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Weddings American Style


This article is based mostly on my personal recollections. The article also includes some recollections of others. The weddings described are of middle-class families in America. This article will cover weddings from the mid-20th century through the early 21st century. I’ve been to weddings in Texas, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and New York City. The article’s focus is primarily on the receptions.

Brooklyn Wedding early '50s.

Brooklyn Wedding early '50s.

Traditional – Stereotypical – Pre-70s

The wedding ceremony was usually at the local place of worship. After the ceremony attendees would throw rice at the wedding couple. The bride’s family would pay for a reception. The reception was on the bride’s family property or a rental hall. If budget allowed there would be a band and maybe a singer. Sometimes a guest or guests would sing. Singing and dancing talent varied.[i] After the reception the bride and groom would ride or drive off in a car with “Just Married” written on the rear window and other silly ornamentation, such as cans tied to the rear bumper. The wedding pictures often included a photograph of the couple half inside the hotel room with the “Do Not Disturb” sign.

Wedding receptions, for working class families, often took place at the family home or at a rental hall. In 1940s New York City the “Football Wedding” concept was born. The family would make hero sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper, for the guests.[ii] The person minding the table would throw the sandwiches to the guests as an American Football quarterback would throw footballs to teammates. Stand-up comedian Pat Cooper spoofed football weddings in his 1965 album “Our Hero”.[iii] The football wedding was on its way out in the mid-60s.

[i] Radio shock jock Doug Tracht aka Greaseman pointed out a possible drawback of having a guest sing in one of his comic bits.

[ii] The Hero Sandwich goes by other names in other places in the United States such as; “submarine “, “poor boy”, “grinder”.

[iii] His album uses ethnic humor. Some of the terms he used were appropriate in 1965 but are no longer proper.

A wedding party in 1970s New Jersey.

A wedding party in 1970s New Jersey.

The 1970s

Church weddings were popular but long services weren’t. Roman Catholics were known for having long services. Roman Catholics had the option of a wedding mass. It gives the wedding a good religious setting and drives home it’s holy matrimony. Shorter weddings make an emotionally trying experience for the couple and parents easier. Groomsmen consisted of the best man and ushers. An usher primarily meant asking guests if they were guests of the bride or groom then pointing out the appropriate aisle. After the service guests congratulated the couple’s parents at the church exit.

The ‘70s were a time of change and weddings reflected some of these changes. “Just Married” cars were sometimes decorated with suggestive comments and ornamentation. Sometimes the decoration amounted to vandalism. The changing mores also caused some issues with the bride’s attire. The bridal attire question was from the erroneous belief white symbolized virginity.[i] Other gag moves included the bride and groom grabbing some of the wedding cake and smashing it into each other’s face. That amused some guests and shocked others. There was at least one case where the bridal party wore Groucho Marx masks. Groom tuxedos that weren’t black or white became popular. When disco came into vogue it seemed to increase participation on the dance floor. Disco’s line dances were easy and people without dancing talent could fit in with the crowd.

[i] In an episode of the TV series “Alice”, Mel (Vic Tayback) commented about the unlikelihood of Flo (Polly Holliday) would wear white at her wedding.

Wedding Cake 1983.

Wedding Cake 1983.

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New York Style Receptions

New York wedding receptions are more formal than most. This tends to put the couple, parents, and some guests on edge. The bridal party and the couple’s parents enter the reception area. Then the bridal couple steps in. Disk Jockeys (DJs) would normally be the master of ceremonies (MC). The couple would have their first dance as a married couple, the song was of their choice. Then the bride dances with her father and the groom dances with his mother. Then the DJ would throw the dance floor open to the guests. The first dance is a slow one and the DJ would claim the more people on the dance floor the more years of happiness for the couple. It’s a good way to encourage more people on the dance floor even though nobody believes the claim. It’s one of many claims the DJ makes but no one really believes. There is a full dinner. There is the cake cutting ceremony where the bride and groom feed each other a piece of cake. The larger the piece the more happiness. The wedding cake is the dessert, or one of the desserts. The throwing of the bouquet and garter is the official end of the ceremony. The man and woman who catches will be the next to marry. There is often cheating in these tosses. The man who catches the garter puts it on the woman who caught the bouquet. The higher up the man places the garter on the woman’s leg the more happiness for the married couple. Sometimes a child catches the bouquet or garter and this part of the ceremony is skipped. Sometimes the couple have an after party with a few of their contemporaries.

Changes and Variations

There is often a photo session for the wedding party at a studio. The session usually takes place in the time between the wedding and the reception. Sometimes this photo session was at the wedding site, if the site is picturesque. Sometimes the photo session is at a picturesque site, such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. There are destination weddings where the couple goes away, usually their Honeymoon location, to get married. This has spawned pre-wedding receptions. Couples have their wedding reception before going to the destination of their wedding.

Medieval weddings have some popularity. Sometimes couples go full medieval, others go less than 100% medieval. A medieval dress allows more flexibility in color and design.

Some couples choose levity in wedding ceremonies instead of the traditional, reserved, ceremony. Some prefer outdoor ceremonies. Picturesque if the weather cooperates. A site with an open-air structure, preferably one that can be closed, is a way to be prepared for almost any weather eventuality.

The 2020s

Throwing rice has gone out of vogue. There’s a glass box for the gift envelopes. The bride and groom making the rounds seems out of style. The formal dance style seems out. There may be an appearance by a dancing robot, actually a dancer on stilts in a robot costume. Dancing with the robot is a good photo opportunity. The 1977 song “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is a popular near the end of the reception song.

“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf - last line

"I'm praying for the end of time so I can end my time with you."

— Meatloaf

Tips and Trips

Uncouth behavior or a misstep at a wedding or reception is something hosts or guests are likely to remember, and talk about, for decades. Some guests view wedding receptions as an opportunity to get drunk. Before being one of those guests consider what type of drunk you are.

Often wine bottles are put at each table. Just because you don’t see people filling up their wine glasses right away, or at all, that isn’t a license to squirrel the bottles away. The reception may be at a restaurant but complaining to the staff about the food or service could make you the topic of unkind conversation.

I was asked to read during a wedding ceremony. I had a reputation for being a poor public speaker. A boy gave a wonderful first reading. My parents were worried for me since he was a hard act to follow. My practicing by speaking to empty rooms, many times, paid off.[i] The moral of this story is a wedding ceremony is not the time to “wing it”. If you are going to say something to the audience practice early and often.

Women usually wear high heel shoes to weddings. Modern dancing in high heels is difficult so many women take them off to dance. A wedding I attended recognized this reality and had a box of flip flops so women can leave their shoes at the table and use the flip flops when off the dance floor. Little extras can make for a more enjoyable reception.

[i] A few years earlier I spoke to someone who won an award for public speaking. He and his wife told be about his practicing speaking anywhere and everywhere, including to their refrigerator.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Robert Sacchi

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