Imagine living in a huge mansion house with a household of servants to wait on your every need – such was the life of a wealthy family in the early 1900’s. Intrinsic to this were the complex and detailed etiquette requirements for formal dinners, weddings and banquets. I recently discovered a fascinating transcript of an American book published in 1922 by Emily Post (1872-1960) called simply ‘Etiquette’. Chapter XXII comprises 144 pages outlining the requirements of the Day of the Wedding, whilst Chapter XIV gives an long winded and in-depth insight into the requirements for formal dinners – notable is the severe warning under the title
NOT FOR THE NOVICE TO ATTEMPT
Read on at your peril…..!
Place cards and seating arrangements
Emily Post describes in detail the seating plan etiquette for a lavish wedding reception, starting with the Bride’s Table:
“The bride and groom always sit next to each other, she on his right; the maid of honour (or matron) is on his left, and the best man is on the right of the bride. Around the rest of the table come bridesmaids and ushers alternately. Sometimes one or two others—sisters of the bride or groom or intimate friends, who were not included in the wedding party, are asked to the table, and when there are no bridesmaids this is always the case.”
This is followed by a description of the table for the Bride’s parents:
“The table of the bride’s parents differs from other tables in nothing except in its larger size, and the place cards for those who have been invited to sit there. The groom’s father always sits on the right of the bride’s mother, and the groom’s mother has the place of honour on the host’s right. The other places at the table are occupied by distinguished guests who may or may not include the clergyman who performed the ceremony. If a bishop or dean performed the ceremony, he is always included at this table and is placed at the left of the hostess, and his wife, if present, sits at the bride’s father’s left. Otherwise only especially close friends of the bride’s parents are invited to this table.”
In the earlier chapter regarding Formal Dinners, Emily Post describes the hostess choosing her table layout using named place cards. This technique, one assumes, would be applied to any other tables at a wedding reception:
“Starting with her own card at one end and her husband’s at the other, she first places the lady of honour on his right, the second in importance on his left. Then on either side of herself, she puts the two most important gentlemen. The others she fits in between, trying to seat side by side those congenial to each other.”
As many formal dinners were preceded by drinks in another room, whilst the guests all arrived, guests had a chance to peruse the table diagram. Emily Post describes this as:
“A frame made of leather, round or rectangular, with small openings at regular intervals around the edge in which names written on cards can be slipped, shows the seating of the table at a glance.”
Interestingly, it was only the gentlemen guests who were expected to view this diagram, as only the gentlemen were shown on the diagram, with a blank space interspersing each seat. Women only found out where they would be sitting when the butler presented a tray of envelopes just before the guests went in to dinner. Each gentleman would take his named envelope, and inside it find the name of the lady whom he would escort in to dinner. Ladies would sit on the gentleman’s right hand side.
Emily Post writes about the way in which a large banquet should be seated so that guests can find their places easily:
“A dinner of sixty, for instance, is always served at separate tables: a center one of twenty people, and four corner tables of ten each. Or if less, a center table of twelve and four smaller tables of eight. …. Each one is set with centerpiece, candles, compotiers, and evenly spaced plates, with the addition of a number by which to identify it; or else each table is decorated with different colored flowers, pink, yellow, orchid, white. Whatever the manner of identification, the number or the color is written in the corner of the ladies’ name cards that go in the envelopes handed to each arriving gentleman at the door: “pink,” “yellow,” “orchid,” “white,” or “center table.”
The bride’s table
As has been previously mentioned, the bride’s table is separate to that of the bride and groom’s immediate family. It is also the most lavish and extravagant table in the room:
“The feature of the wedding breakfast is always the bride’s table. Placed sometimes in the dining-room, sometimes on the veranda or in a room apart, this table is larger and more elaborately decorated than any of the others. There are white garlands or sprays or other arrangement of white flowers, and in the center as chief ornament is an elaborately iced wedding cake. On the top it has a bouquet of white or silver flowers, or confectioner’s quaint dolls representing the bride and groom. The top is usually made like a cover so that when the time comes for the bride to cut it, it is merely lifted off. The bride always cuts the cake, meaning that she inserts the knife and makes one cut through the cake, after which each person cuts herself or himself a slice. If there are two sets of favors hidden in the cake, there is a mark in the icing to distinguish the bridesmaids’ side from that of the ushers. Articles, each wrapped in silver foil, have been pushed through the bottom of the cake at intervals; the bridesmaids find a ten-cent piece for riches, a little gold ring for “first to be married,” a thimble or little parrot or cat for “old maid,” a wish-bone for the “luckiest.” On the ushers’ side, a button or dog is for the bachelor, and a miniature pair of dice as a symbol of lucky chance in life.”
Emily Post includes in her chapter regarding the wedding day, a list of who should cover which expenses in relation to the wedding. For example, the parents of the bride are expected to cover such things as an orchestra at the reception, champagne and a huge (and expensive) trousseau for the bride, comprising clothes and often a lifetime’s supply of linen. The groom covers such costs as the bride’s bouquet, the engagement and wedding ring. He may have thought he had got off lightly, until the final expense, listed simply as:
“10. From the moment the bride and groom start off on their wedding trip, all the expenditure becomes his.”
How times change!!