Weddings From The Past

After my post on the WIC last week, such an interesting discussion broke out. Two comments in particular really stood out for me.

Erika commented:
This post reminds me to ask you if you’re going to write more about weddings of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, you know, pre-WIC. I know you’ve featured home weddings, backyard weddings, courthouse weddings, and written snippets about weddings of earlier generations. I for one would love to see these weddings of earlier generations featured here as a kind of WIC-antidote.

To which the answer is a huge yes. I would love to write about weddings of earlier generations, and I would adore it if you all had family weddings that you would like to submit, whether they come in the form of old newspaper clippings, remembrances, stories, or just simple pictures. My request is that if the wedding couple is living, make sure you have their permission to submit the wedding. I’m more than willing to change names, if that will make older generations more comfortable. If the couple is no longer alive, please make sure that you have the permission of the next living relation (parents, if it is your grandparents, etc.)

I think we all have a lot to learn from weddings in years gone by. At the same time, while looking at how weddings were thrown a generation or two ago, I think it’s important to keep in mind that life has changed over the years, and that is a wonderful thing. It may have been easier for our grandparents to get married at home, but it was much harder to marry if you were interfaith, or interracial, and impossible to marry if you were gay. And those changes that we’ve seen over the years are wonderful things.Dalilou commented:
I find this post really, really interesting. I definitely began wedding planning with the idea of, “We’ll keep it small- we’ll have it pot-luck.Traditionally, that’s what people used to do.” (My family is Congolese and Haitian). But the reality of people flying in from all over the country and the world to attend our wedding has completely changed that. We have cut and cut as far as we feel is comfortable and our wedding is still over the top- mostly, because, as it turns out, we are hosting a family reunion that we are footing the bill for. Yes, I know that standards have changed and certain items have become a must-have but the reality is, is that our lives have changed drastically from the 1960’s. People weren’t hopping into airplanes to crisscross the globe so casually and people’s social circles tended to be smaller. Also, people get married 10 years older than they used to. This means that they probably didn’t have work friends + college friends+ high school friends. Maybe many of us are trying to hard to thread together the disparate parts of our lives. Or maybe one day we will get back to the idea that a wedding had more to do with building a home for the couple, rather than pretending as though we’re richer than we really are.

And she’s exactly right. Our lives are more complicated now. Our social circles are more spread out. We’re marrying later, which means we’re generally a bit more affluent and know a lot more people. So for me, this whole blog is about trying to find a way to embrace the complexity of modern life, and still have a wedding that’s about building a new home and a new life together, not about creating an elaborate theatrical production. It’s about balancing the demands of extended social circles and people flying in from all over the world, and still having a celebration that would and will make my grandmothers proud. It’s about being a thoroughly modern woman, but still keeping a meaningful connection to the past – a connection I choose, not one that I’m sold.

So, please send in weddings from generations gone by. We’d all love to hear those stories.

Pictures via the Flickr Vintage Wedding Photostream, here and here

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  • I can’t wait to see these!

    I had never really thought much about my parents’ wedding until this Xmas, when I asked my mom about it. They were hippies/students, so they literally were married in a friend’s backyard with ~40 guests. She has about 20 pictures total from the whole day. And, yet, they look amazing and so happy. And their marriage has lasted 30+ years!

    Now I just need to get her to scan them in :)

  • Thank you for this post. I agree that while our parents’ smaller weddings are an interesting phenomenon, it’s not necessarily a failure when we don’t replicated them, because yes, times have changed. My parents married when my mom was a new arrival to Canada and their wedding was small because her entire family was still in Poland and could not leave–so in her case, it’s not that social and familial networks were geographically more contained, but that the geographic diversity was more difficult to deal with. I am GRATEFUL that my networks are as wide but that I’m fortunate enough to be able to actually bring people together. It makes my wedding bigger and more elaborate certainly, but no, that doesn’t make mine better or worse or more or less authentic than hers. We were/are just dealing with different worlds.

  • Aaaaaaaaaaah I love this.

    (T’is all.)


  • love all these new directions Meg –

    I’ve posted a few of my family wedding pictures on my site. I could look at them a million times and smile every time.

  • My grandparents were married in a week! My grandfather was in the military, and was home on a short break before he was going to be sent in to the Korean War. He said to my grandma, “Let’s get married!” So they did. My grandmother borrowed a friend’s dress, a relative did the flowers and decorations at the church, and people were invited by word of mouth. And to me, it’s the most romantic wedding I’ve ever heard of. In the pictures my grandparents look so young and so thrilled- I can only hope to look that happy on my wedding day.

    Great post, Meg!

  • I love this hippie wedding from 1972 featured on the the Etsy blog:

    And I love that they are still happily married!

  • Finding my (divorced) parents’ wedding photos in my mum’s attic when she moved house a few years ago was like magic to me. (“Oh, that lace cape thing in our dressing up box was your veil?!”)

    Anyway, this post just reminded me of that. But what I really wanted to say was that I love your balanced approach and I’m looking forward to these old weddings.

  • I remember a few years ago talking with my grandmother about her and and my grandfathers wedding and being blown away with how perfect it was. Her mother made her wedding dress (she was amazing at making lace), the reception was in their backyard, food was made by friends and family… everything was just focused around the love the two of them shared. I wish more people remembered that this is really what it’s all about. It’s not about the cute wine labels or some elaborate fireworks display (though beautiful I am sure), it’s about starting a life together and fostering a beautiful loving marriage. Hopefully with everyone falling back in love with “all that is vintage” we’ll start to see this type of wedding becoming common place again!

    Anyhow, great post! I can’t wait to see more :)

  • Anonymous

    I remember my Grandma telling me that she was so proud to pay for her wedding dress all by herself. She worked for the bell telephone company (back when there were no cell phones and land lines had to be connected manually). Every time she would buy groceries or take the train, she would pay with dollars and save the change she got back. Needless to say, when she took in a jar full of $80 in change to the bridal shop, they were a little shocked. But that kind of dollars and cents attitude reminds me of this blog.

  • Anonymous

    delurking (well, halfway) to say this is such a great idea. my partner and i just set a date and one of the huge reasons we decided on simple, small and personal is real tradition, not the “traditional” 15-person matching bridal party or the “traditional” morning after brunch, but the true tradition of a wedding being about loved ones coming together to celebrate the love and commitment of two people. I can’t wait to get some inspiration from these older weddings. thanks for doing what you do… you have been and continue to be such a massive inspiration to my partner and i as we take this (often crazy) journey!


  • Meg

    For the record, my parents had a BIG wedding, and it was still much much more affordable and more laid back then is possible now (which makes me sad).

  • sam

    my mother and i are very much alike. my parents were married 25+ years ago and mom wanted a truly practical wedding. simple backyard-style, close friends, nothing over-the-top. she even decided to alter and wear a simple white party dress that her younger sister had worn once and was done with.

    her mom (my amazing grandmother) ended up taking over and planning much of the event so it would have all the expected elements. i think sometimes we romanticize the past a little too much. even years ago there were expectations for what a wedding should be, things that brides were required/expected to live up to even if they had no real meaning to that couple.

  • This is such a neat idea! I’m looking forward to seeing these.

  • As far as I can tell, my maternal grandparents had their wedding at home, since the only wedding pic I’ve ever seen is in my great-grandparents kitchen. They’ve been married for almost 60 years and are obviously still in love. My parents have been married 32 years and had a simple dinner party with about 40 people for their wedding.

    Our wedding is 3,000 miles away from where we live and will connect the dots between rural Connecticut, Los Angeles, El Paso, TX, and Mexico, where our families are all spread out between. It’s been hard for me to “keep it simple” when people are traveling so far, but we kinda have to since we don’t have a ton of money. We’re focusing on “throw a really fun party” and the rest has miraculously fallen into place.

  • Anna

    hooray for this idea!! I’m so looking forward to seeing some weddings of yore.

    My parents eloped under a tree in 1976. It was in a park that they randomly picked out. All they had to worry about was their outfits, the rings, and getting a minister. It was word of mouth, and she has a beautiful album of about 20-30 photos taken by a friend. They look so radiant and content. There was no reception, no fancy flowers, or bridesmaids, etc. It was totally focused on the private and intimate commitment that they were making.

    Compared to that, my upcoming wedding is way complicated. Full of crazy things she never had to worry about, and it has ended up being a big family reunion that neither my partner nor I signed up for. But she keeps saying, and I keep hearing, as long as we are married in the end all is well. Mom and Dad have been married 35+ years, and I only hope mine lasts that long!

    thank you for this post and taking all this on!

  • Meg

    Ah Sam,
    Like I said not all weddings of previous generations were small. There were plenty of big ones in my family. But it’s surprising to me when you start talking to people about them how HIGH the bar has been reset now. My parents had 300 people at their cathedral wedding in San Francisco, and it was affordable. (Can you imagine that now? Heck no!) And a bunch of the stuff we worry about now just wasn’t on the radar screen… even with fancy weddings, people would have the reception at home, nothing doing. Aisle runners, what?

    Anyway, I think I made the point pretty clearly in the post that romanticizing past generations is pretty dangerous stuff. That said, it’s still very interesting to give ourselves the perspective of what is really a tradition and what has been made up in the last 15 or 20 years. Plus, it’s good to look at what has changed for the better. A lot of things have changed for the better to, like I mentioned. I’m glad I’m getting married at almost 30 with a career, thank you VERY much. And you know what, I’m glad that I can personally afford to pay for a large chunk of my wedding, and I wouldn’t trade that in for a smaller more inexpensive wedding for anything in the world.


  • Anonymous

    Hi all,

    I can’t resist leaving a comment since about weddings of the past since I turned 50 last August.

    Though divorced, I didn’t get married until I was 37, so I was influenced by 1995 styles. However, I remember many a wedding of friends from about 1978 into the 1980’s.

    Most of the weddings were large. But the expectations were nothing compared to now, so more people could be accomodated.

    Back then, the Bride’s parents payed the lion’s share of wedding expenses for sure. A lot of people had cake and punch receptions and nobody blinked. Dinner buffets were considered fancy, and sit down dinners were rare – depending on geographic location.

    Sit downs were more common in the Northeast, but almost unheard of in the South unless you were wealthy.

    The biggest change though is that so many layers of details have been added, and the design, skill level, and number of details have gone way up.

    Flower design is an art form now. Wedding flowers used to have much less variety, aside from colors chosen.

    Cakes were ornate, but without the variety of design we have now.

    Invitations were not meant to be artistic; they were meant to be formal.

    There was no such thing as a strapless wedding dress. Strapless dresses were for fancy parties, not the ceremony of a wedding. Brides did not show their whole backs or major cleavage.

    All brides wore veils, with or without a face covering.

    Even the most expensive formal weddings did not feature lighting designers, dress changes, heavy bling, swarovski crystals on every surface, colorful unique linens, or the multitude of florals we see now.

    There were rarely favors. If there were favors, they were Jordan Almonds or Mints.

    All brides used to spend hours tying ribbon around tulle packets with rice for guests to throw at their exit. One bride was more creative – she created silk roses on stems filled with rice.

    There were no weekend weddings with multiple events. Very few people had to travel long distances. A bride would have a bridal shower, a rehearsal dinner, and the wedding day.

    There were no bachelorette parties.

    People were starting to personalize their vows and readings though. Any creativity was going into the ceremony; not the design.

    As far as today’s weddings, I see good trends and bad ones.

  • “Yes, I know that standards have changed and certain items have become a must-have but the reality is, is that our lives have changed drastically from the 1960’s.”

    I’m curious as to what dalilou means by this, what ARE today’s wedding must-haves? If there are any besides a ring, an officiant, and a witness, that could be a good post in itsself.

  • I think saner is the key to weddings of previous generations. Yes, they might have been large, formal parties, but I have a feeling that they weren’t as stressful for the bride as they are now. As Anonymous wrote, the kinds of details and number of details has changed a lot, creating a real shift in expectations. My mom had a larger and more formal (first) wedding than me, but she was surprised to hear I was thinking about things like catering more than six months before our wedding date. I think a lot of brides today expect that planning a wedding is going to be stressful and a lot of work. We have kind of lost sight of the idea that a wedding can be planned in less than 18 months, and without a wedding binder and, ahem, multiple cake tastings.

  • Meg

    Very interesting stuff, and exactly what my parents say. I think there are some really wonderful trends in weddings at the moment, fantastic ones that I love to write about (goodness knows I’m not anti wedding) but I think what you are talking about is fascinating and helpful as a bride.

    My parents had what was, at the time, considered quite a formal wedding. But when I asked my mom 6 or 7 years ago about dinner and dancing, she looked at me like I had lost my mind. “Dinner and dancing?” she said. “My god, we weren’t rich!” They had appetizers, cake, and champagne punch, and it was quite a big deal.

    Now, I’m looking forward to dinner and dancing (particularly dancing), don’t get me wrong. But it’s really good to realize how the bar has been raised, and that NO, we don’t have to serve steak to live up to tradition.


  • Sorry, by “we have lost sight of…” I meant the larger culture, not really the readers of this blog. I know a lot of you are planning sane, low-stress shindigs.

    And, I love Jordan almonds. And the bride in the top picture!

  • i love the weddings from the past…i tried to incorporate vintage elements into the wedding…including simplicity. and, to honor italian tradition & my grandparents, we had jordan almonds!

    nice post, meg.

  • I'm going to check with my mom to see if I can scan some of her wedding pictures. She & her older sister were married in a joint-wedding & the pictures are great! My aunt's husband's family is on the far left, then my aunt, then her family, then my mom & my dad's family on the far right. Talk about a big party for a "family" wedding!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comments on my memories. Wow, time flies. I still feel like I’m in my twenties.

    I grew up in Miami.

    As for dancing . . . my family was Southern Baptist, and no one in the church had dancing, except for one girl.

    Her wedding was in 1978 or 1979. Even then, she didn’t have a sit down. She had a very large buffet of cold foods and (gasp) no tables at all! People sat in chairs around the perimeter of the dance floor balancing plates and drinks. Not an easy task.

    I went to an awful lot of weddings that involved cake and punch receptions at the church. No drinking or dancing.

    That same year, another friend whose parents were middle class sprang for a large sit down dinner with dancing and a small band. It was very nice.

    Honestly, those church hall weddings were stone cold boring. Basically, you sat on a chair eating cake and nuts and drinking punch. If you were lucky there were tea sandwiches. And the conversations were stilted and awkward. The word “Joyful” would not describe those weddings.

    I knew I didn’t want one of those, but my horizons were bigger.

    In 1980, I went to a wedding that involved a sit down dinner and even an orchestra. Not a band; an orchestra! The groom was delivered to the church in a helicopter and the couple was later taken to the reception in it.

    However the parents were both wealthy and to this day it’s still the most elaborate wedding I’ve ever been to. They spent $40,000 in 1980!

    Now if you want to look at regional differences, you will find people back then that danced at their weddings. I know someone from Detroit who used to love going to Italian weddings because everyone danced and had a great time.

    So, there were religious and regional variations.

    The way I see it, in order to have the details that are now common, you’d have to invite fewer people just to afford it.

    Today, weddings without food and alcohol are much rarer. And because weddings are more personalized now, and there are a myriad of themes, locations, and decor, there is more to be stressed about. Even choosing is stressful.

    All this has come on so gradually, people don’t think about it.

    By 1988, things were already changing. One friend from Minnesota had an elaborate wedding and her mother nearly drove her nuts. They only had three months to plan and they had dinner and dancing. Her mother had none of those things at her own wedding.

    Ditto for my cousin’s wedding in 1988. Her mom eloped, but she had a dinner buffet and dancing.

    Personally, I love all the artful creativity and variety of today. What I don’t like is when it turns into wretched excess.

    I think people wear themselves out now with multiple events, more than one dress, endless pieces of stationery, creative favors, choosing a decor style that tells “who you are as a couple”, finding a photographer who is an artist, and larger diamonds (1 carat used to be considered a rock).

    Even with all the creativity, “pretty” isn’t good enough anymore. So many want the “WOW” factor. They want people’s jaws to drop.

    The ceremony and it’s meaning have definitely taken a back seat for a lot of people. Even Miss Manners has commented that everything now revolves around the party afterward, even the bride’s dress.

    For myself, if I get married again, I would definitely get the best vendors I could to execute my vision. But I would have less than 50 people and . . .

    No bridesmaids
    No groomsmen
    No aisle runner
    No showers
    No wedding programs, menu cards, and endless paper – just a great invitation and thank you notes

    But I would do a long dress in my favorite color, creative flowers, yummy food and drink, a small photo package with a good photographer, and I-Pod music of my most favorite music. And a meaningful ceremony that would be longer than five minutes!

    Oh, and no engagement ring for me. I’d do a substantial wedding ring with small stones all around – the leafy filigree type.

    Yeah, even at 50 some of us still have an ideal wedding in mind. Although people think I’m in my thirties and I am still shocked to have turned 50.

  • Anonymous

    Oh wait, here is one detail of the past I forgot to mention.

    In our church, whenever someone had a wedding, the invitation was actually printed in the church bulletin.

    Essentially, anyone who attended the church was invited!

    Since all they were serving was cake, punch, nuts, mints, and maybe tea sandwiches, they didn’t need to know how many people were coming.

    No one had to RSVP.

    Most of the time there were at least 300 people who attended.

    Everyone had a very very large wedding cake back then.

  • Meg

    Oh see Anon, I knew that, and I love that. We’re having a blessing (Afruf) at our synagogue the Friday before our wedding, and hosting the social hour afterwards, which is very similar in spirit.

  • Anonymous

    Meg, all I can say is “YOU GO GIRL!” Stay true to what you envision.

    And by the way, I hear you on the stupid Diamond Olympics.

    I remember years ago I saw a vintage ring in an antique store. It had two bows carved on the sides supporting lacy filigree with a small solitare diamond.

    I’ve seen lots of beautiful antique rings, but I’ve never seen another one like that one.

    As I looked around at what modern women were wearing, I wondered when lots of carats became the goal rather than artistry and beauty.

    I’ve never figured that one out.

  • Anonymous

    The V&A; are collecting images of wedding dresses just now in the lead up to an exhibition in 2011. They want all sorts of cultures ceremonies etc so it will end up being a really interesting database!

  • Anonymous

    My mom and dad had their reception in the church basement. The little old church ladies made the cake, and the only food was that and punch (of the kool-aide and Sprite variety). My mom made her own dress, and my grandma made her veil. The reception itself probably lasted two hours. No DJ, no band, no dancing. Just people talking.

    My mom didn’t have an engagement ring either. My dad was paying for law school by working on the line at the Ford plant, my mom was still in college, and they were totally self-supporting. My dad proposed in the car. I didn’t even realize that *most* people get engagement rings until I was well into my 20s. I always saw it as something optional and unnecessary. I got a very simple opal with two side heirloom diamonds. Occasionally, my FH says he wishes he got me a rock to flash around, but, why?