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What Were Wedding Traditions in Edwardian Times?

Updated on September 9, 2013

Belle Epoch

Elaborately decorated dresses are a sign of Edwardian times.
Elaborately decorated dresses are a sign of Edwardian times. | Source
King Edward VII ruled England for only a few years: 1901 to 1910.
King Edward VII ruled England for only a few years: 1901 to 1910. | Source

Edwardian Times

Known as "the Belle Epoque," or "beautiful era," Edwardian times were full of change. They started with the fruit of the Industrial Revolution, city-living and mass-produced consumer goods. The "gilded age" ended with World War I.

Weddings of the Edwardian era were lavish affairs. Brides-to-be -- and their parents -- prepared their trousseau, or wedding-day attire, with the utmost attention to detail. Every aspect of the engagement was, in fact, planned elaborately.

King Edward VII reigned in England from 1901 to 1910. However, the Edwardian era of style encompasses the years of 1901 to 1919. During that time the first rewards of industrialization came in the form of mass-produced goods.

The time period is marked by conspicuous consumption, when society hostesses believed that only excess succeeds for entertainment. This attitude is particularly apparent in Edwardian engagements and weddings. Newspapers wrote for weeks about the trousseaux, bridesmaids and other preparations for society weddings.

The Edwardian era also encompassed the time period of the Titanic.

Sapphires, pearls, platinum and filigree were markers of Edwardian jewelry-making.
Sapphires, pearls, platinum and filigree were markers of Edwardian jewelry-making. | Source

Engagement Rings

Prior to the Edwardian era, brides-to-be were protected by the "Breach of Promise" law. The "Breach of Promise" law gave women legal recourse in case an engagement got called off; a broken engagement left women "unmarriageable."

Beginning in the Edwardian era, the engagement ring started supplanting the law. The elaborate, expensive engagement ring served as insurance against a future as a spinster.

Belle epoch jewelers used expensive materials. The created intricate but geometric pieces. The preferred color schemes were pale pastels and monochromatic white-on-white. As such, jewelers often used diamonds, pearls and platinum.

Designs were sometimes relatively simple. Sometimes a central diamond was surrounded by smaller diamonds set in platinum. However, sometimes the became elaborate indeed. The gem gallery of the Smithsonian has on display an elaborate ring. This Edwardian masterpiece features two diamonds flanking a pearl in a stoplight pattern. This stoplight pattern is surrounded with a crowd of diamonds.

The Edwardian corset forced women's bosoms and backsides out while cinching in their waists.
The Edwardian corset forced women's bosoms and backsides out while cinching in their waists. | Source

The Wedding Dress

The white wedding dress came firmly into fashion in the Edwardian era. Dressmakers -- French were the preferred -- created frothy confections of white satin. Society women further demanded embellishment with pearls and an abundance of lace. Pearls at the time were far rarer -- and so far more expensive -- than in modern times.

During this belle epoch, the standard of beauty for women was the "S-curve" silhouette, characterized by a tiny waist. Corsets forced women's bosoms and backsides out, creating the "S-curve." Ironically, the Edwardian corset was an improvement on Victorian era corsets, which caused physical deformations of the internal organs and even the bones in the unnatural quest for the "wasp waist." Edwardian corsets were also rust-resistant.

The gore, a cut of skirt that narrows then flares, further emphasizes this shape with a trumpet or fishtail look. The Edwardian wedding dress epitomizes the "S-curve" silhouette.

Consuelo Vanderbilt had the most lavish wedding when she married the 9th Duke of Marlborough
Consuelo Vanderbilt had the most lavish wedding when she married the 9th Duke of Marlborough | Source

Preparations

Society favored afternoon weddings and marriage by "banns," or announcement, which had to be made three weeks prior to the wedding. Likewise, invitations had to go our two to three weeks in advance.In addition to the invitations, the bride's parents were responsible for providing the wedding reception. The bridegroom, on the other hand, provided the wedding ring, bridal bouquet, bridesmaids bouquets and bridesmaid gifts such as a locket, fan, bracelet or brooch. He also secured the motorcar to take him and the bride to the reception.

Society guests attempted to outdo each other in lavishing expensive gifts on the wedding couple.
Society guests attempted to outdo each other in lavishing expensive gifts on the wedding couple. | Source

Wedding Presents

Society expected all guests to provide a wedding present. If the engagement was not going to be long, guests sent presents as soon as the engagement was announced.

The bride's family then exhibits the gifts the day before the wedding at an afternoon tea. They displayed the gifts on linen- or velvet-covered tables, choosing dark cloth for silver plate.

People of "aristocratic tastes" surrounded the presents with flowers, especially roses. In fact, since every present prominently bore the giver's card and name, guests likely vied to send lavish, expensive presents in the manner of the era.

Gibson Girl

Gibson girls were they style for Edwardian times. Hair should be affixed atop the head and made very full. Ruffles and a corset were de rigeur.
Gibson girls were they style for Edwardian times. Hair should be affixed atop the head and made very full. Ruffles and a corset were de rigeur. | Source

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    • nArchuleta profile image
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      Nadia Archuleta 3 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Hi, Thank you for your kind words! I will definitely check out your works.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, nArchuleta,

      I love this hub. Amazing stuff. And it is all the truth. Voted up and away. Because you deserved it. You are one talented girl and I wish you only good things on or off of HP.

      I invite you to check my works, then become one of my followers.

      I would love that.

      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Al.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This is such a beautiful, to-the-point hub. The era was so lovely although not the most female-friendly. We were still finding our footing. I love the photo of Ms. Vanderbilt. I wonder how comfortable she is?