Brides of Yesteryear
By Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell
In Funny Girl, Fanny Brice sings about her wedding, “To tell the truth, it hurt my pride, the groom was prettier than the bride.” There is comedy, tragedy, and happiness in weddings just as there is in marriage itself. Weddings ceremonies and traditions have changed as drastically as the styles of gowns worn by the bride and the types of wedding cakes. For better or worse it has always been an important day in peoples lives and one that has been romanticized, and captured visually as well as in literature.The first novel as we know the form was a perfectly dreadful one by Samuel Richardson called “Pamela” never has any heroine commanded so little sympathy even when her betrothed, who really only wants her as a mistress not a wife, tries to pull off a faux wedding with a false clergy actor officiating. Most stories of weddings are more plesant and romantic unless they are in Opera or tragedy and even then they tend to make a lovely day of it.
If without humor a marriage can not survive it is not surprising that from 1900 on humor ran rampant down the isle of matrimony.
“I’ve selected the Church
And arranged for the carriage,
And everything’s ready you’ll find;
There’s only one thing that’s delaying the marriage,
You don’t seem to make up your mind.”
One can only wonder what the gentleman in RI in 1909 thought when he received this message on an unsigned postal. Was it meant in jest or was some young woman making a last stand; and not in front of the preacher either.
The bride abandoned at the church was always good for a laugh though certainly not for those male or female, abandoned at the alter, or those who paid the bill for an event that never occurred. Vaudeville and cartoons abound with this type of morose humor.
It is interesting to note that more often then not ugly women and women who were portrayed as not being what a pure angelic wife should be were men dressed in drag and not women at all.One of the reasons for this could have been an anti suffrage mentality that all women were beautiful but not all females. Females being those who expected their husbands to do chores about the house, help with the children or worse yet demanded the vote. There was little discrimination between a dominant female and a domineering one. Heaven forbid a bride should have a mind of her own. This was an often portrayed subject for the magazine and postal artists. By using a male model it was another way of putting a woman in “her place” and lowering her status.
The “Award for Pluck” was a medal or picture of one. “Your latest Act of BraveryDepicted here, observe it,I wish you luck, take this for Pluck,You jolly well Deserve it.” must have been slightly unsettling for someone sent one who was just about to walk down the isle.
Unfortunately comedy and cruelty often overlap. The young woman tied to an older man because of the balance of his check book.Thelong nosed bride dragging her much shorter groom to the church and the “My wife won’t let me” cards, by artists like Tom Browne, depicted a marriage taking place and the battle ax wife with children in tow stopping the bigamist to be. That these things did happen on occasion was often greeted with great hilarity in the tabloids but getting one of these cards sent to one if involved in such a sorry situation was a slap in the face. More often or not they were unreal slap stick comedy sent and received and nothing more implied or taken.
The girl desperate to wed and control her enamored groom to be was also, the brunt of satire. “Isn’t it lovely to be engaged? Now that I’m to be your wifeA loving helpmate all your lifeI’d like to speak about the ringI think two carats, just the thingThat is the size of sister May’sA fraction more, I think it weighsO! George you are so good to meNow kiss your little bride-to-be”. All this in the days when divorce was rare indeed and women were supposed to be mindless bits of fluff.
When all the mirth is over it is comforting to think that the bride and groom of yesteryear went into their vows of, “for better or worse” with high aspirations, full of love and hope for the future just as they do today. However, many the bride went to the alter not only with solemnity but with dread. The Princess Royal, Mary, who wed the Viscount Lascelles was a very unwilling bride and it is said to the last moment begged her parents not to have to wed the Viscount. One seldom sees pictures of her with even a hint of a smile as most photos of herlook as if she is about to break down and weep. The life of a royal was not and is not what children’s story books portray it as. Probably because they are real people and the ones in books are make believe characters. Postcards of Princess Mary sell in the 10-15.00 range.
The fairy tale wedding of Prince charming and his bride actually was quite common and not only was it captured in photographs but artists like Italy’s Columbo whoidealized the love matches using children dressed as adults hoping to capture the innocence and bliss of the virginal occasion. Columbo’s work is highly collected and the cards sell in the 18-25.00 range for this type of card. Dressing children as adults and depicting them in adult situations has always been appealing hence a popular graphic image.
The French and Belgians were very enamored to hand tinted photographs and though some of the colors may be slightly startling by today’s standards the brighter the better was the style of the day.Depending on the photographer and the quality of the hand tinting prices will vary. A nicely done card of this type will range between 10-15.00.This type of Real Photo card continued to be produced in Europe till WWII. A picture perfect couple surrounded by a frame of poesies was sent as late as 1944 by a hopeful groom to his soon to be bride.
The war years swept away the carefully posed studio photos of the Victorian and Edwardian days and the pre WWII idyllic photos of the picture perfect bride. The latter photos oddly enough demand more money today than the earlier ones which may account for the style of the gowns with their long trains. Full photos range in the 20-35.00 range and group photos of the wedding party slightly less. The prettier and more stylish the bride the higher the value.
Harrison Fisher and Gibson girl type brides of exceptional beauty demand a premium. One of the major categories of collectors of bridal photography besides photographers are those interested in haute couture, gown design, especially those who like to decorate their bridal galleries and boutiques with bridal fashions and brides of days gone by. Certainly the old gowns have influenced those that followed greatly.
Every now and then bridal pictures of an ethnic nature can be found such as a Hindu marriage ceremony in India. Though scarce as postcards they only sell in the 8-12.00 range.
The white wedding gown was not always the fashion. “I’m thinking of the day when you will be my bride in white and blue.” Goes back much further than the all shades of white gowns. Earlier still, bright colors were fashionable. A wonderful print which also appeared as a calendar top was entitled Evelyn and was by the artist Frank H. Drach. She is the epitome of what the “typical” bride looked like in the eyes of romantics and artists.
During the war years many a marriage was hastily conducted before the groom was shipped out overseas. It is not unusual to see real photo cards of such weddings. What is interesting is that often the woman is also, in uniform especially if the card is English.“The Marriages of Mayfair”, a play which set the stage for the glamour of the military high society wedding starred Eva Moore and Basil Gill and successfully ran at the Drury Lane Theater. It differed greatly from the attire of WWII as with bombs falling over Britain the Gibson girl type bride of the Edwardians gave way to the Rosie the Riveter, the professional woman that was allowed to reemerge from the days of Queen Bodicea and was willing to marry and work and fight in uniform. The War bride was a powerful force to be reckoned with, which Heir Hitler had not taken into account.In 1914 a pretty little card with a calendar with the date circled may have been sent out to those at a distance to tell them of the nuptials but the war bride and groom were lucky to have photo postcards often taken by friend or family and not in a studio by a professional. Bridal gowns, customs, traditions, have been greatly influenced by world affairs.
The weddings of Royalty like Princess Elizabeth (ERII), Princess Margaret to photographer Lord Snowdon, The Princess Royal Anne, and Prince Charles’s marriage to both Lady Diana Spencer, and Camilla Parker Bowes, have not only captured imaginations worldwide but have influenced the weddings of their times.
Even mourning in Victorian times influenced weddings. Queen Victoria, wallowed in heavy black bombazine much of her life and was often referred to as a professional widow. Certainly after the death of Prince Albert widows weeds were her style and were copied world wide. One French fashion magazine critic once remarked that all dresses and gowns be they for balls or weddings only differed from the gloom of death by their color, or addition of some.
Today the mark of a successful wedding is how much money is spent on it. The rich and infamous alike spend over a million dollars on a wedding, dragging in caterers, high priced designers, floral decorations from around the world and have to jet their guests in. The charming garden weddings of years gone by is nothing but a memory or nostalgia…or is it? Many are choosing small weddings at home and novelty dress weddings are on the rise. It seems that common sense and frugality may be on the rise. Vintage gowns and worn once before wedding gowns seem to find an avid clientele who are only happy to pay 25-150.00 for gowns that cost anywhere up to 2500.00 brand new.
One of the becalming influences on the beyond reason wedding was a rather large book that cost 50.00. “Martha Stewart Weddings”came out in 1987 and not only brought sanity back on the cost of weddings but it proved you could have quality, originality, and class with out spending a fortune.After all, the idea of a wedding is to spend a life time together not to spend a lifetime getting out of debt incurred by the wedding.Movie stars don’t stay married very long and their costly weddings are often just for publicity and are a tax write off. Graciousness not garishness is much more appealing.Martha Stewart is quite savvy in working in the usage of family heirlooms and antiques into the wedding. Grandma’s gown refitted on a new bride, home made foods, flowers in season , cake toppings off ofcakes can be handed down from bride to bride.Kewpie dolls by Rose O’neil have always been popular and both in crape dressed celluloid and bisque the Kewpie dolls have been produced as cake toppers dressed as brides and grooms. Sweet, cute, and innocent might just become fashionable again which brings us back to humor. These Kewpies will range in price from 25.00 to around 400.00 depending on size and composition.
Bamforth comics are notorious for showing life as it really is. The Taylor Tot series catches a little boy who is supposed to be carrying the brides train using it instead of a handkerchief. Another English comic depicts a little girl bride with a large L (learners) sign on her. “Anyway it shows I’m willin’ to try”The artist is Carol and her cards only demand around 6.00 as does the above mentioned BamforthPublishing.
Gracie Allen in one of her old television programs hosts a wedding. Gracie thought that the hard rice would hurt the couple so she cooked it and warns everyone to be careful as it is still hot!It there much difference between this great comedienne’s sense of humor and that of the postcard of a little boy dressed in chefs attire cooking spaghetti? “I love spaghetti-it’s what you ‘frow over people at weddin’s.”The George Burns & Gracie Allen DVDS are for sale in dollar stores and if you want to spend an evening laughing and checking out a very dated wedding it is a dollar wisely spent.
The June bride and the perfect bride of long ago will always be depicted as the classic beauty, the Harrison Fisher girl, the girl next door that had a thousand beaus who loved and hoped to be her groom but she had eyes for only one. The girl with the rosy cheeks standing behind the white picket fence, with stars in her eyes and flowers in her arms. Regardless of the month of the wedding or the year the mementos of the occasion have carefully be stored away by many and many an old trunk holds a cherished dried boquet, gown, photograph, favor, etc. of a day long remembered by someone and a memory kept alive by other generations who have happily incorporated these memories in with their own.