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Victorian Wedding Dress
A young couple from the 1880s. She is wearing her best dress with a little lace. Many 19th Century American women couldn't afford a wedding dress.
Click for a larger image.

The Victorian wedding is a topic of considerable interest to social historians, fashion historians, antique collectors and especially those who want to inject a sense of tradition and grace into their modern weddings.

To help address this interest, I have reproduced a chapter from a 19th Century American etiquette book: "Our Deportment: or the Manners Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society" by John H. Young, A.M., F.B. Dickerson Publisher, 1882. The chapter addresses weddings, and is reproduced in its entirety, in facsimile.

As a side note though, I should point out that books such as "Our Deportment" addressed the world of a small and exclusive group: the urban middle class.

These people, while they grew in numbers and importance through the entire 19th Century, were never anything more than a minority. The majority of Americans lived on farms or in tenements, and would find it difficult to meet all the requirements of a 19th Century etiquette book. They had neither the time nor the money.

An example of this would be the wedding dress. This book, and many others dictate that it should be white: though most 19th Century wedding portraits I have seen (and all the ones in my collection) show women in something other than white. They are usually wearing what looks like their best dress, with some orange blossoms in their hair and perhaps a bit of lace or white crepe to accent their look.

The three photographs, which are seen on this and the following page, are examples of working women "making do". Note also that the men are not wearing the prescribed frock coat or morning coat, but have the less formal sack suit, with a white tie and perhaps a bit of flummery to make their ensemble more festive.

So, without further ado: Read the Etiquette of the Wedding.

Victorian Wedding Dress
This bride of 1890 has made do with little more than flowers a bit of lace.
Click for a larger image

Some additional resources: