Next year will be the 100th anniversary of my great-grandparents’ wedding. I hope I will be able to arrange a big family gathering with my mother’s extended family, my great-grandparent’s 40-odd grandchildren.
To freshen up my memory, I asked my aunt to send me a scanned copy of their wedding -it is the oldest wedding photograph I have ever seen of any of my ancestors on either side of the family. The picture shows my great-grandfather, then aged 24, smiling, looking genuinely happy and -if I may- even comical with his tiny moustache, rather like a young version of Mario Moreno Cantinflas. His bride, on the other hand, was only 23 at the time, but looks more serious, somewhat sober, and very self-conscious. It was, undoubtedly, a very important day for them both.
What strikes me most about the photo, aside from the fact that it is a studio portrait probably taken on a different date from their actual wedding day, are the bride’s clothes. Far from wearing a radiant white gown, she is dressed from head to foot in a simple black pleated dress decorated solely by three buttons. She wears a white undershirt, and her head is covered by a black lace veil which falls gently over her shoulders and is hooked to her bodice by a small branch of blossom. She clasps a small Bible or missal in her bare hands, and a long rosary with white beads. Religious symbolism is obviously an important factor in the portrait; in the background two paste niches containing a praying figurine of the Virgin Mary stand discreetly between two candles; a small plant, possibly symbolising fertility, peeps into the photo from the side.
Nowadays, being used to white wedding dresses, it seems surprising to see my great-grandmother getting hitched in what would seem to me to be mourning clothes. However, wearing black at one’s wedding was the rule rather than the exception in many countries across Europe up until the 1910’s and 20’s. However, in the English-speaking world, ever since Queen Victoria got married -wearing white- to Prince Albert in 1840, white became the chosen colour to get married in. Thus, the tradition quickly spread to Australia, New Zealand, British India and of course the United States. It was thanks to American dominance in all spheres of society that European women started copying American fashion, even at weddings. Soon, European women started getting married wearing gowns.
Thus, it is hardly surprising that when my other great-grandparents married in 1917, the bride wore a dark dress -perhaps a dark-red or golden-coloured gown studded with tiny beads and pearls. American tastes had still not entered Spanish fashion trends. But when my grandparents married (32 years later), my grandmother was already fashionably attired in a bulky white wedding dress; the photograph was not taken at some small photographer’s studio, but rather in front of the church altar where she and my grandfather had just become husband and wife.
Do you have any wedding photographs stashed away at home? Is the bride fashionably dressed? Is she wearing black, or white? Are there any symbols to be seen?