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“The Evil of Elaborate and Showy Weddings”: Taste, Power, and Consumption at the Turn-of-the-Twentieth Century

by Vicki Howard


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          As the ritual practice that led to marriage, itself a public institution with immense political and social implications, weddings carried vast cultural meaning.[1]   To some, the wedding ritual was immutable, a mark of civilization.  An elite New York society wedding of the 1870s might seem to be a rite that  “belong(ed) to the dawn of history.”[2]  But by the early twentieth century, weddings were becoming consumer acts.  As consumer capitalism transformed the more communal, face-to-face wedding of the past, getting married was not such a simple affair.   More and more people were able to and chose to have a big, elaborate white wedding.  In the late nineteenth century, prescriptive literature appeared to instruct women on the rules of etiquette for  every aspect of wedding preparation and celebration.  When people turned to experts for information on “tradition” it was a sure sign that those traditions were not as unchanging as they purported to be.  The prescriptive literature on weddings was a sign of social change and shifting marriage practices.  In response to these transformations, critics began loudly condemning conspicuous wedding consumption and denouncing, in the words of a 1912 magazine article --“The Evil of Elaborate and Showy Weddings.”[3]   


          In the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, etiquette writers and cultural critics condemned those who spent “beyond their means” to celebrate a marriage. Opposition came from different perspectives.  Both working-class and middle-class consumption was the object of criticism, but for different reasons.  Middle-class attitudes toward work, leisure, and consumption were changing in the late nineteenth century.   Proponents of Victorian genteel culture felt threatened in the face of an expanding world of goods, new urban leisure activities, and an emerging mass culture.[4]  While working-class men and women overturned Victorian moralism by "putting on style," going to public hall dances, and visiting beaches and amusement parks together, others set a different standard.[5]  Adopting a moralist position, ministers, college teachers, reformers, and editors set the boundaries of nineteenth-century public discourse on consumption.  They emphasized hard work, self-restraint, and character and associated consumption itself with corruption and profligacy.[6]   This perspective lay behind a debate over gift rituals, and led to the call for simple weddings.  In a world where the appearance of social position could be hired for an evening, simplicity gained cultural valence.


          The writings of French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, on the topic of taste and social distinction are useful when thinking about wedding consumption.  According to Bourdieu, consumption conveys class in subtle ways, legitimizing unequal social relationships. Looking to find the social and economic nexus of taste, Bourdieu states simply that taste "classifies the classifier."[7]   The ability to understand what is tasteful, to be able to define it, comes out of what he calls “cultural capital,” something which in turn establishes class differences. For the purposes of discussing middle-class and elite wedding consumption, the concept of cultural capital is especially useful.  As markers of taste and status, weddings laid claim to a particular identity.  Following established rules of etiquette, consuming within the bounds of accepted good taste, displaying one’s sense of the rightness of things was power to assert one’s vision of things over others, to define the dominant discourse.[8]   But what constituted a tasteful wedding?  The answer to that has varied over time and is situated in a particular historical context. 



          Weddings were layered with conventions that reproduced social hierarchy.  Correct wedding consumption was a means of establishing one’s social position.  Consumption established class boundaries but could blur those boundaries as well.   In a newly urbanized industrial society, where many were recent immigrants or migrants from rural regions in the United States, the middle class achieved social distinction by having correct and tasteful weddings.  This middle class must have constituted the main audience for the numerous etiquette books of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that dealt with correct social form for weddings.  These works sought to regulate wedding customs, setting social boundaries of taste and decorum that would include some, and exclude many.  Such rules of etiquette often required a large expenditure on the part of the bride, groom, and wedding guests.  They outlined the necessary material aspects of the correct wedding, including engraved wedding invitations, gifts for bridesmaids, maid of honor, best man, and ushers, gift from the groom to the bride, wedding presents from invited guests, a personal and household trousseau, flowers from the groom to the female members of the wedding party, and so on.   Such prescriptive literature helped weddings entry into consumer culture.  In later years, etiquette books would have a direct link to commercial venues, such as women’s and bridal magazines, and serve their interest.


          Consumer rites, such as the convention of giving and displaying gifts, reproduced class and gender hierarchies.  In the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth century, a discussion of the proper execution of these rituals appeared in magazines, fiction, and prescriptive literature.  This discourse on gifts was part of a larger critique of wedding consumption.  During this period, after gifts were received at the bride’s home they were put on display on long, cloth-covered tables, sometimes with name tags indicating the giver. Gifts of silver, china, jewels, and even furniture were put out for invited guests to admire.[9]  Newspaper announcements that recounted society wedding present displays sometimes noted the designer or manufacturer of gifts, names such as Minton, Dresden, and Tiffany.  Gift-viewing could be downplayed, with guests just catching a glimpse of presents on display in an upstairs room, or they could be the focus of attention and scrutiny.


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          An early critic voiced opposition to the excesses of the practice.  In 1870, the famous minister, Henry Ward Beecher, published an article aptly entitled “Wedding Bazaars,” in which he argued that changes in society called for the end of this practice.   In earlier times, he noted it had been necessary to set up a young couple in housekeeping.  Beecher writes: “But as wealth increases, and new manners prevail in refined society, it is no longer an aim to furnish the lodgings of love’s young pilgrims.  The custom of giving presents remains, but the motive changes; and unless great caution be used, such custom degenerates, and becomes offensive.”  


          Debates over such wedding practices show how power relations were embedded in the performance of taste.  Henry Ward Beecher’s critique of the custom condemned its undemocratic nature.  Beecher himself seldom “took pleasure in looking at the wedding treasure chamber “  He worried about the “humble cousins, the poor young men wishing to stand well in society, the outside friends that dare not come without gifts when all are expected to give.”  Such a custom shored up social hierarchies.  When each gift was marked with the givers name as was the custom then, the ability to pay was on display.  According to others in later years, the practice merely skirted the boundaries of taste.  A 1909 publication, Etiquette for Americans, noted the difference of opinion: "To go through them bores some persons tremendously, and they are not always allowed to skip the process. It delights others."[10]   


          Wedding conventions such as the present display were exercises in power, a fact that early twentieth-century writers used to mirror larger issues.  In Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel, Age of Innocence, the debate over the appropriateness of displaying gifts signals the rule-bound world of 1870s New York society that constrains the hero, Newland Archer, from finding happiness with his true love, the unconventional Ellen Olenski.  As Archer is about to marry May Welland "A stormy discussion as to whether the wedding presents should be "shown" had darkened the last hours before the wedding.”  Wharton understood that gift display merged the public with the private, something itself of questionable taste for the middle class who valued such a separation.  Such public performance held one’s belongings up for inspection.  For example, the mother-of-the bride, Mrs. Welland, refused to have her daughter’s presents displayed: nearly in tears, she stated that she "should as soon turn the reporters loose in (her) house."   Wharton uses this discussion over the appropriateness of showing gifts as one more example of the ways that society’s conventions trapped the hero.   The groom, Newland Archer wonders at the fact “that grown-up people should work themselves into a state of agitation over such trifles"[11]  While Archer was critical of the details of the wedding, overall he was unable to break free of good “Form” and those like the character, Lawrence Lefferts, who patrolled its border.  Archer was doomed to carry on and enter into a limited marriage unless he was willing or able to sacrifice his position in society.[12] 


          Gift rituals, like those depicted by Wharton, were also embedded in an unequal system of gender relations.  Wedding presents and the materialistic rituals surrounding them underlined the economic necessity of marriage for women.  Wharton depicts the present display in her 1905 novel, House of Mirth.  The heroine, Lily Barth, who admires the bridal jewels on display and covets “the life of fastidious aloofness and refinement” they represented, saw the gift display and the wedding itself as a painful reminder of the limitations of her social position as an aging, single woman.[13]   Marriage was necessary for social status and economic security for middle-class and elite women.  Weddings were thus more important for women than for men, who were conspicuously absent from records of wedding preparations and were not included in the host of consumer rituals surrounding the celebration.  Letters between turn-of the century brides and grooms before their marriage show women concerned with the details of setting up a new house.  For example, the letters that bride-to-be Mary Paul wrote her future husband, Howard Bland, in 1905 were filled with detailed, elaborate descriptions of the presents pouring into her home.   Mary Paul openly acknowledged the pleasure they gave her: “It is too much fun getting presents--I adore it and they can’t come too many or too often for me!” she wrote.  At one point, she wrote “We have 200 presents.”[14]  In contrast, her husband wrote more about his public life and his love for her rather than about the wedding itself.[15]


          Etiquette writers and others used gendered language to regulate gift rituals, showing some discomfort with practices that linked marriage with commerce.  In 1904, one etiquette writer called on the bride’s discretion,  noting that "the showing of the wedding gifts is left to the taste of the bride. She need no longer exhibit them on the day of the wedding, ticketed and labeled with the names of their givers, like dry goods in a shop window unless she so chooses."[16]  To be associated with the hands-on business of making money lowered the social standing of women among some groups.  The bride, who in Henry Ward Beecher’s 1870 account “does not shrink from calculating the probable gifts” and takes “an account of stock”after “the wedding bazaar” was no better as this language suggests, than a businessman turning her wedding into a masculine profit-making venture.[17]  Similarly, in House of Mirth, Wharton criticized the money-making aspect of weddings when she described Grace Van Osburgh’s gift display with accompanying namecards as “bridal spoils.” 




          For a long time, the formal white wedding was the purview of elites like those fictionalized in Wharton’s novels.  When more and more people, however, had celebrations with all the trimmings--the white gown, multiple attendants, flowers, a church ceremony, and large reception--the costly wedding came under attack.   In the early twentieth century, expensive, elaborate weddings were suspect when they were not in line with the class background or wealth of the bride and her family.  Different budgets were supposed to determine whether one chose to marry in a civil ceremony at a court house, marry quietly in the parsonage, have a formal hotel wedding, or have a wedding breakfast at home or in church buildings.  Etiquette writers warned against wedding consumption out of proportion with one’s means.  According to one in 1913, when costliness was the goal the effect was “vulgar.”  The financial standing of the bride’s family was supposed to determine the degree of elaboration: “the carrying of it beyond their means may bring criticism upon both parties concerned.”[18] 


          Emulation, however, was considered a problem.  The danger, according to one 1912 article in Suburban Life, was that "once the rich set the pace for these social functions. . .the rest of the world must needs ape the results” as the “poor are quick to follow the example set them by their more fortunate neighbors.”  Big weddings held by non-elites were wasteful, and likely not in good taste. Those of the wealthy also were suspect from this perspective, as they drew attention to gaps between the rich and poor.  The display of luxury by the rich could foment social discord "when the wretched poverty-stricken father of a numerous family hears that his rich employer has bought 5,000 orchids from overseas at a dollar apiece, to grace a banquet."[19]


          The ability itself to have a big wedding, however, did not directly correlate to social status.  In a society where mobility was theoretically possible, taste served as a means of classifying oneself and of being classified by others.   Wealth might allow one to own the material goods and space needed to host a ball or a large wedding reception, but it was no guarantee of social standing.  Age of Innocence demonstrated this distinction.  For example, the fabulously wealthy Beauforts “had been among the first people in NY to own their own red velvet carpet and have it rolled down the steps by their own footmen, under their own awning, instead of hiring it with the supper and the ball-room chairs."[20]  And yet, they did not rank among the very elite of Old New York society.   Simplicity was depicted favorably in her account of 1870s society.  Wedding consumption served as a touchstone for shifting values.  May Welland’s engagement ring, "a large thick sapphire set in invisible claws" met with mild disapproval by her grandmother,  who called it "Very Handsome...very liberal,” but noted that in her time “a cameo set in pearls was thought sufficient."[21]   Wharton’s novel, published in 1920, coincided with a major shift in attitudes toward spending and consuming.  A document of the post World-War I era, the novel exhibited a nostalgia for a time when tastes were simpler, before a commercial ethic came to the fore.


          Increasingly, in a consumer society commercially produced goods and services made it possible to have a wedding reception beyond one's means. Unlike the Beaufort’s in Wharton’s novel, most who had large entertainments, including the wealthy, turned to commercial services to provide at least some aspect of the celebration.  Catering businesses were one of the earliest wedding industries.  If one did not own the elaborate silverware and china necessary for the multi-course meals popular in the nineteenth century, caterers would provide it.  In the 1860s, the New York confectioner  W. H. Barmore offered to furnish wedding parties "entire with silver, china, etc." and would send waiters at short notice, along with "pyramids, mottoes, games, etc."  Also a "Ladies & Gents Restaurant," they were prepared to furnish weddings, dinner parties, and evening entertainments."[22]  In the 1880s, caterers, such as S & J Davis in Newark, New Jersey, offered multi-course meals, a range of wedding cakes made to order, china, glass, silverware, awnings, and "floor crash" as well as "waiters and cooks sent out at short notice."  Their clientele included German-speakers, as they made a special notice that they were opening a "fine line of German Mottoes and Favors." 


          Critics of costly weddings idealized the "simple" Protestant home wedding reception.   In the early twentieth century, popular sources that represented a mainstream native-born, middle-class Protestant viewpoint, such as the Ladies’ Home Journal or the Boston School of Cooking magazine, assumed an audience interested in receptions in private homes when they provided recipes for wedding cake and menus for home receptions.   In reality, while the church ceremony was the norm for Protestant  Americans by the end of the nineteenth century, reception location varied widely according to religion, class, ethnicity, and region.[23]   By the 1920s, when home receptions were still prevalent among native-born Protestants, Emily Post  elevated the wedding breakfast held in a private house, stating that it had “greater distinction than the most elaborate collation in a public establishment.”  Public spaces lacked “sentiment” and a “‘home’ atmosphere.”[24]  Favored by Jews and working-class Catholics, public spaces like halls and even hotels were viewed through the nativist’s eye with an element of disdain.


          The elevation of the simple wedding was part of a larger naturalization of "middle-class simplicity" going on in women's magazines at the turn of the century.[25]  The ideal wedding, according to such criticism, had Puritan roots, and thus was supposed to be characterized by restraint, decorum, and simplicity.[26]  Anyone could have a big wedding is the implication, but only those with cultural capital could have a truly tasteful celebration, a simple wedding.  Not only were celebrations that stepped outside the boundaries of middle-class refinement tasteless, in this view, they were potentially ruinous.  Popular magazines like Ladies’ Home Journal published stories that showed how spending beyond one's means to impress the neighbors with an elaborate wedding reception could destroy a family.[27]  The 1912 Suburban Life  article criticized big, costly weddings from an older producer-oriented perspective. In this account, female consumption threatened to bankrupt the father, who had mortgaged his house to renovate and enlarge it for the wedding of his daughter.[28]  The writer criticized the bride as selfish and spoiled.  She had driven her family to near-ruin with the bills of "dressmakers, milliners, tailors, and tradesmen of different kinds" . Raising the spirits of "our Puritan fathers," the writer questioned "the reckless and extravagant use of money" and reminded her readers that "in the beginnings of our common wealth, men and women were required by law to live within their incomes."  Such "ostentatious display" was reprehensible because it overshadowed the "sacredness of marriage."  This ambivalence about the wedding's connection to the market was part of a larger concern over status and middle-class boundaries. 


          From a working-class perspective, however, middle-class simplicity left something to be desired. Home ceremonies needed upper middle-class settings to achieve ritualistic splendor.  The spectacle or pageantry of the formal, white wedding was difficult to create in an apartment.  A home wedding in a small, dingy apartment, witnessed by only a few people, was not “respectable,” in the eyes of one immigrant bride in a short story written by Abraham Cahan in 1898.  Frank Norris’s novel, McTeague, written in the same year depicts a similar attitude toward small weddings.  When Norris’s heroine, Trina, married her dentist groom in a San Francisco apartment, she was haunted by the “cursory, superficial” nature of the ceremony, which appeared to leave something out.[29]


          Moreover, such a small wedding did not allow for the full expression of working-class and immigrant communal values.  Big weddings in public urban spaces, such as rented halls, were community affairs, expressions of class and ethnic identity.  The big public hall wedding with hundreds of guests, a huge wedding feast, music, dancing, and drinking was an important part of urban life at the turn of the century.  According to a New York Settlement Society report in 1899, weddings celebrated in public halls “displayed the collective social spirit which plays so large a part in holding people together within a fixed geographical limit.”  At the turn of the century, on the East Side of New York alone there were more than fifteen such public halls.  Two of these, the New Irving Hall and Liberty Hall, could accommodate from 500 to 1,200 people.  New Irving Hall could be rented for thirty dollars a night for a wedding.  Generally, the parents of the contracting parties rented the hall, hired an orchestra, provided refreshments, and divided the expense.  Weddings were closely scheduled.  Liberty Hall saw three weddings a night.[30]  Halls were one response to city life, a means of bringing a community together in a place where homes were not large enough to have more than a family party, if that. 


          Big immigrant weddings brought the risk of debt, but they were supposed to bring much needed material aid to the new couple.  Large celebrations might be beyond one’s means, but the community was supposed to rally their sense of reciprocity.  Fictional depictions of big immigrant celebrations explore these cultural values that were so different from the middle-class native-born emphasis on taste and simplicity.   In “A Ghetto Wedding,” Abraham Cahan’s 1898 short story about Yiddish New York, wedding expenses nearly lead to the downfall of the hero and heroine.  Nathan, who works as a street peddler of china dishes, wants to marry his sweetheart Goldy, who is a seamstress, but she refuses to do so until she can stand under the bridal canopy not as a “beggar maid.”  She wanted “a respectable wedding,” not its antithesis, “a slipshod wedding,” which was “anything short of a gown of white satin and slippers to match; two carriages to bring the bride and bridegroom to the ceremony, and one to take them to their bridal apartments; a wedding band and a band of at least five musicians; a spacious ballroom crowded with dancers, and a feast of a hundred and fifty covers.”[31]   Goldy delayed the marriage asking that they save enough to establish themselves comfortably and furnish an apartment.  After two years of hard work and savings when they were no where near having the “respectable wedding” as well as the nicely-furnished apartment, Goldy conspired to solve the problem by spending all their money on the celebration, hoping that gifts would supply their household needs.  In fact, Yiddish etiquette manuals warned against this practice, calling for the bride and groom to “stay within their means.”[32]  Nevertheless, Goldy tells Nathan, “Let us spend all our money on a grand, respectable wedding, and send out a big lot of invitations, and then--well, won’t uncle Leiser send us a carpet or a parlor set? And aunt Beile, and cousin Shapiro, (etc.) won’t each present something or other, as is the custom among respectable people?”[33]   They hired a hall, sent out  over a hundred invitations, and waited for wedding gifts to arrive at their rented rooms.  As only a few gifts came trickling in and few accepted the invitation, they began to realize that the worst had happened.   Their wedding came during hard times when many of their invited friends were out of work, without presentable clothes to wear to the celebration, and unable to afford the expense of the required present.  The simple tale ends with Nathan and Goldy returning to their bare rooms after the pathetic wedding celebration, forgetting their material woes, happy together and in love.  Consumption is not mercenary here; instead, the materialist dreams of Goldy are supposed to represent  the immigrant dream for a better life.  The inability of their community to fulfill their obligations to the new couple was not the fault of the immigrants or the result of Americanization, but rather the result of the economic hardships they faced.


          The communal customs of the big immigrant wedding are shown to be out of place in the industrial city by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 novel The Jungle. The novel opens with the wedding of Jurgis and Ona, two recent Lithuanian immigrants who work in the slaughterhouse industry in Chicago.  They host the Lithuanian veselija, a communal wedding celebration, which could cost more than a year’s income for immigrants who worked in Chicago’s slaughterhouses, and yet was deemed absolutely necessary for the proper celebration of the rite of marriage.  The expense and risks involved in having such a celebration were a key to its meaning.  Spending a year’s income in a single day proved that one could be “the master of things” and allowed one to “go back to his toil and live upon the memory all his days.”[34]  The wedding scene that opens this socialist protest novel stands in stark contrast to the wrenching depictions of poverty and despair that dominate the rest of the narrative.  The opening scenes of feasting and Lithuanian dancing, however, also foreshadow the horrible fate that awaits the young hero and his new wife.  The veselija was “a compact” between members of a village community in which each helped contribute money to pay for the wedding day festivities by dancing with the bride and giving a donation according to one’s ability to pay.  The novel shows the custom was in decline as guests came to the wedding feast and then attempted to shirk their duty to help shoulder the cost of the celebration.  Sinclair envisioned a selfish individualism destroying the web of obligation and reciprocity that held together village life in Lithuania.  Just as Jurgis and Ona must bear the burden of their wedding costs on their own, they stand alone with a make-shift family to face the dehumanizing force of an urban, industrial order.


          To some nativist critics, immigrant consumption in public spaces itself was suspect.  Progressive reformers criticized immigrant dance halls, the profit-motives of those who ran them, and the working-class drinking that took place in such locales.  Progressives recognized their social function, but argued they were also “often debased to the most vicious uses.”[35]  Big wedding receptions in public halls, moreover, involved dances and customs that challenged middle-class notions of restraint and decorum.  Unlike the “private affair” or the simple home reception, big hall weddings fulfilled different cultural values, allowing for inclusion, hospitality, and reciprocity. 




          Romance and commerce were supposed to be at odds.  Weddings did not enter consumer culture, without opposition, or at least some negotiation. This debate, as we have seen, took place in a variety of places--in literature, etiquette books, and magazines.  Businesses themselves at the turn of the century expressed concern for the propriety of directing their selling efforts specifically at brides.  As if department stores were reluctant to make June brides “a fair mark,” trade writers encouraged the practice.  They self-consciously noted the appropriateness of such business as long as it was conducted in a “dignified” manner: “Just now it may not be strictly within correct form to seek business from prospectives” warned the Dry Goods Economist.  “A little sentiment, however, ‘is a dangerous thing’ in business, and one must up to a certain point shut their eyes and take chances.”[36] 


[1]For a good recent synthesis of marriage in the United States, see Nancy Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).

[2]Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence: Complete Text with Introduction, Historical Contexts, Critical Essays, ed. Carol J. Singley (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 154.

[3]Margaret Woodward, "The Evil of Elaborate and Showy Weddings," Suburban Life 14 (June 1912). At the end of the nineteenth century, social critic Thorstein Veblen condemned costly entertainments.  While not specifically addressing weddings, he viewed balls or large entertainments as conspicuous consumption, demonstrating a typical late-nineteenth century uneasiness with new market relations.  Thorstein Veblen, Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, with an introduction by C. Wright Mills, (New York: Macmillan Company, 1899; reprint, New York: New American Library, 1953),  64-5.

[4]For a synthesis of the literature addressing these transformations, see Daniel Horowitz, The Morality of Spending: Attitudes toward the Consumer Society, 1875-1940 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 68-69.  Also, see T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Anti-modernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).

[5]Many scholars have documented the rich oppositional youth culture at the turn of the twentieth century.  For example, see Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986). John Kasson, Amusing the Million : Cony Island at the Turn of the Century (New York: Hill & Wang, 1978);  Nan Enstad, Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).

[6]Daniel Horowitz, The Morality of Spending, 6.  As Horowitz shows, this moralist reaction to consumer culture continued throughout the twentieth century along different avenues.  For example, see John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958); David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd: a Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950); and Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations  (New York: Norton, 1978).

[7]Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 6-7.

[8]Pierre Bourdieu, 12-13. Capital is the "the set of actually usable resources and power," including economic, cultural and social capital, p. 114.

[9]Wedding Scrapbook, newsclipping, Caldwell-Chrisman wedding, n.d. McFaddin Ward House, Beaumont, Texas.

[10]"A Woman of Fashion," Etiquette for Americans (New York: Duffield & Company, 1909), 109.

[11]Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence, 156.

[12] "Few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful than an offence against "Taste," that far-off divinity of whom "Form" was the mere visible representative and vicegerent." Wharton, Age of Innocence, 24  His opposition to convention leads him such sarcastic remarks, and occasionally to actions, as when he pursues Ellen Olenski, the unconventional object of his true love, but only to a degree.  "Lawrence Leffert's sleekly brushed head seemed to mount guard over the invisible deity of "Good Form" who presided at the ceremony" (Archer's wedding) p. 156.

[13]Edith Wharton, House of Mirth, with an introduction by R.W.B. Lewis, (New York: Bantam Books, 1984), 85-6.

[14]Mary Paul to Howard Bland, 13 September 1905; Mary Paul to Howard Bland, 1905, box 3,  Bland Family Papers, University of Maryland, College Park.

[15]For example, Howard Bland to Mary Paul, 10 October 1905.

[16]Anne Randall White, Twentieth Century Etiquette (n.p., 1904), 278.

[17]Henry Ward Beecher, Godey’s Ladies’ Book, 80 (March 1870), 295.

[18]Edith Ordway, The Etiquette of To-Day (New York: George Sully and Company, Inc., 1913).

[19]Margaret Woodward, "The Evil of Elaborate and Showy Weddings," Suburban Life 14 (June 1912), 418. 

[20]Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence, 28.

[21]ibid., 35.

[22]Receipt, W. H. Barmore, Confectionery, box 1; Advertisement, W. H. Barmore, Confectionery, box 1, Warshaw Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

[23]Ellen K. Rothman, Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America (New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1973), 78.

[24]Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1923), 375.

[25]For example, the simple life was promoted by Edward Bok, editor of Ladies' Home Journal from 1889-1919.  For a discussion of the history of this concept, see David E. Shi, The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 181, passim.  Also see Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace, 74-83.

[26]This cultural ideal, however, elevated a past that scholars have shown to be more complex and strikingly less "Puritan."  David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 210-211.

[27]For a similar condemnation of wedding consumption and parallel story of its dangers, see Edward Bok, "His Daughter's Wedding," Ladies' Home Journal, (June 1904), 20. Cited in Ellen M. Litwicki, "Showering the Bride: a Ritual of Gender and Consumption," Paper Presented 30 May 1998 at the Conference on Holidays, Ritual, Festival, Celebrations, and Public Display, Bowling Green University, Ohio.  Manuscript in the possession of the author. 

[28]Margaret Woodward, "The Evil of Elaborate and Showy Weddings," 418. 

[29]Frank Norris, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (New York: Doubleday & McClure Co., 1899; reprint, New York: Penguin Books, 1964), 130.

[30]John Oskinson, “Public Halls of the East Side,” University Settlement Society of New York Report, 1899, 38, 39.

[31]Abraham Cahan, “A Ghetto Wedding,” in Yekl and the Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of Yiddish New York, with an introduction by Bernard G. Richards, (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1898; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1970),  226.

[32]Jenna Weissman Joselit, Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1780-1950 (New York: HIll and Wang, 1994), 24.

[33]Abraham Cahan, 228-9

[34]Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, (New York: Doubleday, 1905; reprint, New York: Signet Books, 1980), 18.

[35]Daniel Horowitz, The Morality of Spending, 63.

[36]“June Brides a Fair Mark,” Dry Goods Economist (8 June 1901), 43.