Past Times

May 23, 2014

Wedding traditions through the years

Weekday weddings, white-coated servants and train getaways were a few of the trappings some 50 years ago when grandmothers of the “now” generation were planning their lives.

As wedding season starts to heat up, here’s a look back at wedding traditions from the past. In 1970, N&O writer Elaine Ogburn talked to some Raleigh “brides” about their long-ago special day and how much times had changed.

Weekday weddings, white-coated servants and train getaways were a few of the trappings some 50 years ago when grandmothers of the “now” generation were planning their lives.

What do they remember most about marriages around the ’20s? For one thing, they say, courtship wasn’t quite the same. A southern beau and belle didn’t have the public nightspots afforded couples today, so they might ride bicycles on dates, says Mrs. Graves Vann, who was married in Goldsboro in 1921.

“On Friday nights we used to get together and make candy,” she adds. If there were no parties to go to, a date could mean an evening rocking on the porch.

Chaperones were always close at hand then, says Mrs. Kenneth Royall, who married in Warsaw in 1919. Parents considered them necessary, so chaperones were in on everything the couple did.

Hope chests full of linens and fancy clothing were kept by many young hopefuls, but not Mrs. Charles E. Johnson, married on Lookout Mountain, Tenn., in 1919. She didn’t collect anything in anticipation of her marriage.

“I wasn’t too hopeful,” she laughs. “I was too busy riding horses and having a good time.”

Couples were carefully guarded from actions that looked or even sounded like they could be construed by others as improper.

No matter how one courtship differed from another, a marriage courtship ended as it does today – with an inevitable proposal.

A shaky prospective son-in-law spoke behind closed study doors with a stern-looking prospective father-in-law – then plans began to crystallize.

Announcement parties were common, says Mrs. Lorna Bell Broughton, who married the late Dr. Needham Bryant Broughton in 1921 in Wakefield. Theirs was given by a friend, she recalls.

Weekday weddings were popular and few people married on the weekends, say Mrs. Vann, who married on Tuesday, and Mrs. John Bratton, who married in Bennettsville, S.C., on a Thursday in 1919.

Invitations were initially what they are today, says Mrs. Johnson, who had Tiffany’s 1919 edition. Mrs. Vann, who didn’t want to leave anyone in Goldsboro out, placed her invitation in the local paper, and sent engraved ones only to out-of-town relatives and friends. A glance through newspapers of the time shows this to have been a common practice.

Wedding dresses were of necessity handmade since none were sold ready-made. Madame Barnes from Wilson was well-known to brides in the state, says Mrs. Broughton, who wore one of her “longuette” creations.

Many brides had their dresses made out of state, perhaps in Baltimore, Kentucky or even New Orleans. Veils, usually attached by a circlet of orange blossoms, covered the face until the marriage pronouncement was made and a helpful attendant turned it back.

Trousseau items were often handmade, even to the lingerie, says Mrs. Johnson, whose embroidered dainties came from Cincinnati. Gingham dresses were a popular part of the trousseau as well.

As for bridesmaids’ dresses, a distinction was almost always made between the honor attendants and others – a different dress color, maybe another style of dress as Mrs. Johnson chose, or just a different color bouquet, which honor attendants carried in Mrs. Broughton’s all-white wedding. Matrons were referred to as “dames” of honor.

Bridesmaids in Mrs. Kenneth Royall’s home garden wedding carried parasols with an orchid bouquet on each handle. Meline picture hats worn by bridesmaids in both her wedding and Mrs. Vann’s were popular accessories.

Wedding parties were more numerous then, says Mrs. Royall, whose wedding account records several barbecues, dances and at least one handkerchief shower in her honor.

Weddings were often at home and receptions, almost without exception, took place there since there were few available public places in which to hold them. Mrs. Broughton’s wedding party and guests did, however, “motor to nearby Raleigh for a buffet supper at the Yarborough Hotel.”

At each wedding, guests stood in line to be received by members of the wedding party. Floating bridesmaids were then unknown.

Honeymoons usually began on the train whether it was headed north to New York City, south to Florida, or points in between.

At least one newly-wed couple hid from “well-wishers” behind a freight train until they could hop aboard the Orange Blossom Special – chained trunks and all. The N&O 7/19/1970

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Past Times

About Past Times

History fascinates us. We love to linger over old photographs or accounts of years long gone. Discovering our own personal histories can become an enjoyable pastime. This blog will provide some looks into that past. We'll look at NC history in general, and Triangle history in particular. We'll also try to give you the tips and tools (and connections) for looking at your own history.

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