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Parent Category: 18th Century History Articles
Category: Society and Culture
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Marriage is a major life milestone that today stems from mutual love and steadfast planning. In the 1700s, however, marriage was often a product of economics, parental decision, or unplanned pregnancy. Weddings themselves were a community affair, yet they typically lacked the splendor and lavish nature commonly seen in modern weddings, with the exception of those of the upper class.

While there are numerous differences between modern and 18th-century weddings, many wedding traditions of the 18th century remain in place in the present day. Let’s explore the evolution of weddings, from dress and venue choices to financial considerations.

Wedding Dresses, Dates, and Venues

One major difference between contemporary weddings and those of the 18th century is the bride’s dress. While in modern Western society, white is considered the go-to color for wedding dresses, white gowns only became popular after the wedding of England’s Queen Victoria in 1840. In the 1700s, most brides simply donned their best dress, with no consideration of color. Further, the wedding dress was often repurposed and worn on future occasions, unlike today’s wedding dresses that are designed as a single-use item.

 

People in the 1700s were notoriously superstitious, and many of the era’s wedding traditions are rooted in those beliefs. For example, 18th century Germans believed that weddings should only be held during the full moon. Snow on a wedding day indicated future fertility and wealth, and winter weddings were common, although that tradition is likely linked to the fact that many within the working class were kept busy during the harvest and planting seasons.

 

Modern weddings are held in any number of locations, from churches to sandy beaches in exotic destinations. In fact, the venue is often the first point of consideration in modern wedding planning, to be included on invitations and other ceremony announcements. In the 18th century, however, the majority of weddings were held in either the bride’s family home or the home of the officiating minister. Invitations were not sent, and the bride and groom simply spread the news of their wedding via word of mouth.

 

Following the marriage ceremony, the community at large would gather for feasting and dancing, the ancestor of today’s wedding reception. The wedding cake of the 1700s was much heartier than today’s sweet dessert version, often stuffed with mincemeat or a similar savory item. Some of the cake would be put aside and preserved in alcohol for the couple to enjoy on future anniversaries. 

Finances and Dowries

Weddings have traditionally been a financial transaction of sorts. In the 1700s, men typically had an established career before making a marriage proposal so as to be able to adequately provide for his wife and their future children. The bride’s family would provide a dowry, which consisted of household items and linens as well as money or property if the family was well-to-do. The size of a woman’s dowry was sometimes an important consideration for prospective grooms.

 

The custom of the bride’s father “giving away” his daughter has roots in the dowry system. It was an indication that a dowry had been negotiated, and that the couple had the family’s blessing to get married. Although its symbolic meaning has changed over time, a father walking his daughter down the aisle and giving her away to the groom remains a common wedding tradition.

 

While the dowry has fallen out of favor in Western society, it remains a common practice in India and some parts of Northern Africa and Asia. Yet finances themselves are a cornerstone of wedding planning in modern times. Today, many people consult with a financial advisor before planning a wedding, as it can get very expensive. Financial advisors can also help couples combine bank accounts and set up life insurance, with a spouse as a beneficiary.

Courtship in the 1700s

The 18th century also saw the rise of marriage for love, and the act of courtship became a regular practice. Courting allowed young people to socialize in unchaperoned environments in order to find a suitable mate. In Colonial Williamsburg, these environments included church, balls, parties, public entertainments, and neighbors’ homes. Once a couple began formally courting, however, parents were consulted and could veto their child’s choice.

 

Wedding rings of the era often reflected the amorous nature of a courting couple. Poesy rings were popular, in which a poem or quote was engraved into the band. Ring engravings could also include a family’s coat of arms, symbolizing the bride’s transition into her new family role of housewife and mother. While men gave rings to their brides, the exchange of rings was not a common practice until the mid-20th century.

 

The wedding ceremony has been an important tradition for centuries, although it has evolved over time. In the 1700s, brides wore their best dress and brought along a dowry as part of the marriage agreement. Today, white is considered the traditional color for wedding dresses, and modern brides bring their own earnings and finances to the marriage, as a woman’s role has drastically changed since the 18th century.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. 
Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.