When I decided to include a wedding in my upcoming novel Lies Told in Silence, research was my first thought. What were the etiquette and customs for French weddings and what might the wedding dress look like.
NJS Wedding Shop, a source of vintage gowns, provided a long article on French wedding traditions and customs. Here are some tidbits:
The French custom of the all-white wedding gown had been introduced with Anne of Brittany, daughter of Francis II. She wore white at her third marriage in 1499 to Louis XII of France. However it did not come into popular vogue before the 19th century. Along with the impact of neo-classic fashion, brides from French aristocracy and bourgeoisie are reported to wear all white dresses, trimmed with golden or silver embroidery. Major social weddings such as described by the gazettes, from then on, were always seen in white. The elaborate styling of modern wedding gowns is attributed to Empress Eugenie, her wedding to Napoleon III in 1853.
Good to know I could have my character in a white wedding dress.
What about the wedding ceremony?
In a church filled with incense and flowers, the couple stands beneath a silk canopy. A predecessor of the veil, a square of silk fabric, carre, is held over the bride and groom as the couple received the priest’s final blessing. They [the squares of silk] were designed to protect the couple from descending malice. The same veil is used for the baptism of their newborn child.
Aha! A unique bit of historical detail to include.
French brides-to-be receive the credit for the idea of the trousseau, originally a collection of clothing and household linens stored in a hope chest or elaborately carved armoire. The armoire was designed to become a central piece of furniture in the household of the newlyweds.
The armoire would be carved with symbols of wealth and prosperity. Presto! An armoire was added to my scene.
Of course, there are other interesting customs which I was unable to incorporate. On the matter of champagne:
The French often hire a professional champagne opener for weddings. This expert uses a saber, a Napoleonic cavalry-style sword, to whack open bottles of celebratory champagne.
The croquembouche has been the traditional French wedding cake since the 1600s. The ‘mouth cruncher’ is a golden dream consisting of a pyramid of cream puffs covered with hard-crack sugar and then spun, lightly caramelized sugar. The concept originated from an earlier time when guests would stack little cakes and call for the newlyweds to kiss over the stack without disturbing it.
I have a few photos of wedding dresses to include in another post.