Formal Day Weddings
Various incarnations of morning dress.
page for details of formal and semi-formal day wear.
Emily Post books up to 1945 state that
"smart" evening weddings traditionally began at 9 P.M., much like
the grand balls of Victorian and Edwardian times. The 1952
edition of Amy Vanderbilt's book moved up the time to "after 7
P.M." and the 1963 edition to after 6 P.M. In 1969
Vogue's Book of Etiquette stated that weddings begining
at 7:30, 8:00 "or even nine o'clock" were popular in the South.
"Formal" Summer Weddings
New Jersey, 1949
As if dress code terminology wasn't confusing
enough, Esquire would often refer to summer black-tie weddings
as "formal" even though they were technically only
semi-formal. This was because no summer wedding was
considered formal in the conventional sense of the
word, likely due to polite society's traditional absence
from the city during these months. The season's torrid
weather probably didn't encourage suiting up in
stifling full-dress rigs either.
Despite traditional etiquette to the
contrary, grooms in the 1930s and '40s regularly wore tuxedos to
church and often mismatched them with a white bow tie.
Vintage Evening Weddings
Evening weddings are mentioned by American etiquette books
dating as far back as 1887. They were always formal affairs
and therefore exclusively white tie because prior to the 1930s the dinner suit
was considered appropriate only for informal evening
The 1922 edition of Emily
Post's Etiquette mentions that such weddings were unknown in
New York society and only took place in the west in cities such as
San Francisco. She would later add Atlanta to this list which
corresponds with Vogue's Book of Etiquette explanation in
1969 that evening weddings were popular in the South and Southwest
because churches there were frequently warm and uncomfortable during
Depression Era (1930s)
Traditional etiquette authorities continued
insist that "no man should ever be caught in a church in
a tuxedo" but by the late 1930s menswear magazines acknowledged the
growing trend of "semi-formal" evening weddings by providing
detailed guidelines for such occasions.
One of the earliest such references is this
pictorial from the June 1937 issue of Esquire.
In it, a
black dinner jacket is depicted as being appropriate for semi-formal weddings
in town while a white coat is suggested for
similar ceremonies in the
more detailed written description of the groom's options appeared in the June 1939
issue of the same magazine:
In town, the black or
midnight blue dinner jacket, with wing collar, semi-butterfly tie,
and black patent leather shoes.
In the country or at a resort, the shawl collar
doublebreasted dinner jacket of white tropical worsted,
washable fabric or Palm Beach is worn, with midnight blue or black
dress trousers; a starched, pleated or soft bosom pique [sic] or silk
shirt and black semi-butterfly tie are worn with both the regulation
and the summer dinner jackets.
In June of the following year the publication enhanced its descriptions
and expanded them to include groomsmen and guests.
However, the article's broad definition of "formal evening wedding"
("church or home wedding after six o'clock") and its new description
of "semi-formal" weddings being strictly warm-weather affairs
indicates a shift away from town versus country formality in favor of
Despite the magazine's
apparent retraction of semi-formal town weddings, period photographs
show that groomsmen were regularly appearing in tuxedos, presumably
for evening church ceremonies. They also reveal a common
practice of grooms wearing white ties with their tuxedos. This
was likely an attempt to import some full-dress formality into their
attire although technically it was just compounding one faux pas with
Post-War (1940s, '50s)
In its May 1942 issue,
Esquire once again divided wedding formality by season
rather than locale, dropping the "semi-formal" tag altogether:
In June 1948 the magazine re-instated the
generic semi-formal category alongside the more specific "summer
evening" heading. The writers also added a bit of flair to
warm-weather ceremonies by advising that guests (in single-breasted
jackets, presumably) wear bow ties and
cummerbunds of matching maroon, black or
midnight blue. Additional instructions for groomsmen (see
third page below) insisted that the same color must be used by all
men in the wedding party.
Despite the relaxed standards of the new era,
traditional etiquette authorities were slow to accept black tie at
religious ceremonies. In the 1952 first edition of her series of
etiquette books, author Amy Vanderbilt advised that
A tuxedo, essentially a
frivolous garment, should not be worn in church for any reason.
For a night wedding, even at home, full dress should be worn
by members of the wedding party, unless they prefer the alternative
of dark sack suits. In summer they may wear white flannels with
blue coats or for an evening
garden wedding, white
Elsewhere in the book she provided some leeway:
a smaller, less formal wedding
in the evening,
jacket is permissible," she allowed, specifying that "If
bride wears street clothes [as opposed to bridal
groom wears a dark business suit.
bride wears a dinner dress the groom wears a
Mrs. Vanderbilt also noted that it had even become usual for young men to
wear a tuxedo to a formal wedding but only as guests – wedding
party members and fathers of the bride and groom were still expected
to wear white tie.
Emily Post did not even acknowledge the
semi-formal evening wedding until the fourth version of her famous Etiquette books in 1955. At that time she
finally allowed for a dinner jacket to be worn to "less formal"
evening weddings and prescribed the double-breasted white model for
Vintage Groom Style
Although a bride's attire is deliberately
designed to set her apart from her bridesmaids, traditional
groom and groomsmen to have a
uniform appearance. The only distinguishing feature was the
type of boutonniere worn. Esquire and Apparel
recommended that the groom wear a small white flower such as a lily
of the valley or a flower from the bride's bouquet.
Best men wore white gardenias and ushers wore white carnations.