guarded against; mysteries concerning knives, forks, and plates, or throwing 'an old shoe' after the bride, are highly reprehensible, and have long been exploded. Such practices may seem immaterial, but they are not so. Stranger guests often meet at a wedding breakfast; and the good breeding of the family may be somewhat compromised by neglect in small things.







If the lady appears at breakfast, which is certainly desirable, she occupies, with her husband, the center of the table, and sits by his side - her father and mother taking the top and bottom, and showing all honor to their guests. When the cake has been cut, and every one is helped - when, too, the health of the bride and bridegroom has been drunk, and every compliment and kind wish has been duly proffered and acknowledged - the bride, attended by her friends, withdraws; and when ready for her departure the newly-married couple start off on their wedding journey, generally about two or three o'clock, and the rest of the company shortly afterward take their leave.



In some circles it is customary to send cards almost immediately to friends and relations, mentioning at what time and hour the newly-married couple expect to be called upon. Some little inconvenience occasionally attends this custom, as young people may with to extend their wedding tour beyond the time first mentioned, or, if they go abroad, delays may unavoidably occur. It is therefore better to postpone sending cards, for a short time at least.


Fashions change continually with regard to wedding cards. A few years since they were highly ornamented, and fantastically tied together; now silver-edged cards are fashionable; but, unquestionably, the plainer and more unostentatious a wedding card, the more becoming and appropriate it will be.

No one to whom a wedding-card has not been sent ought to call upon a newly-married couple.







When the days named for seeing company arrive, remember to be punctual. Call, if possible, the first day, but neither before nor after the appointed hour. Wedding-cake and wine are handed round, of which every one partakes, and each expresses some kindly wish for the happiness of the newly-married couple.







Taking possession of their home by young people is always a joyous period. The depressing influence of a wedding breakfast, where often the hearts of many are sad, is not felt, and every one looks forward to years of prosperity and happiness.





Wedding visits must be returned during the course of a few days, and parties are generally made for the newly-married couple, which they are expected to return. This does not, however, necessarily entail much visiting; neither is it expected from young people, whose resources may be somewhat limited, or when the husband has to make his way in the world.








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Philadelphia, March 1850


We have before this been so explicit on the subject of trousseau, that little more need be said with regard to the beautiful and exquisitely tasteful plate which we give this month, than to describe the various parts of the different dresses.

Figure 1st.– A dress of satin, with flounces and double berthe of a light French lace, styled point d'applique. This is suitable only for a tall and stately woman. The bouquet de corsage and the wreath are of orange flowers; and the veil is simple tulle, set upon a small cap made to fit the head closely. It falls more fully about the figure in this way than in any other.

2d figure.– A rich robe of soie d'antique, a very heavy old–-fashioned silk. The richness of the material requires it to be make very plain; but it may be fully ornamented with natural flowers, as are here given. Full-blown white roses, with their foliage at the hem, and graduated in size to buds at the waist, which is finished by a finely-plaited chemisette fitting close to the throat. The veil falls low on the forehead, and is fastened back by bouquets of rose-buds at each side. This is decidedly, the most tasteful of the two, and better fitted for a short or slender figure. If there is any time in the life of a woman when her costume should be simple, it is at her bridal, although we know an opposite taste prevails. Everything that will impede freedom of movement or thought should be banished, and, above all, whatever would make her conscious of " how she was looking."

Some pretty bridal dresses, more simple than either of these, have been made by Miss Wharton this winter. One is a silver-spotted tulle over white satin, with a veil to correspond. It is novel, and has a pretty effect in the evening, with silva ornaments, such as we have before described.

Another tasteful robe was white crepe lisse over a slip of white silk. The skirt was caught up at one side by a delicate wreath, extending to the waist. White roses, orange flowers, or jessamine may be used for this. The crape skirt was bordered by two rows of narrow satin ribbon, with a purled edge, put on plainly, at a little distance from each other. The crape sleeves (over the silk ) were edged in the same way; the waist plain, low, and covered with the crape. Tulle veils, very full, are still worn more than any other. They are unexpensive, and always give a peculiar grace and delicacy to the face and figure of the wearer. Our lady readers will remember that, properly, the veil should never be worn after the ceremony; its significancy is lost after that interesting event.