For someone who has never been a bride, it is curious that I find weddings so intriguing. My parents eloped; so, there is no well-thumbed photo album of their special day. But I watch reruns of reruns of Say Yes to the Dress and thoroughly enjoy Facebook wedding pictures posted by family and friends.
My fascination for all things bridal began shortly after I learned to read. Although I looked forward to Dagwood and Blondie in the UDC, my favorite section was always the society page. I read about showers and club meetings, engagements and church suppers. There were interesting little tidbits, submitted by ladies from around the county, about card clubs and day trips.
However, I absolutely loved wedding descriptions. Those accounts, as the ceremonies themselves, have evolved over time. But in the 1950’s when I pored over reports of Champaign County nuptials, their language made me feel as if I had been invited: “The bride was radiant in a lustrous ivory satin gown…graced with a cathedral train.” How could I help but be enthralled by: “The bouffant skirt cascaded over a hoop and billowing crinoline petticoat”?
As a teen in the early 60’s I finally attended a wedding, when my little sister in her white, organdy dress preceded the bride down the aisle. I remember the reception, too – a simple affair in the church basement, complete with pastel mints and cups of punch.
My cousin and her new husband cut a piece from the first wedding cake I ever saw in person. Until then, I had only read: “on a beautifully-appointed table stood the four-tiered cake… encircled with a wreath of daisies.”
Wedding settings seemed equally impressive: “At the double-ring ceremony the couple spoke their vows before the altar banked with palms interspersed with white gladioli and carnations.” Fashions of the day were described in exacting detail: bridesmaids’ dresses, gowns worn by mothers of the bride and groom, bouquets and boutonnieres. My particular favorite: “For traveling, the bride chose a navy blue sheath with white linen collar and cuffs. She wore the orchid from her bridal bouquet.”
I began to notice subtle changes when my sisters married in the 70’s. They established seasonal color schemes: purple-lavender-pink for summer; melon-beige-brown for autumn; red velvet for the December ceremony. Remaining true to most long-held traditions, they also introduced unique bits of themselves. One sister chose music other than Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, while another sister and her groom lit a unity candle. A third sister made her gown and wrote her vows.
The newspaper articles that described their weddings and others at that time became briefer, while fashion dictated other changes. Brides wore gowns of organza or white crepe with silk illusion veils attached to Camelot caps – or sometimes no veil. Sadly, descriptions of traveling ensembles and elaborate church decorations all but disappeared.
During the last two decades of the 20th century, even wedding photographs took on a different look. The formal, studio photos of brides gazing wistfully into the distance that accompanied those earlier detailed accounts eventually gave way to more informal pictures of newlyweds smiling directly into the camera – together.
The UDC account of my youngest sister’s wedding in 1984 described her gown and picture hat but not Trumpet Voluntary – processional music also chosen by Princess Diana. The relative brevity of her ceremony description permitted two other wedding articles, with photographs, to share the same above-the-fold area of the “Champaign Lifestyle” page.
When I attended my brother’s wedding in Arkansas in 2000, I enjoyed the lovely setting of his garden wedding – early in the day. Thankfully, he and his new wife celebrated their reception in an air-conditioned venue that protected the guests and two cakes from the triple-digit heat of the day. Following southern tradition, the second cake was a groom’s cake – for my brother, in the shape of a tractor.
This new century has dealt a death blow to my hobby of reading about weddings of any description. Nowadays, nuptials have themes, sit-down dinners, choreographed first dances, and dessert bars. More than a few couples celebrate with destination weddings.
All that I know about modern wedding gowns – sweetheart necklines, ruching, mermaid silhouettes, and lots of bling – no longer comes from the morning newspaper but from TV shows and online bridal shops. The occasional wedding account in the UDC these days provides only the most basic nuptial information: who, where, when – with no mention of the exquisite how.
So, I am left to interpret 27 Facebook photos, beautiful though they may be. It is a bitter pill to swallow for a person who, in 1981 and again in 2011, watched every broadcast moment of two royal weddings. What is a girl, who never misses an opportunity to watch Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride, to do?
Even as I lament the absence of my beloved wedding reading, I always return to the entire point of any wedding day. Rustic or high-society, in a church or on a beach, something borrowed and something blue are one-day considerations that cannot begin to compare with the years of marriage to follow.
By the way, that elopement? Nary a word was written; I have never seen a photograph. But from that day forward, my parents created a special union that lasted 65 years, which is all that really counts…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.