Friday, November 16, 2012

Victorian Wedding Etiquette ABCs

The Victorian Bride, from “The Book of Manners” 

BREAKFAST.  See Wedding Reception or Breakfast.

CAKE.  At the conclusion of the wedding breakfast the cake is placed before the bride, who first cuts a piece, and then it is passed to the others. More often it is put up in small white boxes and given to the guests, or the boxes containing the cake are placed on a table in the hallway, and the guests each take one on their departure.

DAY.  The wedding-day is named by the bride, and her mother's approval is asked by the groom.

It is not customary for the bride to see the groom on the wedding-day till she meets him at the altar.

KISS.  The kiss in the ceremony is being done away with, especially at church weddings. Only the bride's parents and her most intimate friends should kiss her, and for others to do so is no longer good form.

RECEPTIONS OR BREAKFASTS.  The married couple, on arriving at the house of the bride, place themselves in a convenient location, and, assisted by the best man, maid of honor, and the parents of both parties, receive the invited guests. Congratulations are given to the groom and best wishes to the bride.

A reception is more often given than a breakfast, as it allows more invitations and more freedom, and the refreshments are placed on the tables, so that the guests help themselves or are served by the bridesmaids. The guests wait upon the married couple. 

At a breakfast, when the congratulations are over, the breakfast is announced, and the married couple lead the way to the table reserved for them. Parents of both parties, the best man, and the maid of honor are usually placed at this table.

Guests leave a card for the host and hostess and another for the married couple.

Invitations are sent with the wedding invitations, but only to the nearest relatives and friends.

They should be immediately acknowledged, either by letter of acceptance or declination with regret.

TRIP.  All details should be arranged beforehand by the best man, who knows the destination, and should keep it an inviolate secret, revealing it only in case of accident.  It is becoming the fashion for the married couple to do away with the trip, and instead to begin their married life in their own home.

VEIL. This should be white. While its length depends upon the wishes of the bride, the long veil is more in keeping with the traditions and customs of the wedding ceremony.

WOMEN-CARDS.  When invitations have been received to the church but not to the wedding reception, cards should be sent to the bride's parents and to the bridal couple.


AISLE PROCESSION.  See Weddings-Procession Up the Aisle.

ANNIVERSARIES.  See Anniversaries-Wedding.

ANNOUNCEMENTS.  Announcement cards are sent the day after the wedding, and need not be acknowledged. They should be prepared beforehand and ready to be mailed. The expense is borne by the family of the bride.

At a home or a private wedding, announcement cards can be sent to friends out of town.

AT HOME.  See Home Weddings.   
1920s Bride's Maids and Ushers

BEST MAN.  See Best Man.

BEST WISHES.  Best wishes should be given to the bride and  congratulations to the groom.

BOUQUETS.  The bouquet carried by the bride is furnished by the groom, who may also provide bouquets for the bridesmaids if he wishes.

BRIDE.  See Bride.

BRIDESMAIDS.  See Bridesmaids.

CAKE.  See Wedding Cake.

CALLS.  See Weddings-Invitations-Calls.

CARDS OF ADMISSION TO CHURCH. These cards are used at all public weddings held in churches, and when used no one should be admitted to the church without one. They are sent with the wedding invitations. They are kept in stock by the stationer, and are not expensive.

CARDS, VISITING, AFTER MARRIAGE.  Mr. and Mrs. cards are used by the wife only within one year after the marriage, after which separate cards are in order. These Mr. and Mrs. cards are used in sending gifts, congratulations, condolence, and at ceremonious affairs, when both the husband and wife are represented.

CARRIAGES. Carriages should be provided to take the bride and her family to the church and back to the house, and also the guests from the church to the receptions.

The expense is borne by the family of the bride, save for the carriage used by the groom, which takes him and the best man to the church, and later takes the married couple to the house, and after the reception, to the station.


CONGRATULATIONS.  Congratulations may be sent with letter of acceptance or declination of an invitation to a wedding to those sending the invitations. And if acquaintance with bride and groom warrant, a note of congratulations may be sent to them also. 

Guests in personal conversation with the latter give best wishes to the bride and congratulations to the groom.



DANCES.  It is not usual to have dances after the wedding.



EXPENSES.  All the expenses are borne by the bride's family, except the fees for the license, clergyman, organist, and sexton. 

The wedding-ring, the carriages for the groom, ushers, best man, and the carriage which takes away the married couple, are also paid for by the groom.

He also furnishes souvenirs to the maid of honor and bridesmaids, best man and ushers, and all expenses of the wedding trip.

If the groom gives a farewell bachelor dinner, he bears all expenses.

FAREWELL BACHELOR DINNERS.  See Groom-Farewell Dinner.

FAREWELL BRIDAL LUNCHEON.  See Bride-- Farewell Luncheons.

FEES.  The wedding fee, preferably gold or clean bills in sealed envelope, is given by the best man to the officiating clergyman. Custom leaves the amount to the groom, who should give at least five dollars or more, in proportion to his income and social position. The clergyman usually gives the fee to his wife.

FLOWER GIRLS.  See Flower Girls.
Nellie Grant married at the White House in 1874. The wedding was on May 21, 1874 in the East Room of the White House. The  newspapers and magazines were buzzing with all of the details, from decorations, the flowers, Nelli Grant's gown, the guests, and foods served.  Harper’s Weekly describing gifts; “… a dessert-service of eighty four pieces [given] by Mr. George W. Childs, and a complete dinner-service by Mr. A.J. Drexel, the combined value of the two being $4500.” It went on to write that the newlyweds received a “little” gift of $10,000 from Mr. Grant along with a silver Tiffany fruit dish that Nellie swooned over. Brides back then were taken to swooning.

FLOWERS. Flowers are in general use. The quantity and quality of floral decorations must depend upon the taste and the wealth of the parties concerned.

BRIDE.  The bride, if she desires, carries at the wedding ceremony a bouquet given by the groom. Flowers are sometimes dispensed with, and a Prayer-Book used.

CHURCH.  In addition to the palms in the chancel, a string of flowers or white ribbons is stretched across the middle aisle, to reserve this place for the immediate family and specially invited guests.

USHERS.  Boutonnieres, provided by the bride's family, should be given to the sexton by the florist on the wedding-day. They may be made of lilies of the valley, white roses, or the like.

Sometimes the ushers call at the house of the bride to have her fix them in the lapel of their coats.

GIFTS.  The nearest members of each family should arrange among themselves what gifts to send, and thus avoid duplicates.

Expensive presents are sent only by most intimate friends, and articles of utility by relatives or near friends. All gifts should be sent within two months of date of marriage, and should have thereon the woman's maiden name, initial cipher, or monogram, and should be acknowledged by the bride at the earliest moment, and not later than ten days after her marriage.

It is not in good taste to make an ostentatious display of the gifts, and if they are exhibited, the cards of the donors should be removed, and only intimate friends invited.

Those sending gifts should have the courtesy of an invitation to the wedding breakfast or reception.

If any gifts are sent to the groom, they should bear his initial.

 A wedding invitation does not necessarily imply that a gift must be sent, as the sending of a gift is optional.

GROOM. See Groom.
Portrait of a Bride and Her Groom 1900

GUESTS-BREAKFASTS OR RECEPTIONS.  The invited guests leave the church for the bride's residence, and there are introduced by the ushers to the married couple and those standing up with them. If the guests are unknown to the ushers, they should give their names to one of them, who offers his left arm to the woman, while her escort follows and is introduced at the same time.

At the breakfast, guests are usually assigned places, but, if not, may take any seat. Only the specially invited guests await the departure of the married couple, which ends the reception or breakfast.

If boxes of wedding-cake are placed on a table, each guest takes one on his departure.

GUESTS-CALLS.  Invited guests should call at least within ten days and leave their cards.

DRESS.  Broadly speaking, at a morning or afternoon wedding the guest wears afternoon dress, and at an evening wedding evening dress. From the latter rule there are no deviations possible, but in the former there is greater latitude. Thus it would be possible for a man to wear a black cutaway coat at an afternoon wedding.

MEN.  If the wraps are not left in the carriage, they are removed in the vestibule and are carried on the arm into the pew. A man follows the woman, who is escorted to the pew by the usher. At the end of the ceremony the guests should not leave until the immediate family have passed out.

Guests who are not invited to the breakfast or reception should not take offense, as the number present on such occasions is necessarily limited. These guests may seat themselves or are seated by the ushers, but not in the pews reserved for the family and specially invited guests.

WOMEN.  No one should be present at a wedding in mourning, and it should be laid aside temporarily even by the mother, who wears purple velvet or silk.

Women on entering the church take the usher's left arm, and are escorted to the pew, while their escort follows behind.

If they are immediate members of the family or are specially invited guests, they should give their names to the usher that he may seat them in the places reserved for them.

HATS OF GROOM AND OF BEST MAN.  To do away with the possibility of the best man having to take care of the hats of groom and best man during the wedding ceremony, it is a good plan for both groom and best man to leave them in the vestry, and to have them carried out to the front of the church, ready for them at the end of the ceremony.

HOME.  See Home Weddings.

HOST.  See Father of Bride.

HOSTESS.  See Mother of Bride.

HOURS.  Any hour from nine in the morning to nine in the evening is appropriate.

The morning hours are usually selected for quiet home affairs; twelve o'clock, or high noon, is still considered as the fashionable hour, while from three to six is the hour most convenient for all concerned.

Evening weddings are not very convenient, chiefly because it is not as easy to handle the details as in the daytime.

INVITATIONS.  The woman's parents, guardians, or others give the wedding, send out the invitations, and bear all the expense of engraving and sending out the same. They are issued in the name of the one giving the wedding, and should be sent to near-by friends about twenty days in advance of the wedding day and earlier to out-of-town friends. With them are sent the invitation to the wedding breakfast or reception, and also the card of admission to the church.

The groom should supply a list of names of such persons as he desires to have present, designating his preference for those to be present at the breakfast or reception.

In addressing wedding invitations, two envelopes are used. The inner one, unsealed, bears the name only of the person addressed, and is enclosed in another envelope, sealed, bearing the address of the person invited.

Parents should, of course, order these invitations of a fashionable dealer in stationery, that good taste may be observed.

If the invitation contains an invitation to the breakfast or reception, it should be accepted or declined at once, and the answer sent to those issuing the invitation. If the invitation does not include a breakfast or reception invitation, no acknowledgment is necessary.

Should the wedding, however, be at home, and the guests limited in number, an acknowledgment should be sent. If the invitations bear the letters R. S. V. P. an acknowledgment is necessary.

BRIDESMAIDS.  At a large church wedding several invitations are usually given to the bridesmaids for their own personal use.

CALLS.  Very intimate friends can call personally. Friends of the groom who have no acquaintance with the bride's family should send their cards to those inviting them. Those who do not receive wedding invitations and announcement "At Home" cards should not call, but consider themselves dropped from the circle of acquaintances of the married couple.

CARDS, LEAVING.  If a person is invited to a wedding at a church, but not to the reception or breakfast, a card should be left or mailed both to the bride's parents and to the married couple.

Those present at the ceremony should leave cards in person for those inviting them, and if this is not possible, they can send them by mail or messenger.

Those invited but not present should send cards to those who invited them.

RECALLED.  When for some good reason a wedding has to be canceled or postponed, the parents of the bride should, as soon as possible, send printed notices, giving the reasons, to all the invited guests.

JOURNEY.  See Wedding Trip.

MAID OF HONOR.  See Maid of Honor.

MARKING GIFTS.  See Marking Wedding Gifts.
Wedding Party in Late 1800s
MARRIED COUPLE.  Immediately after the wedding breakfast or reception, the bride, with her maid of honor, retires to change her clothes for those suitable for travel. The groom, with his best man, does likewise, and waits for his wife at the foot of the stairs. As she comes down the stairs she lets fall her bridal bouquet among the bridesmaids, who strive to secure it, as its possession is deemed a lucky sign of being the next bride.

As the couple pass out of the front door it is customary for the guests to throw after them, for luck, rice, rose leaves, flowers, old shoes, etc.

The form to be used in signing the hotel register is: Mr. and Mrs. John K. Wilson. Good taste and a desire for personal comfort demand that their public acts and words be not of such a character as to attract attention.


AT HOME.  At the end of the wedding trip they proceed to their own home, and immediately send out their "At Home" cards, unless they have followed the better plan of enclosing them with their wedding cards.

They are at perfect liberty to send them to whom they please, and thus to select their friends.  At these "At Homes" light refreshment is served, and the married couple wear full evening dress.

They are generally given a dinner by the bridesmaids, and are entertained by both families in appropriate ways.

MEN-DRESS. At a morning or afternoon wedding the groom, best man, and ushers wear afternoon dress, but at an evening wedding
they wear evening dress.

For further details see BEST MAN--Dress.
Groom--Dress. Ushers--Dress.

MOURNING.  Mourning  should not be worn at a wedding, but should be laid aside temporarily, the wearer appearing in purple.   
West African Royalty, Sara Forbes Bonetta, on her wedding day with her Groom, in 1862.  Queen Victoria had raised her as a 'goddaughter' in the British middle class. This description is of the wedding; "The wedding party, which arrived from West Hill Lodge, Brighton in ten carriages and pairs of grays, was made up of White ladies with African gentlemen, and African ladies with White gentlemen. There were sixteen bridesmaids."

MUSIC.  The organist and the music are usually selected by the bride. Before the arrival of the bride the organist plays some bright selection, but on her entering the church and passing up the aisle he plays the Wedding March.

PAGES.  See Pages.

PRIVATE.  See Private Wedding.

PROCESSION UP THE AISLE.  Many styles are adopted for the procession up the aisle. A good order is for the ushers to come first in pairs, then the bridesmaids, maid of honor, and last the bride on her father's arm.

At the altar the ushers and bridesmaids open ranks to allow the bride to pass through. This order is usually reversed in the procession down the aisle.

RECALLING INVITATIONS. See Wedding Invitations

RECEPTIONS. See Wedding Receptions.

REHEARSALS. Rehearsals should be held even for a quiet home wedding, and at a sufficiently early date to insure the presence of all who are to participate.

REPORTERS.  See Reporters--Weddings.

RIBBONS.  See Ribbons at Church Weddings.

RICE.  See Weddings--Throwing of Rice.

RING. This may be dispensed with, save in the Roman Catholic and in the Episcopal Church service. It is usually of plain gold, with initials of bride and groom and date of marriage engraved therein.

It is bought by the groom, who should give it to the best man to be kept till it is called for by the clergyman during the ceremony. It is worn on the third finger of the bride's left hand.

SECOND MARRIAGES. See Widows--Weddings.

SIGNING THE REGISTER.  This is sometimes done by the bride and the groom, and takes place in the vestry, where the best man signs as chief witness and some of the guests as witnesses.

SOUVENIRS. See Souvenirs.

THROWING OF RICE.  The throwing of rice is to be discouraged, but if it is to be done, the maid of honor should prepare packages of rice and hand them to the guests, who throw it after the bridal couple as they leave the house for their wedding trip.

TOASTS.  Toasts to the bride and groom are customary at the wedding breakfast.

If the groom gives a farewell bachelor dinner, he should propose a toast to the bride.

TROUSSEAU. See Trousseau.




WOMEN--DRESS. Women wear afternoon or evening dress, as the occasion requires.




WIDOWS CARD.  During the first year of mourning a widow has no cards, as she makes no formal visits. After the first year, cards with border of any desired depth are used.

Either the husband's name or the widow's baptismal name may be used, but if in the immediate family the husband's name is duplicated, she should use her own name to avoid confusion. When her married son has his father's full name, the widow should add SR. to hers, as the son's wife is entitled to the name.

MOURNING.  A widow should wear crepe with a bonnet having a small border of white. The veil should be long and worn over the face for three months, after which a shorter veil may be worn for a year, and then the face may be exposed. Six months later white
and lilac may be used, and colors resumed after two years.

STATIONERY, MOURNING. A widow's stationery should be heavily bordered, and is continued as long as she is in deep mourning. This is gradually decreased, in accordance with her change of mourning.

All embossing or stamping should be done in black.

WEDDINGS. Widows should avoid anything distinctively white, even in flowers--especially white orange blossoms and white veil, these two being distinctively indicative of the first wedding. If she wishes, she can have bridesmaids and ushers. Her wedding-cards should show her maiden name as part of her full name.


  1. Another great addition to my etiquette knowledge! I love the part about Sarah Forbes Benetta and President Grant's daughter. Really fascinating.

  2. I really enjoy these posts! Than you :)

  3. My jaw dropped when I saw the recommendation to give the clergyman $5.00 in gold, but it dropped again when I saw that the clergyman would then give it to his wife. Ha!