One of the recent posts on Home Living was about modesty in weddings, particularly in the choice of a wedding gown. In the ensuing discussion, a question was asked, are weddings for the bride and groom or for the guests?
As Etiquette Lady, I would like to answer this with my opinion of who and what a wedding is for.
I believe a wedding is a mixture of purposes. The bride and groom need a wedding make public their vows, and the wedding is for the guests to have an opportunity to celebrate the couple, to share in their joy.
The bride and groom use the wedding to make their vows (which are most binding- 'til death do us part!) to each other, in the presence of witnesses. By making these vows public, in however large or small a wedding, they show that they are serious about them and that they fully believe what they are saying to each other.
In this day and age of "shacking up," I believe couples (especially the men) have lost sight of the purpose of getting married. Men, let me tell you that in the old days, when people were more mindful of their generations, you would want to know for sure that who you were married to was with you (officially) for life, and that the children born to you were yours, and would legally carry your name as your wife does, and thus inherit your property someday. Marriage provided a secure situation for the wives, as well. None of this going from boyfriend to boyfriend stuff, gathering children with non-committed fathers. No, let us not have that; I believe in weddings. Though they are not a guarantee that the couple will stay together, they provide a much more stable, less confused society.
A couple may have a very formal wedding, which can make some in this present "casually inclined" era to feel uncomfortable. A formal wedding seems to incline toward the gravity of making wedding vows, impressing upon the guests the solemnity of the occasion.
Or, a couple may choose to have a more casual wedding, where the guests feel like one big family gathering together. Though not diminishing from the seriousness of the vows, it is just as wonderful and both kinds of weddings are joyful.
The bride often plans her wedding and reception down to the smallest details so that the celebrations will be congratulatory to the couple rather than unwelcome. The guests are there to honor the couple, and so a wedding will be arranged in such a way as to make it easy for the guests to do so. The comforts of every guest invited is considered, much ado is made about what food to serve, where to have the wedding to accommodate everyone, wedding favors and mementos for the guests, etc.
The bride has control over what she wants to go on in the wedding and at the reception. Some brides choose not to serve alcohol, perhaps because of their own beliefs, her disinclination to have drunkenness about, or because there are treasured guests that would feel uncomfortable with those things. A bride should be honored for this and not resented or whispered about for excluding it. Another example might be leaving out loud modern music or dancing. These are a few examples of what a bride or couple may decide to do in planning "their day."
Perhaps on this special day, the wedding day, guests who in everyday life like to "rib" or josh the bride or groom would do well to think before they jest. Some jests and toasts and at receptions are in bad taste, and it would be best to consider the bride and groom, and the tone they have set for the wedding, before one decides to tell jokes.
Too often we see weddings that seem like they are "just for show," however I believe that much thought has been put into the wedding by the bride to make it a festive occasion for the guests. If a wedding is put on just to impress, just "as a show," and the couple is not really serious about what they are doing, that would indeed be sad.
A note about in-laws: Weddings are happiest when the two families are pleased that their children are to be joined together to make their own family. Life is happiest this way, knowing that each set of parents loves your spouse and fully supports your marriage. This support will be precious to you in the ups and downs of life, and when children come along.
Couples should consider their future lives not as "just us two," but realize that a marriage is actually the coming together of two family cultures. Each person brings into the marriage with them their family traditions. Anyone who marries and thinks they will not "have much to do with the in-laws" is just plain naive. Who you are marrying is actually a combination of his or her parents, and a whole family tree beyond that!
It is truly a blessing when the couple has known their future in-laws long before an engagement was even thought of. When this has not been the case, it is good form for the bride and groom to get to know their future in-laws as soon as they can, whether in person or by letter or telephone if long distances prevents any meetings. Ideally this could be done before the couple is even formally engaged. It gives them a chance to know each other, and to seriously consider the step they are about to take.
If a bride cannot stand her future in-laws, and is dreaming of Christmases and birthdays centering around her family to the exclusion of the groom's, she needs to consult the groom about this before the wedding. If the groom thinks her father is an old ogre, and wants to make sure they live far, far away from her "dear old dad," he needs to have a chat with the bride. Perhaps a bit of time may be needed to iron out these differences before the wedding, before the vows seal the two lives inseparably. In-laws should be viewed as a wonderful blessing to the couple! The combined wisdom of all parents can greatly aid the couple in the years ahead.
A bride may want to "dress to impress" and if so, she needs to think about whom she is trying to impress.
If she chooses to show off an abundance of her flesh, leaving little to the imagination, she may think she is impressing the groom. This sort of impression is best left for private times and places, and not made public.
Perhaps a bride who chooses an immodest dress and bridesmaid's dresses is trying to impress her peers with the latest fashion or shocker. She should keep in mind that it is not just her peers who are attending the wedding, and it is best not to shock your grandmother.
Let me tell you, ladies, brides are impressive by default. To don a gorgeous gown of shiny satin or shimmering silk- perhaps once in a lifetime- and have all eyes upon you, have your hair done just so and professional photos taken of you, to get to hold a fabulous bouquet (how many times in ordinary life do you get to walk around with a bouquet?) and wear a bejewelled veil or especially gorgeous tiara or hat; how can you fail to impress?
A bride could be covered from neck to floor in satin and lace, and be absolutely beautiful and radiant! They were a hundred or so years ago. One need not go "Edwardian" to have a modest wedding dress, though. Nowadays, with strapless wedding gowns glutting the market, and mini-skirted bridesmaid's dresses being "the thing," something below the knee with a higher neckline and sleeves could be considered a big improvement. However, why settle for that? Why not explore the options- patterns, dressmakers, boutiques, and get yourself a wonderful gown that is beautiful and modest? Some brides choose to wear their mother's gown, which I think is a lovely tradition. The gown may be from another fashion era, but is very, very special. Modest wedding gowns can be so beautiful, and timeless!