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The Wedding Day

Getting Hitched in the Roaring Twenties

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s. My best gal-pal is getting hitched and I thought I’d better brush up on all my wedding etiquette before her big day. And who better to go to than dear old Emily Post. Even my Ma listens to her advice when it comes to manners.

Weddings are complicated matters, so I’ve divided up my articles into Bridal Wear; Wedding Party; and The Wedding Day.

At the House: (excerpted from Emily Post)

If the wedding is to be at noon, dawn will not have much more than broken before the house—at least below stairs—becomes bustling.

Even if the wedding is to be at four o’clock, it will still be early in the morning when the business of the day begins. But let us suppose it is to be at noon; if the family is one that is used to assembling at an early breakfast table, it is probable that the bride herself will come down for this last meal alone with her family. They will, however, not be allowed to linger long at the table. The caterer will already be clamoring for possession of the dining-room—the florist will by that time already have dumped heaps of wire and greens into the middle of the drawing-room, if not beside the table where the family are still communing with their eggs. The door-bell has long ago begun to ring. At first there are telegrams and special delivery letters, then as soon as the shops open, come the last-moment wedding presents, notes, messages and the insistent clamor of the telephone.

Next, excited voices in the hall announce members of the family who come from a distance. They all want to kiss the bride, they all want rooms to dress in, they all want to talk. Also comes the hairdresser to do the bride’s or her mother’s or aunt’s or grandmother’s hair, or all of them; the manicure, the masseuse—any one else that may have been thought necessary to give final beautifying touches to any or all of the female members of the household. The dozen and one articles from the caterer are meantime being carried in at the basement door; made dishes, and dishes in the making, raw materials of which others are to be made; folding chairs, small tables, chinaware, glassware, napery, knives, forks and spoons—it is a struggle to get in or out of the kitchen or area door.

The bride’s mother consults the florist for the third and last time as to whether the bridal couple had not better receive in the library because of the bay window which lends itself easily to the decoration of a background, and because the room, is, if anything, larger than the drawing-room. And for the third time, the florist agrees about the advantage of the window but points out that the library has only one narrow door and that the drawing-room is much better, because it has two wide ones and guests going into the room will not be blocked in the doorway by others coming out.

The best man turns up and wants the bride’s luggage.

A bridesmaid-elect hurries up the steps, runs into the best man carrying out the luggage; much conversation and giggling and guessing as to where the luggage is going. Best man very important, also very noble and silent. Bridesmaid shrugs her shoulders, dashes up to the bride’s room and dashes down again.

The house is as cold as open windows can make it, to keep the flowers fresh, and to avoid stuffiness. The door-bell continues its ringing, and the parlor maid finds herself a contestant in a marathon, until some one decides that card envelopes and telegrams had better be left in the front hall.

A first bridesmaid arrives. She at least is on time. All decoration activity stops while she is looked at and admired. Panic seizes some one! The time is too short, nothing will be ready! Some one else says the bridesmaid is far too early, there is no end of time.

Upstairs everyone is still dressing. The father of the bride (one would suppose him to be the bridegroom at least) is trying on most of his shirts, the floor strewn with discarded collars! The mother of the bride is hurrying into her wedding array so as to be ready for any emergency, as well as to superintend the finishing touches to her daughter’s dress and veil.

The Church

Meanwhile, about an hour before the time for the ceremony, the ushers arrive at the church and the sexton turns his guardianship over to them. They leave their hats in the vestry, or coat room. Their boutonnières, sent by the groom, should be waiting in the vestibule. They should be in charge of a boy from the florist’s, who has nothing else on his mind but to see that they are there, that they are fresh and that the ushers get them. Each man puts one in his buttonhole, and also puts on his gloves. The head usher decides (or the groom has already told them) to which ushers are apportioned the center, and to which the side aisles. If it is a big church with side aisles and gallery, and there are only six ushers, four will be put in the center aisle, and two in the side. Guests who choose to sit up in the gallery find places for themselves.

Often, at a big wedding, the sexton or one of his assistants guards the entrance to the gallery and admission is reserved by cards for the employees of both families, but usually the gallery is open to those who care to go up. An usher whose “place” is in the side aisle may escort occasional personal friends of his own down the center aisle if he happens to be unoccupied at the moment of their entrance. Those of the ushers who are the most likely to recognize the various close friends and members of each family are invariably detailed to the center aisle.

A brother of the bride, for instance, is always chosen for this aisle because he is best fitted to look out for his own relatives and to place them according to their near or distant kinship. A second usher should be either a brother of the groom or a near relative who would be able to recognize the family and close friends of the groom.

The first six to twenty pews on both sides of the center aisle are fenced off with white ribbons into a reserved enclosure. The parents of the bride always sit in the first pew on the left (facing the chancel); the parents of the groom always sit in the first pew on the right. The right hand side of the church is the groom’s side always, the left is that of the bride.

At a perfectly managed wedding, the bride arrives exactly one minute (to give a last comer time to find place) after the hour. Two or three servants have been sent to wait in the vestibule to help the bride and bridesmaids off with their wraps and hold them until they are needed after the ceremony. The groom’s mother and father also are waiting in the vestibule. As the carriage of the bride’s mother drives up, an usher goes as quickly as he can to tell the groom, and any brothers or sisters of the bride or groom, who are not to take part in the wedding procession and have arrived in their mother’s carriage, are now taken by ushers to their places in the front pews. The moment the entire wedding party is at the church, the doors between the vestibule and the church are closed. No one is seated after this, except the parents of the young couple. The proper procedure should be carried out with military exactness, and is as follows:

The groom’s mother goes down the aisle on the arm of the head usher and takes her place in the first pew on the right; the groom’s father follows alone, and takes his place beside her; the same usher returns to the vestibule and immediately escorts the bride’s mother; he should then have time to return to the vestibule and take his place in the procession. The beginning of the wedding march should sound just as the usher returns to the head of the aisle. To repeat: No other person should be seated after the mother of the bride. Guests who arrive later must stand in the vestibule or go into the gallery.

The sound of the music is also the cue for the clergyman to enter the chancel, followed by the groom and his best man. The two latter wear gloves but have left their hats and sticks in the vestry-room.

The groom stands on the right hand side at the head of the aisle, but if the vestry opens into the chancel, he sometimes stands at the top of the first few steps. He removes his right glove and holds it in his left hand. The best man remains always directly back and to the right of the groom, and does not remove his glove.

Starting on the right measure and keeping perfect time, the ushers come, two by two, four paces apart; then the bridesmaids (if any) at the same distance exactly; then the maid of honor alone; then the flower girls (if any); then, at a double distance, the bride on her father’s right arm. She is dressed always in white, with a veil of lace or tulle. Usually she carries a bridal bouquet of white flowers, either short, or with streamers (narrow ribbons with little bunches of blossoms on the end of each) or trailing vines, or maybe she holds a long sheaf of stiff flowers such as lilies on her arm. Or perhaps she carries a prayer book instead of a bouquet.

The Wedding Breakfast

The feature of the wedding breakfast is always the bride’s table. Placed sometimes in the dining-room, sometimes on the veranda or in a room apart, this table is larger and more elaborately decorated than any of the others.

There are white garlands or sprays or other arrangement of white flowers, and in the center as chief ornament is an elaborately iced wedding cake. On the top it has a bouquet of white or silver flowers, or confectioner’s quaint dolls representing the bride and groom. The top is usually made like a cover so that when the time comes for the bride to cut it, it is merely lifted off. The bride always cuts the cake, meaning that she inserts the knife and makes one cut through the cake, after which each person cuts herself or himself a slice. If there are two sets of favors hidden in the cake, there is a mark in the icing to distinguish the bridesmaids’ side from that of the ushers. Articles, each wrapped in silver foil, have been pushed through the bottom of the cake at intervals; the bridesmaids find a ten-cent piece for riches, a little gold ring for “first to be married,” a thimble or little parrot or cat for “old maid,” a wish-bone for the “luckiest.” On the ushers’ side, a button or dog is for the bachelor, and a miniature pair of dice as a symbol of lucky chance in life. The ring and ten-cent piece are the same.

The evolution of the wedding cake began in ancient Rome where brides carried wheat ears in their left hands. Later, Anglo-Saxon brides wore the wheat made into chaplets, and gradually the belief developed that a young girl who ate of the grains of wheat which became scattered on the ground, would dream of her future husband. The next step was the baking of a thin dry biscuit which was broken over the bride’s head and the crumbs divided amongst the guests. The next step was in making richer cake; then icing it, and the last instead of having it broken over her head, the bride broke it herself into small pieces for the guests. Later she cut it with a knife.

On leaving their table, the bridal party join the dancing which by now has begun in the drawing-room where the wedding group received. The bride and groom dance at first together, and then each with bridesmaids or ushers or other guests.

Sometimes they linger so long that those who had intended staying for the “going away” grow weary and leave—which is often exactly what the young couple want! Unless they have to catch a train, they always stay until the “crowd thins” before going to dress for their journey. At last the bride signals to her bridesmaids and leaves the room. They all gather at the foot of the stairs; about half way to the upper landing as she goes up, she throws her bouquet, and they all try to catch it. The one to whom it falls is supposed to be the next married. If she has no bridesmaids, she sometimes collects a group of other young girls and throws her bouquet to them.

Weddings are complicated matters, so I’ve divided up my articles into Bridal Wear; Wedding Party; and The Wedding Day.


  1. Harvey and Joyce says:

    A delightful commentary by Sherilynn on the Wedding, and all the activities associated with it. Enjoyed it very much and am looking forward to reading more of Jenny Justo and all upcoming news about the upcoming book. Can’t wait to read it also.

  2. JazzFeathers says:

    Jeez, it almost sounds too much stress to even take the bother 😉

  3. Melissa Maygrove says:

    Interesting post. I love reading about history.

    1. Thanks, Melissa. I do, too. The 20s were the crossroads- and exciting!

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