As Cole Porter famously wrote, times have changed. Weddings of the past have a reputation for being much more proper than today’s gatherings. Whether an affair was formal or simple, large or small, in winter or in summer, attention was paid to every detail. The groom and his family were to be consulted on broad matters such as date and general formality, but tradition long held that the bride’s family was to have full planning and financial responsibility for a wedding. These expectations often created a smooth event, with everyone knowing his or her responsibilities.
Today, weddings are often more a reflection of the bride and groom than of the bride’s family, regardless of who is hosting the wedding, which is a natural representation of a cultural shift over the past several decades. People are choosing to marry later in life and are often established as individuals before becoming engaged to marry. Weddings of today are more varied than ever.
A classic wedding today can be thoroughly modern in approach, and even lovers of vintage style can embrace these changes. A wedding website seems to be de rigueur and allows people clear access to all relevant information. Mixing faiths during a ceremony is not uncommon. Certainly, sharing costs is widely accepted. Many couples choose to have a theme, either simple or elaborate. Nearly 40% of today’s weddings are encores, meaning that the bride, groom or both have been married previously. Secular officiants, readings and locations are all widely embraced.
The trick, though? In our hurry to be different and exciting and full of a great party, we sometimes lose sight of what is important about a wedding. We simply do not give enough credit to weddings of the past on this particular topic, too often seeing them as stuffy rather than for what they truly were: thoughtful. The main element missing from so many of today’s weddings is a consideration of the guest. In the past, because ceremonies and celebrations were rooted in tradition, the guest was naturally regarded with utmost importance. A wedding was about two things: (1) the union of two people; and (2) taking care of the guests.
If you are planning a wedding, do what feels right for you, your family and your wedding party. Infuse it with your style, but never forget that you can embrace these modern elements and still focus on the heart of a wedding: the union, and the people there with you. Keeping these two things in mind, you can also be very practical and keep perspective about what is important to to you. Mix the best of the old and new, and you will be left with a great fit. If you make thoughtful kindness your guiding principle, all of the elements will fall into place.
Bringing Vintage Flair to Today’s Wedding . . .
Perhaps most importantly, during the wedding and reception, ensure that guests are never left without a place to be and something to do. The bride and groom should never be away from their guests for more than a few moments. If a few photos are needed between the wedding and the reception, make sure that the process is well organized and takes only a few minutes. The food and drink need not be formal, simply adequate for the time of day and plentiful for the number of people.
Mail paper invitations with response cards, using traditional invitation wording and address styling. The invitation sets the initial tone for an event, and although invitations and responses can be handled online, paper adds a much more personal touch and vintage feel.
Select your attendants with care and understand that you are asking them to make a major commitment of both time and financial resources.
Thank everyone who helps you in any way with a thoughtful, handwritten message. Too often, we simply neglect to share appropriate thanks. Never miss an opportunity to express your appreciation. The florist’s assistant who saves the day, the transportation coordinator, the family friend who hosts out-of-town guests for lunch…all are more than worthy of your time to write a note.
Throughout the process, include your parents and those people who are meaningful to them. Too often, a couple focuses so much on themselves that they neglect who has been important to their families for years. Embrace this history, and the kindness will more than repay itself.
Remember that a woman is only Mrs. with her husband’s full name, never her own (eg, Mrs. John Smith, never Mrs. Emily Smith). A fact every bride-to-be should certainly know!
Mail “At Home” cards, perhaps with your thank you notes, noting your address following the wedding. This blends an idea from the past when couples did not live together before a wedding, and therefore were establishing a new domicile, with today’s need to let everyone know how and where the couple prefers to be addressed after marriage (specifically, their address and what the name of the bride will be, even if neither changes).
Hold a receiving line at the reception. This approach allows you and your parents to meet and greet everyone in attendance. Few things represent a wedding from another time more than a successful receiving line.
Strive not to alienate anyone to prove a point. Graciousness is an underestimated quality that should be embraced when it comes to weddings. A wedding represents a new chapter in life; start it with as few enemies as possible.
Send thank you notes immediately upon receipt of a gift. Especially in today’s era of click-and-send registries, it is so important for a bride to write a personal note. Since the bride selected the gift in the first place, she should be specific about its use or offer a story that is sure to delight the reader.
It is utter nonsense for a bride to think that her dream wedding does not correspond to her available budget. In those instances, simply adjust something (either the number of guests, the style of the wedding, or even the time of day) so that everyone can be happy. Nothing ruins a wedding more than a pouty bride.
As a wedding guest, remember that you congratulate a groom, but you always share best wishes with a bride. It is considered inappropriate to congratulate a bride on “catching” a husband!
Sarah Carey is The Glamorous Housewife Etiquette Expert. You can read more about her here.