By Rachel Broderick
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WEDDINGS (approx. 1550-1650)
Elizabethan weddings were the first to feature many of the customs we use today, including the exchanging of vows and rings, the creation and eating of wedding cakes, and the passing of the garter. The notion of a bridal party procession developed during Elizabethan times, as did the brides wearing wreaths of blossoms and carrying bouquets trimmed with love knots.
Wedding dresses tended to fall into two categories: heavy brocades ornamented with threads and lace in gilted, metallic colors; or white, billowy dresses with long sleeves, antique lace and bows, and a number of tiny buttons. No matter what the style, the dress usually had a plunging neckline that revealed ample cleavage. Otherwise, the brides body was fully covered with a number of petticoats and corsets, resulting in a vast, ball-gown style skirt.
Remember, this was the era of the "faire maiden." Thus, womens hair was worn long--often to the waist--and loose. Women would create soft, flowing curls for special occasions like a wedding, and no proper bride would be seen without a crescent-shaped cap of herbs adorning her head.
The most distinct element of the Elizabethan wedding is undoubtedly the prominence of herbs. Just as the Victorians developed an obsession with flowers, bestowing upon them secret meanings and mythical qualities, so did the Elizabethans with herbs. Infatuated with both the fragrance and historical significance of these plants, Elizabethans of all social classes infused them into every possible part of a wedding, from the brides headdress to the embellishment of candelabrums at the dining tables.
The most commonly used herbs were thyme, lavender, rosemary, parsley, "Blue Ribbon" echinops, sage, chive, marjoram, and the daisy-like feverfew. Not only did such herbs line walkways and encompass entire gardens; they would also be grouped into bundles, based on such factors as fragrance and color.
For weddings, bridesmaids carried small bunches of herbs called "tussie-mussies." These were essentially little tied posies of sweet-smelling herbs. Often, each tussie-mussie was different from the others, giving each girl her own unique bouquet. Even when unlike, however, these posies complemented each other in fragrance and color. Typical colors schemes for Elizabethan weddings included soft golds, dusty pinks, yellowy creams, and sage greens--much as one would picture in a tapestry from the era.
The brides bouquet took the form of a "pomander," or flower-ball. Usually about twice the size of the bridesmaids tussie-mussies, the essential function of the pomander was to perfume the air around the bride. Herbs used in the pomander included marjoram, various shades of sage, thistle, and occasionally small flower blossoms in muted yellow or purple. Typically, a wide piece of colorful ribbon or gauze was used as a handle. After the wedding ceremony, they were used to decorate a house or reception room, often hanging from iron railings and knobs by the aforementioned piece of ribbon.
When re-creating an Elizabethan wedding, its important to focus on the big picture: elements such as full dresses in brocade, gilt, or even white, with a revealing decolletage; long hair parted in the middle, preferably worm with loose curls; the plentiful use of herbs in rounded bouquets, as well as in headpieces, and centerpieces; and a muted color scheme.
Stick to these concepts, and youre sure to have a wedding that is not only Elizabethan in design, but uniquely stunning as well.
The writer would like to credit two books, "Wedding Flowers," by Fiona Barnett, and "The Wedding Dress," by Maria McBride-Mellinger upon which she based the majority of her research.
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