Tuesday 20 February 2018

100 years of 'I do'

From honeymoons in Bray to dress hunting in the US, Bairbre Power charts the changes in Irish weddings

The look and feel of Irish weddings have changed dramatically during the last 100 years. In a seismic shift, they've gone from a small, morning ceremony in church with a wedding breakfast of sherry and a slice of fruit cake at home in the parlour to lavish three-day, even week-long, weddings abroad.

Irish wedding guests have become accustomed to turning the nuptials into a holiday studded with rehearsal dinner and post-wedding barbecues, all co-ordinated by a wedding planner armed with colour themes and a ban on camera phones in case they affect the magazine exclusive on wedding photos.

Yes indeed, Irish weddings have come a long way and morphed into a hundred different models where civil ceremonies and ceremonies with two brides and two grooms exchanging vows are as normal as pre-nup contracts.

Irish siblings have said 'I do' in double weddings, priests have learned to share the altar with videographers and photographers, while vows on a foreign beach have replaced Gretna Green as the place to elope to for a quiet wedding.

Honeymoons have changed from a day or two in Bray or Bundoran to cruises and safaris, and brides no longer cut up their wedding dress to make lace curtains and the Christening gown.

Queen Victoria is credited with starting the white dress trend, and during the '20s Irish brides wore Charleston-esque creamy satins with fur stoles and cloche hats.

By the end of the '30s, wartime shortages had hit the bridal market. Luxury fabrics were in short supply so the bride's 'wedding costume' in the '40s was often a sensible daytime suit to be worn again.

Come the '50s, Paris fashions delighted brides here. Christian Dior heavily influenced the mid-calf, A-line wedding dresses that were hugely popular, and then came a series of celebrity brides who turned brides' heads.

Grace Kelly's 1956 wedding dress is still cited as one of the most elegant and best-remembered bridal gowns of all time. Kate Middleton's gown had a definite nod to the Helen Rose-designed dress that the actress wore for her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco in April 1956. The fitted torso, billowing skirt and scintillating row of covered buttons down the back captivated brides here and they pored over the details with relish. They also copied her Juliet cap -- but few needed a veil 90 metres long.

Still, they ogled her Hollywood-meets-royalty style and many copied the fitted bodice, flare skirt suit in pink that she wore to the civil ceremony of her marriage.

The '60s saw lavish touches creep into Irish weddings, such as lots of bridesmaids. Style icon Jacqueline Bouvier had no fewer than 10 when she married Jack Kennedy in September 1953 (right). Her bouffant dress enthralled Irish women, even if the bride herself complained later that it made her look flat chested and like a lampshade.

I can't pass the copper-domed Rathmines church without marvelling at my own mother's wedding challenges. She got married at 6am, followed by a short reception at the airport and a flight to Brussels.

The modern bride is a more high-maintenance creature, with hair and make-up done professionally on the day.

The '70s wedding saw Irish mothers of the bride prioritise a maxi dress for dancing when the tables were put back. Princess Diana triggered a decade of giant meringue wedding dresses with hoops after she tied the knot in 1981. Irish brides in the '90s went to America, chasing down dresses such as the Narcisco Rodriguez body-skimming gown worn by Carolyn Bessette when she married John Kennedy Jr in 1996.

Wedding flowers, like honeymoons, have changed radically over the years.

They used to be simple and from the garden, done by a green-fingered neighbour good at flower arranging. Lily of the Valley, garden roses and lots of fern were replaced by architectural-style wired bouquets in the '60s, with wired carnations to match the men's buttonholes carried alongside an upturned horse shoe for luck. Now it's back to simple posies with hydrangea blooms as the preferred flowers du jour.

Irish wedding cakes have gone from tiered masterpieces based on Granny's recipe to the flaming theatre of Baked Alaska carried by a retinue of waiters.

The Quinn family made history with their €100,000 wedding cake but some sweet-toothed brides and grooms opt for a chocolate fountain with strawberries.

So much for the tradition of brides coming home from the short honeymoon to post off fingers of wedding cake as a memento for guests.

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