Monday, November 23, 2015

Gilded Age Wedding Etiquette and New York Society

American Weddings... "Rita" doesn't approve!
Rita Gives Her Opinion of  New York Society and Social Functions – 
Her American Friends Fume!


WINTER is the New York season. By May, the Fifth Avenue mansions and the various suites and apartments rented by the social dignitaries of the city are shut up and deserted. I arrived in April — just catching the " tail-end " of a few last functions, such as receptions, luncheons, and weddings. Among the latter was the Drexel-Gould marriage. It is worth mention.


I had read and heard much on this side the herring-pond of the way a fashionable American wedding is conducted, and the excitement it creates. Fresh in my memory lay the reports of the Roxburgh marriage and its scenes. I wondered if the Drexel-Gould affair would be a repetition. It was. It possibly exceeded in extravagant display and public interest its famous predecessor. 

The reporters, male and female, had a " lovely time/' They rioted in descriptions of the church, the trousseau, the presents, and the ceremony both before and after the marriage had taken place. The scene in Fifth Avenue on the eventful afternoon was something never to be forgotten. Thousands of crazy, hysterical women, and helpless men, squads of mounted and disregarded police, all seething, struggling, fighting, shrieking, under the pouring rain, and crowding the muddy street in order to see — what ? A commonplace young man and young woman get in and out of a motor-car — for that was all they could see.


To me, as a stranger to New York ways and customs, it was quite immaterial that Miss Margery Gould possessed a huge fortune, or that Mr. Anthony Drexel was not an impecunious English peer, but I was surprised to see a church turned into a floral theatre, and to find that the seats reserved for millionaires and their wives represented the social grade of their respective incomes !
                                                      
Mrs. Desmond Humphreys, aka "Rita" –
My American friends were annoyed at my criticism of this wedding and its methods. As usual they said " You must not judge of us by this."
– Etiquipedia is amazed you retained any American friends, by the way you wrote about them. Perhaps they were what we now call "frenemies"?
The behaviour of the senseless crowd, and the extraordinary antagonism it displayed to anything like order, decency, or police intervention, was an amazing spectacle. Women fought with their umbrellas like wild cats. Some of them had made their way into the church through an adjoining chapel on pretence of attending a funeral service that, strange to say, preceded the wedding function." 


Once in the building, they proceeded to strip off flowers and ribbons as souvenirs in a manner befitting the genus Hooligan. They had to be turned out by police, and even then were not content till they had " stormed " the bride's motor. How I pitied that unfortunate bride and bridegroom! Why did they not get married privately, and then send a dressmaker's show figure and a tailor's dummy to go through the public ceremony ? This is a suggestion offered for future American marriages.


My American friends were annoyed at my criticism of this wedding and its methods. As usual they said " You must not judge of us by this." But I was getting used to that formula. If I did not judge of an American crowd by a crowd, or an American millionairess's wedding by a representative millionairess and her family — how in the name of wonder was I to judge of such things ? After all, what I said — or say — as an onlooker is mild enough compared to the criticisms and comments of the reporters, and the " Yellow Press."


There are only two ways of conducting a marriage ceremony. It is something sacred and exclusive, or it is a theatrical show designed for public edification. Society seems to prefer the latter, and therefore delicacy and restraint are banished from the programme. The affair becomes a ceremony, a function, and the people I pity with my whole heart are the unfortunate principals in the business ; no matter whether they are of blood royal, or merely millionaires !


Another wedding I attended in New York was less pretentious than the Drexel-Gould affair. Still it gave me the impression of a "show-piece" on the stage. The solemn-faced ushers giving an arm to the lady guests, and conducting them from the church door to their seats; the lavish floral decorations ; the well-drilled, formal wedding " procession/' all care- fully rehearsed beforehand, made up a curious spectacular effect in no way concerned with the binding obligations there represented.


Then followed the ordeal of the reception, where the tired, flushed bride and bored and wearied groom had to stand for hours under a canopy of palms, or a huge bell of flowers, and shake hundreds of hands and give and receive kisses and congratulations, and then be subjected to the tricks and devices of the ingenious ushers in order to delay departure, or prevent confidences !


" Truly, a strange people," I said to myself. – From 1910's, "America, Though English Eyes," by "Rita, " the Judgmental British Matron