Before a wedding could take place, a courtship began. Between the months of April and July, new couples would start off their courtship under the watchful eye of a chaperone, usually a female family member. The couple would meet together, but only speak and perhaps share a walk on a sunny day. When the courtship was successful, an engagement followed which lasted between 6 months and 2 years. This stark contrast to modern dating was meant strictly as a predecessor to an impending marriage that would eventually happen. After all of the formalities were completed, wedding planning could commence!
The phrase “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” applied in the Victorian Era, and maybe even more so than today. In addition to wearing jewelry, mostly which was a gift from her now husband, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for the Victorian bride to wear a dazzling tiara depending on the family’s financial status. Gorgeous gemstones also became more and more popular in this era. Rings in gold and silver with intricate bands containing elaborate designs sometimes featuring animals like snakes were popular among those who could afford them. Similar to today in western culture, the more jewelry one owned, and the better the quality, the higher one's social status.
The bride pictured below on the left is wearing a white gown, however it is still laced with red, flowery vines. Color combinations such as white with a pop of red flowers or lace were popular in the Victorian Era, and could even be seen as a prediction on what was to come for the wedding dresses we see today. Much like the bride in the photo below, it is a trend to add floral patterns or lace to the wedding dress today.
In her memoir Back With The Tide, Ellen Bellamy remembers the family celebrating the wedding of 2 cousins in the mansion. She describes this saying, “I can remember how beautiful everything was, especially the long table set in the dining room laden with everything conceivably good!" (Bellamy 39). She goes on to describe what was served saying, “Hot food and drink brought on from the kitchen across the hall. My father being such a strict temperance man, would have no cocktails (unheard of in those days but now an introduction to every feast) or any strong drink, not even wine—but plenty of coffee, tea, and chocolates (Bellamy 39). Since this celebration wasn’t the actual weddings of her cousins, it is hard to say what social rules the family followed during this party. However, considering that Ellen was only about eight at the time of these "wedding celebrations," the fact that she remembers anything at all suggests that it was an elaborate enough affair to stick in her memory for decades.
Interestingly enough, today, it is considered extremely rude to completely ignore the paid help, yet at the same time the idea of elbows on the table has slightly relaxed around the country. Thankfully, you are unlikely to be more or less shunned from society and party going if you find yourself accidentally resting your elbows on the dinner table in most circumstances.
Though it feels like so long ago, several traditions and customs of Victorian Era America have carried over into the wedding traditions that we know today. From the dress, to the rings, it is easy to see where our traditions came from. One main factor that still reigns as true in society today as it did in society back then is that money plays a critical role in how the wedding ceremony is shown.
Bellamy, Douglas Ellen. Back With The Tide, edited by Janet K Seapker, Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts, 2002.
Cordea, Otilia Diana.“The Victorian Household and Its Mistresses: Social Stereotypes and Responsibilities.” Journal of Humanistic and Social Studies. 2011.
Stewart, Claire. "ALL IN GOOD TASTE: THE VICTORIAN WEDDING BREAKFAST." Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 97, no. 3, 2017, p. 20+. Gale General OneFile, https://link-gale- com.liblink.uncw.edu/apps/doc/A512184828/ITOF?u=wilm99594&sid=ITOF&xid=8fb6a8fe. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020.
Turner, Noel. American Silver Flatware. South Brunswick, A.S. Barnes, 1972.
“Victorian Betrothal Rings, Victorian Era Engagement Rings, Wedding Rings.” , Victorian Era Engagement Rings, Wedding Rings, victorian-era.org/victorian-betrothal-rings.html.
“Victorian Wedding Fashion – 27 Stunning Vintage Photos of Brides Before 1900.” TheMindCircle, 25 Dec. 2019, themindcircle.com/victorian-wedding-fashion/.