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Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Posts Tagged ‘weddings’

Anniversaries, Gifts, and Anniversary Weddings

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Today marks the occasion of my one-year wedding anniversary (time really flies when you are having fun!). While perusing my books on the subject, I was reminded of the usual custom of marking the occasion with a celebration or gifts made from certain types of materials.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that these appear to have changed over the years, depending on the etiquette expert you are referring to and the time period of the book. I always assumed they were etiquette 101 and had always been the same. Not so!

My more modern copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (16th edition, 1997), has a very long list of anniversaries 1-20, then in five-year increments until year 60, then 70 and 75 are recognized. Here are the first ten years from her list:

1: Paper or Plastics
2: Calico or Cotton
3: Leather or simulated leather
4: Silk or synthetic material
5: Wood
6: Iron
7: Copper or wool
8: Electrical appliances
9: Pottery
10: Tin or aluminum

I dug deep into the etiquette archives to try to determine when this tradition started. Based on an informal study that consisted of me grabbing the oldest etiquette book I could find on the shelf behind me, I found mention of them in the 1877 book Decorum, by J. A. Ruth. I was surprised to find them called “Anniversary Weddings”:

"Celebrating Anniversary Weddings is a very pleasant custom which is coming gradually into general favor. Special anniversaries are designated by special names, indicating the presents suitable on each occasion.


The first anniversary is called the paper wedding. The invitations to this wedding should be issued on a gray paper, representing thin cardboard. Presents from the guests are appropriate, but not by any means obligatory. These presents, if given, should be only of articles made of paper. Thus, boxes of note-paper and envelopes, books, sheets of music, engravings and delicate knickknacks of papier mache are all appropriate for this occasion."

The author has less anniversaries described but is consistent with Emily Post’s list: he jumps to the Wooden Wedding, which he says to celebrate on the fifth year. Tin is for the 10th, crystal for 15th, china for the 20th, silver for 25th, gold for 50th, diamonds for 75th.

In Correct Social Usage, an etiquette book published in 1903, a suggestion is made to recognize anniversaries much later, though the concept remains the same and the earlier years are described for the benefit of those who want to celebrate sooner:

"Wedding anniversaries are not generally observed until the twenty-fifth year ~ “the silver wedding.” There are people, however, who find pleasure in presenting their married friends with appropriate remembrances on some, if not all, of the established anniversaries. Such remembrances must be gifts made of material which corresponds with the same of the anniversary. These occasions have been designated in this way: first year, paper; fifth year, wooden; tenth year, tin; twelfth year, leather; fifteenth year, crystal; twentieth year, china; twenty-fifth year, silver; thirtieth year, ivory; fortieth year, woolen; forty-fifth year, silk; fiftieth year, golden; seventy-fifth year, diamond."

It looks to me like tin and wood have been fighting it out for 5th place for awhile. Hallie Erminie Rives’ The Complete Book of Etiquette, with Social Forms for All Ages and Occasions (1926) has this slightly different list (with less years represented):

"Wedding anniversaries… hold a unique place in the life of a married couple. About the earlier ones there is an air of informality and fun that cannot but infect every guest. As the pair grows older, the celebrations become decidedly important events, and the “golden wedding” carries with it a sense of climax and fruition which makes its day a sacred one indeed.

Symbols of the conventional anniversaries are as follows:

First year: Paper
Second year: Cotton
Third year: Leather
Fourth year: Wood
Fifth year: Tin
Fifteenth year: Crystal
Twentieth year: China
Twenty-fifth year: Silver
Thirtieth year: Pearl
Fortieth year: Ruby
Fiftieth year: Gold
Seventy-fifth year: Diamond

The comedy possibilities of informal entertainments given on the first and second anniversaries are realized to the full by those who gather to congratulate a happy young couple. Nor do the bride and bridegroom ~ who, after the first anniversary may count themselves graduated from the newly married status ~ fail to take advantage of the amusing opportunities for table and house decorations."

The author then goes on to describe some of the party antics that could occur, including this crazy idea, for the paper anniversary: “Both hostess and women guests sometimes where entire costumes of crêpe paper.” Or, at the Leather Wedding anniversary: “as far as decorations and costumes go, is apt to be a thing of shifts and straits.” I can’t wait til that third year!


Origin of the Bridal Shower

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

each one thought of a giftAs maid of honor for my sister’s wedding in May, I’ve got a lot to do in the coming months. One major activity is to help plan the shower, and now that a date has been selected, I’ve turned to my books to find out more about this festive party. Etiquette expert Lillian Eichler provided a bit of history in The New Book of Etiquette, which I’ve found quite informative.

1924: Origin of the Bridal Shower

There are many kinds of showers, but most popular of all is that given to the engaged girl. Friends are never so good-naturedly generous as when a young woman confides that she has given her heart in love.

The bridal shower is one of our most charming before-the-wedding customs. It is a pleasant and sensible way for friends and acquaintances to present gifts that would seem too trifling if they were presented singly. The custom has an interesting background, and its origin takes us across the sea to Holland.

Many, many years ago ~ so as the tradition runs ~ a beautiful young Dutch maiden gave her heart to the village miller who was so good to the poor and the needy that he himself had but few worldly goods. He gave his bread and his flour free to those who could not pay, and because of his goodness everyone loved him. Everyone but the girl’s father. She must not marry him, he said. She must marry the man he had selected ~ a fat, horrid, wealthy man with a farm and a hundred pigs! ~ or she would lose her dowry.

The miller was sad, and the girl wept on his shoulder. The people who had eaten of the good miller’s bread were sad, too. Couldn’t something be done about it? Couldn’t they give the girl a dowry so that she could marry their kind miller and make him happy? They didn’t have much money, it is true, but each one thought of a gift that he or she could contribute.

And they came to the girl in a gay procession: one with an old Dutch vase; one with some fine blue plates for the kitchen shelf; one with strong linens made on the hand looms at home; one with a great shiny pot. They showered her with gifts and gave her a finer dowry than ever her father could! There was a solemn wedding ceremony and a jolly wedding feast, and even the father came at last to wish them happiness.

A good many years later, an Englishwoman heard of a friend who was about to be married and decided that the only gift she could afford was too slight an expression of her good wishes. Remembering the story of the Dutch ‘shower’ and knowing that there were other friends who felt precisely as she did, she called them together and suggested that they present their gifts all at the same time. The ‘shower’ that they gave was so successful that fashionable society adopted the custom, and it has remained ever since.

Source: Eichler, Lillian. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1924.
~ pp. 82-83 ~

Thoughts for the Overly Sensitive Bride

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

bound up in your own little worldQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I recently got married. One of my bridesmaids did not give me a wedding gift or a wedding card to wish me and my new husband well. I am so hurt by this. Do I confront her?


A Dear Polly:

Was this bridesmaid at your wedding? Did she stand by your side as you and your hubby tied the knot? Did she travel long distances and wear an expensive dress for “your special day”? Of course she did. Do you really need a present or a card to know that she cares?

I consulted with etiquette expert Lillian Eichler by flipping through the pages of her New Book of Etiquette, written in 1941. This was just the thing I was looking for.

1941: If You Are Sensitive

There are certain plants so sensitive that their leaves close the moment they are touched. There are people like these plants who are so highly sensitive that at the least slight, fancied or real, they close up tightly within themselves.

Sensitiveness is a form of pride, and pride offends and irritates people. It is an exaggerated form of self-consciousness. It is the result of too much thinking about self.

If you are sensitive you build a barrier about yourself. People are afraid to talk to you for fear they may hurt your feelings. They must be forever on guard. They do not feel comfortable in your company.

Tear down this barrier! Don’t go about with the injured air of martyr. People may sympathize with you, but they will not welcome you and be glad to see you. If you see two persons talking together, don’t be sure that they are discussing you. They are not. Don’t imagine that you are the center of observation, that people are criticizing you, that every careless remark is meant as a personal affront.

It is selfish, this sensitiveness. It reveals sooner than anything else that you are bound up in your own little world, that you are not interested in things outside of yourself. The way to overcome it is to mingle freely with people and to be as impersonal as you possibly can. Do not brood over simple remarks and magnify them in your mind. Refuse to accept an affront. Force yourself to overlook the trifles that you are inclined to take so seriously.

Source: Eichler, Lillian. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Company,1941.
~ pp. 334-35 ~

Do Bridesmaids Need to Buy Gifts?

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

cake plates, flower bowls, bonbon dishesQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding. Since I’ve spend over $150 for an outfit, plus I’ll be traveling out of town to participate in the wedding, does proper etiquette require me to purchase a gift also?


A Dear Pam:

My dear sweet Pam. I think you already know the answer to your question. Of course you should get your friend a gift, no matter how much you shell out for the wedding otherwise. The important thing to know here is that the gift does not have to be expensive, just special. Here are some gift-buying tips for you from etiquette expert Lillian Eichler.

1924: Wedding Gifts

Of course, there is no gift like the wedding gift. One can send one’s fancy soaring to the seven corners of the universe and return laden with ~ an odd vase from old Vienna, a carving set “made in Germany,” an unusual bit of pottery from Paris. The thrilling thing about it is that all three may be purchased at the corner gift shop!

Any one who receives an invitation may send the bride a gift, but when an announcement alone is received, no gift is necessary. Good form demands that the gift be sent about two weeks before the day set for the wedding. As to the inevitable question, “What shall the gift be?” the only sensible answer is: “Choose the prettiest and most useful article within your means.”

China always makes an appropriate wedding gift. There are the delightful little tea sets that the new hostess will find so useful. There are the china ornaments that are always acceptable ~ vases and dainty bits of Copenhagen chinaware. There are the odd bits of china for the table ~ cake plates, flower bowls, bonbon dishes.

To-day a gift is not a gift unless it is in good taste. The modern bride will not mar the perfect harmony of her home by displaying conspiciously a gift that is out of place ~ not even for sentiment! If you don’t want your gift to blush unseen on the shelf in the attic, or at the bottom of the trunk, be very careful to exercise great taste and discrimination in your selection.

Wise friends to-day consult one another before purchasing gifts. If silverware is to be presented, each piece is purchased from the same jeweller and with a close regard for harmony in design and quality. If the gifts are to be marked, the initials of the maiden name are used and the engraving is the same on all.

The self-gift method is finding favour in good society. One presents the bride with a credit slip for $10, $20, or $50, as the case may be, and the bride may go to the shop and select whatever she likes. A wise plan. It does away with a lot of the useless gifts that gather dust on forgotton shelves.

We may not give wearing apparel to the bride unless she is an intimate friend. But we may give linens for the home, and such odd pieces of furniture as a smoking table, a reading lamp, a writing desk. Books are always acceptable.

Etiquette makes no suggestions ~ the heart will know best what to give.

Source: Eichler, Lillian. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1924.
~ pp. 76-77 ~

Dangers of Elopement

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

eyes glued to your waistlineQ Dear Miss Abigail:

My boyfriend and I are considering eloping. What advice can you find for us?

Desperately Wanting

A Dear Desperately Wanting:

While I’m all for running off to the Tunnel of Love in Las Vegas, my advice is not really what we’re here for. In case you have forgotten, this is the place to look at the advice from the past and to see if we can learn from it. Jeanne Sakol has some serious words on this topic, so let’s read this excerpt from What About Teen-age Marriage, which was written in 1961 “as a fifteenth-birthday present to her own sister.” Oh, golly, I wish Jeanne were my sister, too!

1961: Dangers of Elopement

You’ve run away. Some friends came along to stand up for you and afterward you went to a roadside cafe and laughed and clowned around and drank a little too much to cover up that growing worry, ‘What have we done?’

The main point about runaway marriage is that the elopement itself is sleazy. Your choice of a husband may be the right one. It’s your haphazard way of getting married that can spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E from the start. Not between the two of you, not right away. Because you’re sure of your love and intoxicated with the adventure of an elopement. But being married means being a part of the community, living in the warmth of their respect and affection.

Being objective, what’s the first thing you think of when you hear about an elopement? The girl must be in trouble! It’s an inevitable reaction, and when you return you find yourself the uneasy victim of eyes glued to your waistline, discreet finger-counting and persistent questioning about how soon you’re going to have a baby.

Reputation is a precious thing. By running away you have in effect abandoned your friends and family, and when people’s feelings are hurt they look for some sinister reason. Gossip may plague the first few months of your marriage until the know-it-alls are satisfied and you are in the position of having to put up with it in teeth-gritting silence. This is one situation where protesting too much sounds like guilt.

In addition, eloping sounds as if you haven’t a deep enough respect for marriage. If you did you would go about it the conventional way. By not conducting yourselves as responsible adults, you can’t be too surprised when neighbors dismiss you as a couple of silly kids.

Source: Sakol, Jeanne. What About Teen-age Marriage? New York: Avon Books, 1961.
~ pp. 4-5 ~

The Wedding-Day

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

shine like a starThis selection goes out to my dear friends Sarah Carter and Iain McPhie, who have a little event planned this weekend. The invite said something about “marriage,” so I decided to do a bit of research on the topic. I stumbled across this advice from J. R. Miller’s The Wedded Life regarding the much-anticipated wedding day, and thought it appropriate to share. Cheers, Sarah and Iain! Love and happiness to you both.

1912: The Wedding-Day

The wedding-day is one that shall ever be remembered and held sacred among life’s anniversaries. It is a day whose benediction should fall on all other days to the end of life. It should stand out in the calendar bright with all the brightness of love and gratitude. The memory of the wedding-hour in a happy marriage life should shine like a star, even in old age.

It is surely worth while, therefore, to make the occasion itself just as delightful as possible, to gather about it and into whatever will help to make it memorable, so that it shall stand out bright and sacred among all life’s days and hours. This is not done when the marriage is secret; there are no associations about the event in that case to make its memory a source of pleasure in after years. Nor is it done when, on the other hand, the occasion is made one of great levity or of revelry; the joy of marriage is not hilarious, but deep and quiet.

On the wedding-day the happy pair should have about them their true friends, those whom they desire to hold in close relations in their after life. It is not time for insincerity; it is no place for empty professions of friendship. Everything about the circumstances ~ the festivities, the formalities, the marriage ceremony itself, the congratulations ~ should be so ordered as to cause no jar, no confusion, nothing to mar the perfect pleasure of the occasion, and so as to leave only the pleasantest memory behind.

These may seem too insignificant matters for mention here, yet it is surely worth while to make the occasion of one’s wedding such that it shall always be remembered with a thrill of delight, with only happy associations and without one smallest incident or feature to mar the perfections of its memory.

Source: Miller, J. R. The Wedded Life. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work, 1912.
~ p. 11-12 ~

1956: Framework for your Lingerie Trousseau

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Last time I introduced you to the concept of the lingerie trousseau, and promised more details from Marguerite Bentley’s Wedding Etiquette Complete. Her entry on this special trousseau continues below. This should help brides-to-be (or others just trying to stock up) plan their shopping lists.

I have compiled a sort of framework for your lingerie trousseau that may serve as a reminder from which you may choose in making your ultimate selections. There is enough here for any bride; too much for you perhaps, or not enough for you if you are to live on a grander scale that requires more garments because of frequent trips, deferred laundering, and other reasons. But here it is for your inspection ~ and do not forget nylon with its quick drying quality!

Lingerie Trousseau

Bridal Set ~ “best”
Negligee ~ lace-trimmed
Bed jacket to match
Slip to match
Panty or step-in to match

“Second-best” sets
3 lace-trimmed or somewhat fancy nightgowns
3 slips to match
3 step-ins to match

Tailored sets
3-6 tailored nightgowns, or pajamas
3-6 slips to match
3-6 step-ins to match, or short, close-fitting panties of glove silk

Miscellaneous Suggestions
Tailored crepe robe ~ also nice for traveling
Quilted robe or woolen housecoat for winter
1 negligee ~ soft, dainty type
Bed jacket
Tea or hostess gown ~ not a “must,” but nice to own
2-3 pairs of mules or bedroom slippers
2 daytime girdles or foundation garments
2 sport girdles
1 evening girdle
2 evening slips
6 daytime brassieres
3 evening brassieres
6-12 pairs of day stockings ~ the same shade for economy
6 pairs of sheer stockings for late afternoon and evening

Monograms are always as much of an addition to lingerie as they are to linen. Have them embroidered on your sets if you can afford this.

1956: Your Lingerie Trousseau

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I’m in the midst of wedding planning, which amazingly is going quite well, thanks to the fact that I am not worrying one bit about where people are going to sit, and whether the napkins will match the flower girls’ dresses. Oh, and having a wonderful sister who is an experienced event planner helps!

There is an amazing amount to get caught up in in the wedding industry mania, so to ground myself and to think about what’s truly important (like marrying the person you love), I’ve been reading some of the old wedding guides in my collection. Certain that having a “theme” (isn’t marriage the theme?) and “colors” (how about all colors? I like color!), are relatively new “traditions,” I was looking through one book from 1956 for something to back me up. However, I got a little distracted by this information, from Wedding Etiquette Complete written by Marguerite Bentley. What ever happened to the tradition of the lingerie trousseau? I think we should bring this one back.

Assembling your lingerie trousseau can be a thrilling task, because the items you will buy are so dainty and beautiful. Here is your chance to indulge in your fondest wishes, but you must use your head as well as your heart in the selection of the pretty things you like best and will need most in your new life…. In our great-grandmother’s day muslin nightgowns with dainty bits of embroidery were as useful twenty years afterwards as the day great-grandmother was married. This is not so today. Styles change, and new lingerie additions are refreshing notes to a wardrobe only too soon. You should, however, purchase enough lingerie to last for the first year or two with plenty of changes; this matter must be regulated by your future mode of life. If you intend to have a maid or maids in your household who will launder your lingerie carefully on stated days, more garments will be needed than if you intend to wash out each piece yourself in your small apartment the day after wearing it…

Three types of lingerie always seem to me to be the general basis of every trousseau. First and foremost – and here you may indulge your heart’s desire – the bridal set! This may be as fragile and unutterably lovely as you care to purchase, as it’s a once-in-a-lifetime buy. On the other hand, you may prefer to be more practical. After you have selected your bridal lingerie, you begin to think of your nightgowns, slips, and step-ins that may be lace-trimmed, a sort of second-best to the bridal set, dainty and beautiful. Last, but by no means least, are those practical but beautiful tailored sets in flat crepe, often monogrammed and bound in another color. These are smart for your daily life, and you will love their sleek-fitting lines. They may be handmade if you can afford it; if not, there are many machine-made garments that will answer your purpose beautifully.

Stay tuned! Next time I’ll share the author’s framework for a lingerie trousseau.

Wedding Fashion

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Readers of this site might enjoy this exhibit from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Wedding Fashion. Some beautiful images here! And sorted by “fashion period,” so you can read about wedding advice from the past then go look up some pictures, to get a well-rounded experience.