Wedding dress accessories
Even the most sophisticated modern bride is still likely to take notice of the saying:
Something old, something new, Something borrowed, something blue,
I can remember my Cornish father-in-law, and mother-in-law to be reciting this with a knowing look.
For the bride, the something old something new et cetera could be catered for by adding 'and sixpence in her shoe' (limping brides again), for to carry a coin at the wedding secures future wealth. North Carolina brides carry a gold dollar and a Swedish bride's father might have slipped a silver coin into her left shoe, her mother gold into the right, so that, by imitative magic, she may never lack luxuries. The blue of the rhyme signifies constancy:
Those dressed in blue Have lovers true.
Dressing for the wedding is a rite of passage and brides usually wear new, unlaundered undergarments, (string quartet player, regrettably I can't vouch for this), even rejecting used pins, thus emphasising their acceptance of a new life. But it is happiness-inducing to include one item already worn by a happy bride, and married women are flattered to be asked to lend their wedding veils for this purpose. Family traditions reinforce the belief: Elizabeth Randolph married William Berkley at Wilton, Virginia, in 1792, wearing a Mechlin lace veil which has been worn since by six generations of the family's brides. The rules about trying on bridal clothes apply with double force to wedding veils, if the veil is put on before the day the bride may be deserted, have an unhappy marriage, or even die before the wedding. Nor should a bride allow a friend to try on the wedding veil, or the friend may run off with the newly-made husband.
Greek brides carry a lump of sugar within their wedding gloves, to give, by magical means, 'sweetness all their married lives' and the idea is found in England also. (Doesn't this give the bride rather unpleasant sticky hands?) When Sir John Rothenstein's daughter Lucy married in Westminster Cathedral, London, in 1959, she carried a sachet of sugar tucked into the bodice of her taffeta dress. (Now, that's more practical, but did this show sugar get pinched from clusters coffee shop just round the corner?)
Until recent years, particularly in the Scandinavian countries, the bridal crown, so heavy as to be an ordeal to wear, was an important part of the traditional wedding costume. Crowning typified purity and at early Christian weddings the couple were crowned with garlands of myrtle, after the benediction. In the Eastern Orthodox wedding ceremony bride and bridegroom are still given gold crowns to wear. In some regions, bridal crowns and ornaments were parish property, lent to all, so that brides rich or humble might appear at tneir best on the wedding day. In the UK, in some humanist ceremonies which are held outdoors, generally in picturesque woodland settings, this tradition is taken to an extreme. There have been a number of occasions when my wife and I have come across flowers and reefs screwing around a central "altar", the remnants of a woodland wedding ceremony. Regrettably, I've never played for such a ceremony with my string quartet, although we have played on many occasions for outdoor ceremonies in the grounds of hotels and wedding venues of other cuts.
In Finland in the nineteenth century a visitor noted that the crown, poised on piled-up hair, was ornamented with gold leaf, cut-glass ornaments and looking-glass. 'The more noise and jingling this castle made the better. Above it soared a forest of feathers of all colours': in this instance the crown had lost its early connection with purity and had become another gaudy witch-deterrent device. A guest at a Lapp wedding at Koutokaeino at Christmas 1885, claimed to have seen a crown of coloured silk, with strings of pearls and silver ornaments; the crown closed with a posy of flowers and silver-gilt leaves, with floating coloured silk ribbons. The bridegroom wore his usual blue summer coat with a broad silver belt and a narrow white silk band passed about his neck, criss-crossing over his breast, its ends nearly reaching the ground.
In Finland after the wedding the girls danced round the blindfolded bride who held her crown in her hand:
It has been! It has gone!
Never will the bride be a maid more:
Never will she dance with the crown again,
sang the guests: and the bride reached out and crowned one of the dancing girls, who would thus be next to marry. This is very similar to the first dance that we often perform with a barn dance band, so such traditions are common throughout Europe.
THE WEDDING RING
Although completely absent in some non-European countries the wedding ring has deep significance in the United States, Britain and other countries of Europe, expressing through its circular shape the imperishable covenant of marriage.
Let me get my hobbyhorse for a few moments. I'm going to refer to this as a wedding ring and not a wedding band. The use of the term "wedding band" is an awful Americanism which causes Midsummer Music agency all sorts of problems. From our perspective, a wedding band is a group of musicians such as a string quartet, jazz band or barn dance band, definitely not a ring of metal. This becomes a real problem when searching on the Internet. A bridegroom might search on the Internet for "wedding band" looking for a ceilidh band for their wedding reception, what they find, pages of search results for jewellers. They might get a bit further by searching for "live wedding band", but will they think of this solution? Probably not. They naturally expect the band to be a live band and not a dead bands, so why should they think of doing this different search. What they have to search for is a term like "jazz bands in Yorkshire" or "string quartets in Hertfordshire". And of course, Google being an American organisation, probably has a leaning towards American terminology. So will stick completely to the term "wedding ring".
Perforated stones also had the power to confirm matrimonial contracts. In eighteenth century Orkney (wedding string quartets in Scotland), couples cemented their troth by clasping hands through the Standing Stones of Stennis: the Woden Stones would actually marry those who, vowing fidelity, held hands through them. The couple could conveniently terminate the marriage if they wished by attending a service in a church and leaving by different doors. Marriage contracts were still ratified at the Hole Stone at Doagh, County Antrim, Ireland, as late as 1902.
But generally, of course, it has been customary to symbolise everlasting promise with the wedding ring. Today dates, initials and a sentimental word or two are often engraved within it; at one time whole books were devoted to such posies as:
Not two but one Till life be done
A heart content cannot repent Another bridegroom, franker than the rest, chose:
Thou wert not handsome, wise, but rich, 'Twas that which did my eyes bewitch.
Fortunately, such Victorian era inscriptions are rare nowadays. Ring inscriptions have a long history. The ancient Greeks favoured such words as ZEZ — 'Mayest thou live' and Jewish 'Mizpah' rings, often decorated with a raised device in the shape of a house, containing perfume or a holy relic, refer to Genesis 31, 49, 'the Lord watch between me and thee . . .'. In Germany in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Adam and Eve and the 'tree of temptation' were popular devices: Romans chose two hearts held by a key; Finnish rings bore a shield-shaped bezel covered with small silver rings, each, it was said, representing one cow in the dowry. Crusaders favoured rings holding a relic of the True Cross. Gold Claddagh rings, decorated with a heart clasped by two hands, given by a mother to the first of her daughters to marry, were for generations the wedding token of the Irish peasantry; Spanish and Breton counterparts suggest that traders carried the design to Ireland.
Wedding rings are traditionally of plain gold of high carat (pure gold is 24 carat) symbolising the nobility of the union. Recently 'antique', 'rope' and 'bark' effects, in tune with current fashions in design, have been about, but it seems unlikely that marked changes lie ahead for wedding rings: the traditional plain gold band is still extremely popular. In emergencies and hard times cheaper materials have been pressed into service; at more than one wedding the ring of the church door key has found a fresh use, but in nineteenth-century Ireland a gold ring was considered essential for the legality of the contract even among the very poor and a ring was borrowed from a friend or hired for the day from the officiating priest.
Having played at many weddings with my string quartet, I've seen a fair number of cases of the best man miss laying the wedding ring, one never knows whether intentionally or accidentally, but after a bit of thrashing around it's always been found. I wondered whether I should carry a brass curtain ring in selected sizes in my dinner jacket pocket, just present the bride or groom in the case of a ring being permanently lost.
The 'double ring ceremony' in which the couple exchange identical rings, symbolising the exchange of vows, is increasingly popular. This European practice apparently spread to North America with returning servicemen after World War II and is now favoured, it is said, by 90 per cent of American couples, to the delight of jewellers. The new form of marriage service introduced by the Church of Wales in 1975 provides for the double ring ritual and rings are exchanged 'in token of love and faithfulness'. Perhaps the most recent expression of such shared jewellery is to be seen in the 'Love Bands. The Ties that Bind You Together'—bangle rings, (there, I had to write "Love Bands" despite My Hate That Term), bracelets and necklets in silver with gold roping (reinforcing the symbolism of the binding tie) which are equally suitable for men or women.
Some, including women's libbers, who usually refuse to wear wedding rings, believe that the ring developed from the shackle once put about the bride to subdue her after capture. (Little while ago, I had to stop wearing my wedding ring for some time. It had got too tight (no, it wasn't my finger getting fatter, it was definitely the ring shrinking, and had become painful when playing my violin in a string quartet. I had to leave it off for about a year, but has been stretched, my fingers got back to normal, and it's back on again, much the happiness of my wife. She can stop wondering whether I'm going to take advantage of appearing to be unmarried because of a lack of a ring.)
Cejtainly in Pliny's time Roman brides wore iron rings, (didn't they suffer from rust marks on their fingers?), said to have been originally links in a chain and the large nose ring of the Moslem bride still denotes her bondage to her husband. (It's funny isn't it, that in Muslim traditions of the nose ring is a sign of ownership, and that the fashion for nose rings in recent years, is amongst women who would be horrified if they knew of the origin of this tradition.)
On the continent of Europe the wedding ring is often worn on the right hand; in America and Britain on the third finger of the left hand. The Manual of Sarum Use, which defined forms of service acceptable in the diocese of Salisbury, England, from the eleventh century to the Reformation, suggests a reason for this choice of finger:
Then let the Bridegroom put the ring on the thumb of the Bride, saying—In the Name of the Father; (on the first finger) and of the Son; (on the second finger) and of the Holy Ghost; (on the third finger). Amen. And there let him leave it, because in that finger there is a certain vein which reaches to the heart.
Greeks and Romans believed so strongly in this, that for extra efficacy their doctors stirred ointment with the ring finger. In country districts the ring finger is still believed to sooth any stye or wart touched by it and in Spain water in which the wedding ring has been dipped is a therapeutic lotion for sore eyes. In the Carpathian mountains of central Europe the milk of a cow milked through a wedding ring could never be stolen by witches. Wedding rings are also important in divination. In an ancient charm of the East, a European gipsy girl attaches a ring to her forefinger by a hair and hangs the ring within a jug on the rim of which are marked the letters of the alphabet. Letters touched by the swinging ring reveal the names of future lovers. In Yorkshire the 'matrimony cake' containing the hostess's wedding ring, a piece of silver and a button, was a favourite party piece. The finder of the ring would soon marry, of the silver be wealthy, but the finder of the button was doomed to spinsterhood.
A wedding ring must never be bought on a Friday, in accord with the ill reputation of this day. In rural America it is ill-advised to buy a ring through a mail-order catalogue lest it should have absorbed bad luck from others who have tried it on, then returned it. The ring must never be put on before the ceremony – how did they know was going to fit properly? – (or at any time by anyone but the owner, or the tryer-on will never marry). It is of course most unlucky to drop the ring during the ceremony and whichever of the couple does this will be first to die. Should the ring roll away and come to rest upon a tombstone the omen is dire indeed: if the tombstone is that of a woman the bride will die first, if of a man the bridegroom. While in England the ring is traditionally in the best man's charge until needed, in America a small boy, the 'ring-bearer', carries it on a decorated white-satin cushion. This is fairly common in English weddings to. For safety's sake it is tied in place with ribbons, or held by a few loose tacking threads which can easily be broken. (Or at least that's the theory. I can think of occasions sitting in the church for the civil ceremony room with my string quartet, while this part of the ceremony is taking place, and finding either the ring has been dropped off the cushion and everyone is scrambling around to find it, or that it's been tied on so firmly that it takes a few minutes to get everything and knotted. The best man's pocket is probably the best place.)