With wedding season shifting into high gear (so help us god), let us take a moment to remember a kinder, gentler time when white-gowned brides were… dudes.
NPR enlightens on this bizarre practice of yore, which seems to have started in the late nineteenth century and continued straight on into the first half of the twentieth, wherein men would dress up as entire wedding parties—brides, grooms, flower girls, all of it—for the sake of entertainment, usually as a fundraiser for some sort. Historians posit that the intent wasn’t necessarily to undermine actual weddings, a lynchpin of communities during this time, or devalue women’s role in the ritual. Instead, the “inversion” was meant to reaffirm values through good-hearted comedy.
In short, everyone was just being silly.
It is a “most unique and attractive entertainment,” the Houston Post reported on May 27, 1917. “Some of the most prominent men in the city will be in it. It is filled with fun from beginning to end and every city or town in which it has been given there have been record breaking audiences, even standing room being at a premium.”
In 1918, one such “wedding” for the Red Cross raised $225 — today that’s around $3500 dollars, which, were it not earmarked for charity, could buy one of these dude brides quite a fetching gown.
The practice continued for decades (NPR cites one such event in 1943), though ladies also got in on the action by hosting their own “manless wedding” events.
Actresses would impersonate the bridegroom, his father and other males, sometimes including some famous folks. At one manless ceremony in Kingsport, Tenn., the local Times reported on Oct. 6, 1926, a woman pretending to be Babe Ruth made an appearance.
There aren’t any specifics on how much money these manless weddings brought in, but it was probably something like 78 cents on the dollar.
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Image via the University of North Texas Libraries.