Wedding trousseau, gifts and honeymoons

By the end of the 19th century, especially in the upper and middle class, the wedding dowry and/or hope chest took less prominence in the preparations made by the bride and her family. Now the preparations centered on the trousseau, or what the bride would wear during the wedding and honeymoon.

Wedding ceremonies were often shrouded in superstition and adhered to in order to ward off the evil spirits, according to Tamara Truer, writing for the Ramsey County Historical Newsletter. The tradition of wearing a bridal veil was to protect the bride from being seen by the evil spirits who would be jealous of her beauty. The clothes worn by the bridesmaids and groomsmen were similar to those worn by the bride and groom in order to further confuse the evil spirits.

Brides did not always wear long white flowing gowns. A “good dress,” especially one that could be worn again, was much more practical, although young couples usually started a family soon after the wedding, so the bride could not fit into her dress for very long. The groom, on the other hand, wore his wedding suit for years on end until it wore out or did not fit any longer. At the Lyon County Museum we have dozens of wedding dresses in our collection but only one groom’s wedding suit. Even into the 20th century, long dresses were not always the style, but an elaborate veil might accompany the dress and be worn only for the wedding.

During World War II, when couples were getting married during a serviceman’s furlough, there was no time to plan an elaborate wedding. The bride is often pictured wearing a good suit and hat, the groom wearing his uniform. From this period on the long, satin, flowing gown with matching veil became the norm. White was associated with virginity. In the 1960s it was stylish to have a short, even mini, dress made of white leather.

The type of wedding gifts presented to the bridal couple has been the greatest change over the decades. Up until the mid-19th century guests were not expected to bring gifts. The bride’s family gave a hope chest, which contained many of the items needed to set up housekeeping. But by the end of the century a gift was not only expected, it was a statement of the giver’s wealth and tribute to the bride. These gifts were seldom practical in nature but rather items of luxury. Twentieth century brides received sets of bone china and sterling silver flatware, as well as sterling silver tea servers, crystal bowls and chiming clocks. These gifts were received at the church prior to the wedding, unwrapped and displayed on long tables in the reception hall of the church. The giver’s card would be prominently displayed next to the gift for all of the wedding guests to examine and admire. Today’s bridal couple registers at local department stores for the gifts that they would like to receive. In former times the couple moved directly from their parental homes to their own — today’s couples have set up separate households prior to that of their shared home and, therefore, have already accumulated many of the items needed to start up their home. Gifts of money then, as now, were always appreciated.

The custom of throwing rice at the couple as they left the church continues to be practiced. The rice signifies fertility. In latter years concern for the environment and animal rights have prompted organizers to provide birdseed to be thrown so that birds do not suffer bloating from ingesting the rice.

A honeymoon generally refers to an isolation period for the bride and groom to use in order to set up their household. American couples traditionally use this time to take a vacation. But in earlier days the couple did not travel alone. Family members would accompany them as they visited other family members or relatives who lived some distance away. In the 19th century it was popular to visit a tourist attraction such as Niagara Falls. It was not until the next century that couples traveled alone on their honeymoons.

Source: Article by Tamara Truer, Ramsey County Historical Newsletter.

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