I admit, I binge watched the royal wedding. Yep, got up at 4 a.m. and took it all in. Teared up. Had a good cry. Watched it again that night. Yeah, I told myself I was there for the horses. Snicker... who's gonna believe that. So, I got to thinking, what were western weddings like?
We know weddings changed lives. Girls moved from their mother's house to one of their own, raised their own brood, moved when their husband's decided to move, and put up with a lot. That part of life hasn't changed much. But, remember, they were often far away from home, no emails, phone chats, video's. We have it pretty easy.
At the turn of the last century, brides often experienced similar emotions of today's brides; anticipation, excitement, trepidation. But these blessed unions were far more than just gathering of families. Weddings were important social events. They pulled the families away from mundane daily chores and provided a way for young folks to meet and mingle.
Weddings were scheduled around the circuit preacher or work on the homestead. If the preacher couldn't be there, a justice of the peace would serve. Families would gather in the main room to watch the nuptials then feasting, dancing until late in the night would entertain young and old. If you were lucky there would be a good old chivaree where folks would grab pots and pans, wooden spoons, whistles and the like then journey to wait outside the bedroom window. Once the light had been doused, the ruckus would begin.
What did you get a bride in the West?
Well, many of the customs were still the same. Letters from the east, customs and culture gave into traditions that many families did their best to emulate. Household items were a must. Sometimes staples were given. A bag of coffee would come in mighty handy if your farm or ranch was a distance away from the city or town. Practical gifts like cows, chickens, horses were always nice especially with money in rather short supply.
By the Gilded Age, Western brides were having higher expectations. They had been reading Harper's Weekly or gleaming information from letters to see what was going on back East. Gifts became fancier, silver bread bowls, napkin rings, crystal were show pieces brides would give their eye teeth for. A woman's trousseau such as clothing, linens made by hand were given. Remember those quilting bees - patterns like double wedding ring became popular. Things like parlor stoves, carpets, and water sets were the cat's meow.
Because of the influence of Queen Victoria, there was a rise in the use of white gowns.We all know that most clothing was made by hand. Those ranch families who could afford high end fashion often sent to France for white silk wedding gowns that cost $1,000.00 to $1,500.00 dollars. Cost may have hindered purchases, but those ladies were resourceful. They'd study fashion plates in magazines to get ideas and purchase their own taffeta, tulle, and satin, then spend hours sewing a gown.
I sure enjoyed Prince Harry's wedding. I bet they received a number of silver bread bowls. But, I can't imagine, Prince Charles or his brother sneaking up to Windsor Castle with pots, pans, and whistles. Maybe, bagpipes.
Until next time,
A wonderfully preserved wedding gown of the Gilded Age can be found at the Buffalo Bill Historic Center. Arta Cody's wedding dress has been preserved and is on display there. This picture was printed in the fall 2005 issue of Point's West Magazine.