In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret about my home decor. This is the recipe for the special sauce: 10 percent stuff from other people’s weddings, 20 percent stuff from my wedding, 10 percent stuff the previous owner left behind, and 60 percent stuff my mother-in-law has passed down, almost as if through a slow but steady IV drip over the years. And if you’re wondering, yeah, my house is pretty funky-eclectic-cute in a Midwestern hipster farmhouse sort of way.
What can I say? I’m a sentimental person. My mother-in-law knows this, so she writes notes about the history of the things she steadily abandons in my basement, and so there they will live until I can abandon them in my own children’s basements. I just hope my children will still have the opportunity to have basements and won’t be fighting for survival in a Margaret Atwood dystopia because all the fish are dead and the water’s rotten. I mean, I need someone to store great great grandma’s sewing kit; oh, how she loved to sew.
I also hope my kids will keep the many monogrammed koozies, etched glasses, and the array of jewelry I’ve been gifted as a bridesmaid in other people’s weddings. Not to mention the robes, designer wallet, and the lavender-scented eye pillow. I wish I could say something sarcastic and cutting about how gifts to the wedding party are pointless, but let’s be honest, I absolutely love them. When I was brainstorming a list of things I’ve been gifted as a bridesmaid over the years, I felt my heart lighten with fond associations, as if every item were a Horcrux storing a piece of my soul.
I was delighted to learn that many a woman and gent have had the opportunity to also collect meaningless adornments from their friends getting married for “at least a thousand years” according to wedding historian Susan Waggoner. “During the age of chivalry, when a bride’s knights accompanied her to the church, she thanked them for their gallantry by bestowing gifts on them. Later, as a bride’s knights were replaced by the groom’s companions, the responsibility of giving them gifts transferred to the groom, while the bride provided gifts for the female members of the party.”
And what’s more, gifts to the bridesmaids have consisted of frivolous lady-things for hundreds of years: “Victorian bridesmaids most often received gloves, lockets, bracelets, keepsake boxes, perfume bottles, lace-trimmed handkerchiefs, and scarves,” says Waggoner. I sure would love to compare my “pearls” from Macy’s with a Victorian bridesmaid locket. Tradesies? Groomsmen also received items for personal adornment such as “cufflinks, scarf pins, leather gloves, and walking sticks.”
It brings me great sadness to say that my husband, Adam, has never received leather gloves, nor a walking stick to thank him for his friendship services. When asked what some of his favorite groomsman gifts were, he mentioned a camping stove and a Zippo lighter. His friends have also purchased his ties, socks, and pants for the groomsman get-up. I have to say, I have great appreciation for friends who help you help them by covering some of the cost of being in their weddings. I once had a friend pay for my hair and makeup, and I have perhaps never been happier for someone on their wedding day. Know what I mean?
But as a bride, I relied on my personal gift-giving philosophy when selecting gifts for my bridesbabes, which is to say, what would I want? I got everyone a coffee mug and a bar of soap, and hand-wrote them love letters. To this day, I frequently find myself going to a friend’s house to catch up over a cup of coffee or tea, and there in the cupboard is that mug I gifted them. It brings me all the warm fuzzies, and I can only hope that when I’m 80, I’m sitting on a pile of family heirlooms that I intend to pass down to my children, sipping out of those same mugs with the same friends. That’s true happiness.