Wedding planning is a joyous, often stressful process – but it’s also a fascinating opportunity to engage in social archaeology. Planning a more-or-less traditional wedding, with all the bows and ribbons and little moving pieces, is the closest most modern folks will get to experiencing what it was like to be a member of the 19th century upper (or upwardly mobile) class.
All those things people do and wear for weddings that seem idiosyncratic at best and arcane at worst were standard elements of party planning a hundred and thirty years ago: printed or calligraphed invitations with expensive tissue inside, tuxedos, live bands and dancing, table assignments and cocktails and all the rest used to be de rigueur for parties no matter the occasion – think of the soiree at the beginning of War and Peace, one of many occurring on a random night for the nobles and well-bred of Moscow. Invitations, balls, a presentation, a band, seats assigned to promote interesting conversation, and through it all the hostess whirling with an oil can to grease the wheels of conversation.
Tides of time wash over us and bear us away, but little piles of sand endure, even though they are eroded slowly down the centuries (a Mandarin collar instead of a standard lapel, blue ink in legible font rather than black in archaic script). I at least, having spent perhaps too much of my life in books, am fascinated to enter that world if only to visit. If nothing else, I hope to take from the experience a breath of the majesty that would have attended a well-run Victorian party – and maybe a greater appreciation for the immense amount of work required below-stairs to make those “effortless parties” happen.