Vanity Fair, January 1916


Important Innovations in the Code of Matrimonial Etiquette

By P. Brooke-Haven


What pictures, what memories the words conjure up! The bride, with her set, determined face. The bridegroom, trying in vain to break the jiu-jitsu hold of the best man. The ushers, endeavoring to persuade the distant connection, with the ticket numbered Z 19, that she is not entitled to a ring-side seat. The maids of honor, whispering that poor dear Hildegonde never did look well in white, but charitably reminding one another that she has a sweet disposition and that it is rather her misfortune than her fault that her hair is that curious shade. . . .

Many changes have taken place of late in the procedure of smart weddings and if the Book of Etiquette on which you rely to steer you through the difficult waters of social life was published even three or four years back you are liable to do the things that you ought not to do or to leave undone the things that should have been done.


THIS remark applies not only to the ordinary wedding guest, but even to the officiating clergyman. Owing to the ever-increasing popularity of divorce and the confusion caused by the fact that our divorce laws differ in different states—so that the dissolution of a marriage is recognized in one state but not in another, it is now the custom in the best circles for the clergyman to provide himself with a species of chart or war-map, which he consults at the critical moment of the ceremony. I was usher at a wedding recently, both the parties to which had previously made several false starts in the matrimonial handicap, and when the Bishop of Yonkers, who was officiating, solemnly addressed the groom with the words, “Wilt thou, Twombley, take this Genevieve to be thy wedded wife; in sickness and in health, in Pennsylvania and in Massachusetts, in Nevada, Colorado, and all points west?” there was not a dry eye in the church.

It is not the fashion nowadays to have detectives at wedding receptions. It was a pretty custom, and it is a pity in some ways that it has died out, for there were few things more cheering to the thoughtful guest than the spectacle of an earnest and persevering sleuth arresting the bride’s rich uncle from the west, as nearly always happened. But the growing hideousness of wedding-presents has made the passing of the detective inevitable. No sane bride and bridegroom would deliberately put obstacles in the way of the removal of the ghastly things which have been given them by friends who had not the presence of mind to leave the country before the wedding-invitation reached them.


THE practice now is to encourage in every way the looting of the present-room, and many kleptomaniacs have, as a consequence, emerged from the cloud under which their unfortunate failing had placed them. They are now invited everywhere, with the tacit understanding that they do not shirk their merciful work. I for my part can think of no prettier sight than that of a young bride smiling encouragement on one of these helpful persons as he staggers from the room beneath the weight of a pair of massive ormolu vases, or of a young bridegroom thoughtfully helping his guest to wedge a silver loving-cup into his overcoat pocket.

Some of the very smartest people go even farther and enlist professional aid—a custom which has led to a considerable uplift among the members of the underworld, who are rapidly acquiring tone as the result of being invited to so many fashionable weddings in order to steal the presents. Indeed, this growing familiarity with our best families has led to an epidemic of the broad A among the personnel of the Gas-Works Gang that has been something of a puzzle to our local constabulary.


CURIOUSLY enough, the rejected suitor has ceased (almost as completely as the detective) to be a feature of the best weddings. A few years ago, a bride thought very poorly of herself if she could not muster among her wedding-guests half a dozen or more discarded suitors. Occasionally this would lead to a pretty and spontaneous effect, as when young Clarence de Peyster blew his brains out with one hand while shaking the bride’s hand with the other at the Bootle-Bartholomew wedding-reception. The incident was the talk of the town for quite a time and undoubtedly did much to establish the newly-married pair in the secure social position which they now enjoy. But too few rejected suitors are like poor de Peyster. It is, perhaps, asking too much of a young man to commit suicide simply in order to make a wedding-reception go off well, but at least it is not unreasonable to expect him to exhibit a decent gloom. It is the failure of the modern rejected suitor to do this that has led to his exclusion from most wedding-receptions nowadays. He had developed a habit of thanking the groom publicly in a loud voice as his benefactor. Everybody will remember the painful scene at the Mumbleby-Packsmith wedding when, just as Sigismund Mumbleby, the well-known clubman and owner of the Bronxville National League Checkers team, was insisting on replying in the affirmative to the obviously skeptical query of the presiding clergyman as to whether he really intended to take this woman (many years his senior and far from prepossessing in appearance) for his wedded wife, the voice of a Mr. Phipps, from the back of the sacred edifice, cried in tones of sincere self-congratulation, “There, but for the grace of God, goes Henry Murgatroyd Phipps!”


OF recent years the popularity of the home wedding has grown till it now threatens to make the church-wedding a thing of the past. I, personally, am a strong advocate of the wedding in the home. It has numerous obvious advantages, principally, of course, the fact that you are closer to the refreshments. It is not, however, without its drawbacks. I cannot impress too strongly upon young people who are thinking of being married in the ancestral apartment the advisability of disconnecting the telephone before the ceremony begins. Nothing looks worse than to have the bridegroom, just when the cue is coming for his big line, called away by an imperious summons from an ex-flame of his in the Winter Garden chorus. It requires more tact than the average bridegroom possesses to enable him to resume the proceedings without having caused a certain gêne among his assembled friends and relations. Another drawback is the fact that in the modern apartment house, which is of necessity—in a congested metropolis—the scene of so many home-weddings, the walls are as a rule remarkably thin. It does not conduce to the dignity and empressement of the ceremony when the clergyman’s address is punctuated with such remarks—muffled, no doubt, but always clearly audible—as “Gimme two cards,” “Oh, you little jack-pot!” and other ejaculations inseparable from our great national game. Nor is it a situation wholly free from embarrassment when, just as the hired violinist is striking up “The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden,” somebody on the floor above starts up his Victrola with “The Darktown Cabaret Rag.” The practice of holding rehearsals of the actual wedding ceremony is one that is finding increased favor in these advanced days. It has many obvious advantages, notably the fact that it enables the bride to lessen the inevitable shock to her betrothed by administering her relations to him in small doses instead of in one enormous lump. It will be found that by the time he has become inured to her various aunts and cousins, he is in a more favorable position for bearing up against her Uncle Paul from Omaha.

But I could write forever about weddings. There is no more fascinating subject. Whether it be the first wedding of this year’s debutante or the eleventh of Nat Goodwin or de Wolf Hopper, it cannot fail to stir the emotions of the most stolid readers. It is the turning point in two lives.

And let all patriotic Americans remember that every wedding that is solemnized has in it a possible—even a probable—impetus for the See America First movement, turning, as it does, the minds of the contracting parties from the effete attractions of Europe to the more bracing charms of Nevada.