Etiquette of a Wedding

[This is taken from George Routledge's Courtship and Matrimony.  Mr. Routledge lived between 1812 and 1888, but we trust his advice has a certain timelessness attached to it.  - Ed.]

The parties being assembled on the wedding morning in the drawing-room of the residence of the bride’s father (unless, as sometimes happens, the breakfast is spread in that room), the happy cortege should proceed to the church in the following order:--


Costume of the Bride.

A bride’s costume should be white, or some hue as close as possible to it. Fawn colour, grey, and lavender are entirely out of fashion. It is considered more stylish for a very young bride to go without a bonnet, but for her head to be covered with only a wreath of orange blossoms and a Chantilly or some other lace veil. This, however, is entirely a matter of taste; but, whether wearing a bonnet or not, the bride must always wear a veil. If a widow, she may wear not only a bonnet, but a coloured silk dress.


Costume of the Bridegroom.

Formerly it was not considered to be in good taste for a gentleman to be married in a black coat. More latitude is now allowed in the costume of a bridegroom, the style now adopted being what is termed morning dress: a frock coat, light trousers, white satin or silk waistcoat, ornamental tie, and white or grey gloves.


How the Bridesmaids should be Dressed.

The bridesmaids dress generally in pairs, each two alike, but sometimes all wear a similar costume. Pink and light blue, with white pardessus or mantelets, or white with pink or blue, are admissible colours. The bonnets, if worn, must be white, with marabout feathers; but, of late, bonnets have usually been discarded, the bridesmaids wearing veils instead. The whole costume of a bridesmaid should have a very light but brilliant effect, and the tout ensemble of this fair bevy should be so constituted in style and colour as to look well by the side of and about the bride. It should be as the warm colouring in the background of a sun-lit picture, helping to throw into the foreground the dress of the bride, and make her prominent, as the principal person in the tableau.


Arrival at the Church.

The bridegroom meets the bride at the altar, where he must take especial care to arrive in good time before the hour appointed.


Order of Procession to the Altar.

The father of the bride generally advances with her from the church door to the altar, followed immediately by the bridesmaids. The father of the bridegroom, if present, gives his arm to the bride’s mother if she be present, as is now usual at fashionable weddings, and goes next to the bridesmaids. The friends who have come with the wedding party proceed next in succession.

The bridegroom with his groomsmen must be in readiness to meet the bride at the altar, the bridegroom standing at the left hand of the clergyman, in the centre before the altar rails.

We have seen on some occasions the bridegroom offer the bride his left arm to lead her to the altar, but this should be avoided; for by so doing, the whole order of the procession to the altar becomes inverted, and must then be arranged as follows:--

The father, or some male relative or friend, and the mother of the bride, or, if she be not present, the mother of the gentleman, or one of the oldest female relations or friends of the bride’s family, are to lead the way towards the altar from the vestry.

The friends who have come with the wedding party follow next in succession.

Then come the bridesmaids and bridegroomsmen in pairs.

The bridegroom, having offered his left arm to the bride, now conducts her up the centre aisle of the church to the altar. The parties in advance file to the right and left of the altar, leaving the bride and bridegroom in the centre.


The Marriage Ceremony.

The bridegroom stands at the right hand of the bride. The father stands just behind her, so as to be in readiness to give her hand at the proper moment to the bridegroom. The principal bridesmaid stands on the left of the bride, ready to take off the bride’s glove, which she keeps as a perquisite and prize of her office.

It was ordered by the old Rubrics that the woman, if a widow, should have her hand covered when presented by father or friend to the priest for marriage; one of the many points by which the Church distinguished second marriages. A piece of silver and a piece of gold were also laid with the wedding ring upon the priest’s book (where the cross would be on the cover), in token of dower to the wife.


The words “I Will”

are to be pronounced distinctly and audibly by both parties, such being the all-important part of the ceremony as respects themselves: the public delivery, before the priest, by the father of his daughter to the bridegroom, being an evidence of his assent; the silence which follows the inquiry for “cause or just impediment” testifying that of society in general; and the “I will” being the declaration of the bride and bridegroom that they are voluntary parties to their holy union in marriage.


The words “Honour and Obey”

must also be distinctly spoken by the bride. They constitute an essential part of the obligation and contract of matrimony on her part. It may not be amiss here to inform our fair readers that on the marriage of our gracious Sovereign Queen Victoria to H.R.H. the late lamented Prince Albert, her Majesty carefully and most judiciously emphasised these words, thereby manifesting that though a Queen in station, yet in her wedded and private life she sought no exemption from this obligation, and in this respect placed herself on the same level with the humblest village matron in her dominions.

This obedience on the part of the wife, concerning which there is oftentimes much serious questioning among ladies old and young, while yet unmarried, is thus finely defined by Jeremy Taylor:--“It is a voluntary cession that is required; such a cession as must be without coercion and violence on his part, but upon fair inducements and reasonableness in the thing, and out of love and honour on her part.  When God commands us to love Him, He means we shall obey Him. ‘This is love, that ye keep my commandments; and if ye love me,’ says the Lord, ‘keep my commandments.’ Now as Christ is to the Church, so is man to the wife; and therefore obedience is the best instance of her love; for it proclaims her submission, her humility, her opinion of his wisdom, his pre-eminence in the family, the right of his privilege, and the injunction imposed by God upon her sex, that although in sorrow she bring forth children, yet with love and choice she should obey. The man’s authority is love, and the woman’s love is obedience. It is modesty to advance and highly to honour them who have honoured us by making us the companions of their dearest excellencies; for the woman that went before the man in the way of death, is commanded to follow him in the way of love; and that makes the society to be perfect, and the union profitable, and the harmony complete.”


The Ring.

The Rubric tells us “the man shall give unto the woman a ring, laying the same upon the book with the accustomed duty to the priest and clerk.” This latter rule is, however, not now observed, it being usual to pay the fees in the vestry; but to ensure the presence of the ring, a caution by no means unnecessary, and in some measure to sanctify that emblem of an eternal union, it is asked for by the clerk previously to the commencement of the ceremony, who advises that it be placed upon the book.

We pity the unfortunate bridegroom who at this moment cannot, by at once inserting his hand into the corner (the one most ready to his finger and thumb) of his left-hand waistcoat-pocket, pull out the wedding ring. Imagine his dismay at not finding it there!--the first surprise, the growing anxiety, as the right-hand pocket is next rummaged—the blank look, as he follows this by the discovery that his neither garments have no pockets whatsoever, not even a watch-fob, where it may lie perdue in a corner! Amid the suppressed giggle of the bridesmaids, the disconcerted look of the bride herself, at such a palpable instance of carelessness on the part of the bridegroom thus publicly displayed before all her friends, and the half-repressed disapprobation of the numerous circle around, he fumbles in the coat-pockets, and turns them inside-out. A further but useless search causes increased confusion and general annoyance; at length it becomes evident that the unfortunate ring has been forgotten! We may observe, however, that in default of the ring, the wedding ring of the mother may be used. The application of the key of the church door is traditionary in this absurd dilemma; and in country churches a straw twisted into a circle has been known to supply the place of the orthodox hoop of gold!


After the Ceremony.

the clergyman usually shakes hands with the bride and bridegroom, and the bride’s father and mother, and a general congratulation ensues.


The Clergyman and Assistant Clergymen.

The clergyman of the church is invariably invited to attend, although the ceremony may be performed by some clerical friend of the bride or bridegroom. This is called “assisting;” other clergymen who may attend in addition, as is sometimes the case, are said also to “assist.” But as much ridicule has fallen upon the adoption of this custom, and as the expression of “assisting” is considered an affectation, it is much less in vogue than it was; and it is no longer usual to mention the names of any other clergymen than that of the one who performs the ceremony, and of the clergyman of the church, who should be present whether invited or not. It is, indeed, his duty to attend, and he should insist on so doing, inasmuch as the entry of the marriage in the parish register is supposed to be made under his sanction and authority. It should not be forgotten that the presence of an “assisting clergyman” entails the doubling of the fees. The payment of the fees is generally entrusted to the bridegroom’s “best man,” or some other intimate friend of his.


Difference of Religion.

Where the bride and bridegroom are of different religions, the marriage is usually first celebrated in the church of that communion to which the husband belongs; the second celebration should immediately follow, and upon the same day. Some, however, regard it as duly deferential to the bride’s feelings that the first ceremony should be performed in her own communion. There is a notion prevalent, that in the case of a marriage between Roman Catholics and Protestants, the ceremony must necessarily be first performed in a Protestant church. This is erroneous—the order of the twofold marriage is, in a legal point of view, of no moment, so long as it takes place on the same day.


The Return to the Vestry.

On the completion of the ceremony the bride is led to the vestry by the bridegroom. The bridesmaids and bridegroomsmen follow, the principals of each taking the lead; then the father of the bride, followed by the father and mother of the bridegroom, and the rest of the company.


The Registry of the Marriage.

The husband signs first; then the bride-wife, for the last time in her maiden name; next the father of the bride, and the mother, if present; then the father and mother of the bridegroom, if present; next the bridesmaids and the bridegroomsmen; then such of the rest of the company as may desire to be on the record as witnesses. All the names must be signed in full. The certificate of the marriage is then handed to the bride, and should be carefully preserved in her own possession.


The Wedding Favours.

Meanwhile, outside the church, as soon as the ceremony is completed—and not before, for it is regarded as unfortunate—a box of the wedding favours is opened, and every servant in waiting takes care to pin one on the right side of his hat, while the coachmen, too, ornament therewith the ears of their horses. Inside the church the wedding favours are also distributed, and a gay, gallant, and animated scene ensues, as each bridesmaid pins on to the coat of each bridegroomsman a wedding favour, which he returns by pinning one also on her shoulder. Every “favour” is carefully furnished with two pins for this purpose; and it is amazing to see the flutter, the coquettish smiling, and the frequent pricking of fingers, which the performance of this piquant and pleasant duty of the wedding bachelors and ladies “in waiting” does occasion!


The Return Home.

The bridegroom now leads the bride out of the church, and the happy pair return homeward in the first carriage. The father and mother follow in the next. The rest “stand not on the order of their going,” but start off in such wise as they can best contrive.


The Wedding Breakfast.

The bride and bridegroom sit together at the centre of the table, in front of the wedding cake, the clergyman who performed the ceremony taking his place opposite to them. The top and bottom of the table are occupied by the father and mother of the bride. The principal bridesmaid sits to the left of the bride, and the principal bridegroomsman on the left of the bridegroom. It may not be unnecessary to say that it is customary for the ladies to wear their bonnets just as they came from the church. The bridesmaids cut the cake into small pieces, which are not eaten until the health of the bride is proposed. This is usually done by the officiating clergyman, or by an old and cherished friend of the family of the bridegroom. The bridegroom returns thanks for the bride and for himself. The health of the bride’s parents is then proposed, and is followed by those of the principal personages present, the toast of the bridesmaids being generally one of the pleasantest features of the festal ceremony.  After about two hours, the principal bridesmaid leads the bride out of the room as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb the party or attract attention. Shortly after—it may be in about ten minutes—the absence of the bride being noticed, the rest of the ladies retire.  Then it is that the bridegroom has a few melancholy moments to bid adieu to his bachelor friends, and he then generally receives some hints on the subject in a short address from one of them, to which he is of course expected to respond. He then withdraws for a few moments, and returns after having made a slight addition to his toilet, in readiness for travelling.

In some recent fashionable weddings we have noticed that the bride and bridegroom do not attend the wedding breakfast, but after a slight refreshment in a private apartment, take their departure immediately on the wedding tour. But this defalcation, if we may so call it, of the chief dramatis personae of the day, though considered to be in good taste, is by no means a popular innovation, but is rather regarded as a prudish dereliction from the ancient forms of hospitality, which are more prized than ever on so genial an occasion as a marriage.


Departure for the Honeymoon.

The young bride, divested of her bridal attire, and quietly costumed for the journey, now bids farewell to her bridesmaids and lady friends. A few tears spring to her gentle eyes as she takes a last look at the home she is now leaving. The servants venture to crowd about her with their humble but heartfelt congratulations; finally, she falls weeping on her mother’s bosom. A short cough is heard, as of some one summoning up resolution to hide emotion. It is her father.  He dares not trust his voice; but holds out his hand, gives her an affectionate kiss, and then leads her, half turning back, down the stairs and through the hall, to the door, where he delivers her as a precious charge to her husband, who hands her quickly into the carriage, springs in after her, waves his hand to the party who appear crowding at the windows, half smiles at the throng about the door, then, amidst a shower of old slippers—missiles of good-luck sent flying after the happy pair—gives the word, and they are off, and started on the long-hoped-for voyage!


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