The Elegance of a Victorian Wedding, Part I
Setting, Attire and Flowers

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A theme wedding can add a special flare to your wedding day. Whether you decide to be "historically correct," or instead wish to include selected, but not all elements from the period you choose, it's best to begin your planning with a look at an authentic recreation of the era you have picked.

The Victorian era was an age of romance, chivalry, elegance and genteelness, the ambiance of which can be reflected initially in choice of location and setting for a wedding. An historical building, an estate or mansion of the period will immediately set the tone. An elegant Victorian garden is another excellent backdrop for a Victorian wedding because Victorians placed great store in the language of flowers and used different flowers as a means to convey particular sentiments. Another excellent setting for a Victorian wedding is an afternoon tea. Ideally such a party would be held in a formal garden, but with careful attention to decor, a "garden" tea party may also be successfully recreated in a banquet hall, hotel or at home. While on the subject of flowers, we should note that the bridesmaids at a Victorian wedding would carry "tussie-mussies," a small bunch of silver flowers, tied with sweet-smelling herbs. The flowers in the bride's bouquet would be designed with flowers whose "language" conveyed particular meaning.

Once you have chosen the location and date of the wedding, you should look for and choose invitations. The wedding invitation that was typical in the Victorian era looked much like the formal engraved invitations still being used today. Alternatively, you may use a reproduction of a Victorian greeting card as your invitation.

The kind of wedding gown you choose may also carry through on the Victorian theme. The ever-popular white wedding gown had its beginnings with Queen Victoria's wedding in 1840. A symbol of purity, the Victorian bride's gown was a reflection of her wealth and social status, for after all, who but the very affluent could afford to wear a dress only once. The dress was simple and not embellished with jewelry. In the mid-Victorian era a more extravagant display of wealth led to the bride wearing a diamond tiara for the ceremony and combination pieces of diamond jewelry (that could be taken apart later). The jewelry worn by the bride was a gift either from her husband or from her parents.

The dress usually had a fitted bodice, small waist, and full skirt, worn over hoops and petticoats. It was made of organdy, tulle, lace, gauze, silk, linen or cashmere. The veil was made from fine gauze, sheer cotton or lace. The Victorian bride favored a long veil down her back with a small garland (crown of flowers). A hat, with a veil of Battenburg lace would also be appropriate.

Victorian weddings were all-white. That included the bridesmaid's dresses and veils. Veils were attached to a crown or garland of flowers, usually using orange blossoms for the bride and roses or other in-season flowers for the attendants. The bride's outfit would not have been considered complete without short white kid gloves, long enough to tuck under the sleeves, with a slit in one finger to slip the ring on without removing the glove. Slippers were of white kid, satin or brocade with low to flat heels, decorated with bows or ribbons at the instep. The bride carried an embroidered handkerchief (with the initials of her maiden name), and wore silk stockings embroidered up the front.

In the mid-Victorian era (1870s), brides became more wealth and more ostentatious. The ultimate status symbol was a wedding gown imported from France, or a replica of one. Full court trains were in fashion, along with long veils, bustles, detail work and two bodices, a simple one for the wedding and a low-cut one for other special occasions. In the late Victorian period (1890's) the bustle fell from favor and the half-train and large sleeves became fashionable. If the bride married in church, the dress had to include a train, with a veil of the same length made from lace or silk tulle. From the mid-Victorian era to the 1890s, the veil covered the bride's face and was not lifted until after church. The veil was no longer used as a shawl after the wedding.

By the 1890s, Victorians were becoming more daring as they followed the fashion trends from Paris. Large sleeves that emphasized the shoulders were in style. Grey, violet and lilac became popular in England, while Americans still preferred white, rose or green. By 1898, bridesmaids' dresses took a one hundred eighty-degree turn and it became required that they contrast with the bride's dress, so as not to distract from her being the center of attention.

To be "authentic," a Victorian theme wedding needs also to pay attention to the groom's attire. The early Victorian groom wore a frock coat of blue, mulberry or claret, and a flower favor in his lapel. By 1865, men's coats were tailored with a button hole designed specifically for the flower. The waistcoat was white, and his pants were probably of lavender doeskin. Black was out of the question, a factor that quite likely will require a creative twist or a digression from the theme. The best man and groomsmen wore frock coats in more subdued tones. By the mid-Victorian era, frock coats fell from favor and the morning coat became the garb of choice. If a Victorian groom insisted on a frock coat, it would be worn with a vest of black cloth, dark gray trousers, a folded cravat of medium color, and lavender gloves stitched in black.

The late Victorian era showed another fashion switch, from no gloves to must gloves. Grooms were wearing pearl colored gloves with black embroidery and by 1899, the frock coat was back in style with the double-breasted, light-colored waistcoat, dark tie, gray striped cashmere trousers, patent-leather button boots and pale tan kid gloves. Throughout the Victorian era, a black top hat was an absolute must to complete the outfit. In England, the bride would pin a white ribbon, flowers, lace and silver leaves on the ushers' shoulders. In America, ushers wore boutonnieres in their lapels. The boutonnieres were large, usually a bunch of lilies, a gardenia, or a stephanotis sprig. Early in Victorian England, bridesmaids made favors and pinned them on the sleeves and shoulders of the guests, as the guests left after the ceremony. Later on in the era, servants and horses were also decorated with flowers.

At an evening wedding, full dress tailcoats were appropriate, worn with white gloves and a white waistcoat. The father-of-the-bride dressed exactly like the groom and ushers. Their attire depended on the time of day.

If a Victorian theme wedding is to provide the full effect, the bride will need to also pay attention to what the bridesmaids are wearing. Victorian bridesmaids wore gowns that could subsequently become part of their wardrobes. Skirts were full and bodices were tiny. The color was white, on occasion with a tiny accent of color. Bridesmaids wore short, white veils falling from a coronet to just below the hip. At-home weddings did not require a veil. Instead brides often chose headpieces of flowers and ribbons.

Even children had their own dress etiquette. Little girls could be either flower girls or ring bearers. Older young ladies could be junior bridesmaids or maids of honor. In any event, their dresses were made of white muslin tied with a ribbon sash that matched their shoes and stockings. Dress length depended upon the current styles and the ages of the girls. Boys in Victorian weddings were train bearers. They dressed as court pages in velvet jackets, with short trousers and round linen collars fastened by large bows of white crepe de chine. Black laced shoes were worn. In a formal wedding they wore with silk hose, and buckles on their shoes. They wore velvet suits in black, blue, green or red. A matching hat, was optional and was removed during the church ceremony.

In an attempt to recreate a Victorian wedding theme the setting, attire and flowers are critical details and will serve to add a flavor of elegance to your wedding.

Click Here Part II: The Elegance of a Victorian Wedding: Ceremony, Reception, Cake, Favors
Click Here to Victorian Rules of Etiquette

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