Weddings are sacred, solemn occasions full of meaning and symbolism. Except when it is a kitten wedding. Photographer Harry Whittier Frees put cats in human experiences, staging them for a little fun and to explore new bounds of photography. Along with the kitten wedding, he photographed them cooking dinner on a wee little stove, doing chores, bowling, using a telephone, even flying teeny toy airplanes. Frees used stiff fabrics in the costumes, pins, and forks to hold the animals in place. This sounds awful, but Frees credits his success to his “kindly treatment” of his subjects. Life Magazine said no animal cruelty organizations ever accused him of mistreating his animals. His images were used in postcards, children’s books, calendars, anywhere that could market cute animals in costumes. Ultimately he found the work to be stressful, and would only shoot pictures for three months out of the year.
Hindu wedding ceremonies are joyful, elaborate affairs designed to make sure nobody leaves without having a good time. Before the wedding itself, the couple will experience several days of traditions and celebrations. On their actual wedding day, the couple marry at the mandap, a covered altar held up by four posts, representing the parents of the couple who helped raise them. The groom in this photo is wearing a traditional Kafni, a long robe over Pijamo pants. The bride pairs her lehenga, a coordinated outfit including a top, flowing skirt, scarf, and headpiece or veil covering. The garlands around their neck represent their new bond, and acceptance of their marriage. Once the couple exchanges garlands, they may sit for the duration of the ceremony. Once the ceremony is over and rings exchanged, the party continues to celebrate the newlyweds.
This Turkish bride in Serbia is actually 16 years old (1919)
The bride in this photo is sixteen years old. Her hands tell the story of her true age, despite the ancient look of her face. Vranje, in the south of Serbia, was part of the Ottoman Empire for roughly 422 years, until captured by Serbian forces in 1878. Turkish influence and cultural traditions passed down through generations. One of these traditions in the early 1900s was a strict code of modesty. When dentists from the American Red Cross tried to assist in dental work for Turkish women in the region, the women cut holes through their veils because the women would not remove them. The girl in the wedding photo follows the Vrajne Turkish modesty tradition of covering her face with gilt leaf, which makes her look ancient. Once her husband removed the gold leaf, she put on a veil and wore it publicly for her lifetime.
In July of 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia amid tensions that cumulated in Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria’s assassination by a Serbian nationalist that June. Russia allied itself with Serbia. Germany, Austria’s ally, declared war on Russia. It snowballed from there, with countries on all continents (except Antarctica) taking sides. The war lasted until 1918, and left 52% of the Allied mobilized troops, and 67% of the Central Powers troops, missing, imprisoned, wounded, or dead. In the aftermath of the war, the Red Cross set up stations across Europe, one of them in Brest, France. Ms. Florence Harrison was serving as directress of the Red Cross canteen. She married Lieutenant Colonel E.V.R. Payne, who was serving with the 25th U.S. Engineers. Their marriage was one of many wartime weddings where the bride and groom wore uniforms instead of a white dress or fancy suit.
This couple, Rossie and Henry Chimponda, celebrates their wedding at Domasi Church in Nyasaland, a community in southern Malawi, Africa. Their wedding reflects western Christian wedding customs, with the bride in a beautiful white gown, carrying a lush bouquet of flowers, the groom in a distinguished suit. The formally dressed wedding party surround the couple to support them in their new life together. A clergyman stands next to the couple and missionaries stand behind them. Christianity dominates Malawi religion; the 2018 census shows 77.3% of the population is Christian. 58.5% of these Christians are Protestant and 17.2% are Catholic. The missionaries, names as “Miss Low, Mr. Bowman, and Miss Muir” may have come from the Domasi mission, founded in 1884. The mission was not just religious; it also provided medical services and taught local girls skills to get industrial and domestic jobs.
This couple in Albania escaped a very different conclusion to their engagement story. The groom had been caught up in one of the many feudal wars involving Albania in the late 1910s and early 1920s. He had been recuperating in a Red Cross hospital after suffering a gunshot wound. Fortunately for the couple, the groom recovered from his injury. He was married on the very day he was discharged from the hospital. The bridge greeted him in traditional Albanian dress; a long, flowing dress and a veil that covers her face. The caption on the original image says, “In that country [Albania], folks are unable to tell whether a chap was lucky or not because the bride never unveils her face in the public.”
Polish weddings were meticulous, hand-crafted community events. In the early 1900s, a marriage started not with love, but with a matchmaker. The matchmaker would negotiate the marriage with the bride’s parents; the bride and groom may not even know each other prior to their engagement! The man would present the woman’s family with a dowry to provide he could provide for his bride. A vodka toast would seal the deal. Then the work began. The bride would make her wedding dress, often making the fabric by hand. She would embroider her wedding clothes and some of her linens with detailed colored patterns. Her headdress was an elaborate, colorful floral crown. The groom’s wedding clothes were also embroidered. This made him stand out among the men. The bride’s ‘bachelorette party’ consisted of her party making paper flowers for the bride’s crown and ceremony site.
While this image of a Hindu bridal party is in black and white, it’s a fair assumption that the bride’s gown and lehenga are red. Red is a traditional bridal color for Hindu ceremonies. Red has different meanings to each person. It is consistently associated with positive things. In an interview with Brides Magazine, designer Ritika Shamdasani of Sani said, “In our culture, it means new beginnings, passion, and prosperity. Red also represents the Hindu goddess Durga, who symbolizes new beginnings and feminine power.” The tradition of wearing red dates back to the Mughal Empire in the early 16th century, and continues to modern times. In addition to the colorful gown, she would wear gold jewelry and decorate her hands with temporary henna tattoo art to bring joy and luck to the couple.
Duke and Duchess of York: Two Rejections and a Wedding (1923)
Nobody expected Prince Albert , called Bertie by friends and family, to take the throne. His brother Edward was the first in line to be King. When he met Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, he anticipated serving as Duke of York and being a supporting figure in the Royal Family. Bertie proposed to Elizabeth – and she rejected the offer. She knew taking on a role in Royal life wasn’t easy, and was unwilling to take on the responsibility. He proposed again. She turned him down again. After the third time he proposed, and a little soul searching, she agreed. They were married at Westminster Abbey in April of 1923. When the Duke’s brother King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, the Duke and Duchess became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Their first daughter would grow up to become Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning queen in history.
The Qagyuhl people of the Pacific Northwest settled along the Pacific coastal areas from what is today British Columbia to the southern sections of Alaska. Qagyuhl people are a subsection of the Kwakiutl nation, sustaining themselves through fishing. The boat in this photo shows their woodworking skills. They crafted the wood into the distinct Pacific Northwest art style of stylized animals that symbolize their families. This photo, taken by Edward S. Curtis to document Native American nations, shows the moments after a Qagyuhl wedding. The wedding party returning to the groom’s village after the wedding ceremony. At the stern of one canoe, the newlyweds occupy the “bride’s seat” while relatives dance and sing. The men rowing the boat use the handles of the paddles to create a drum-like beat against the side of the boat.
The stoic royal portrait of Marie-Thérèse Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan, the last Empress Consort of Vietnam, belies the controversy behind the wedding. The bride was born into a Catholic merchant family in Cochinchina, a French colony in the Mekong Delta. This was deeply concerning to some of her husband’s subjects. She married in a Buddhist ceremony, but refused to renounce her Catholic faith and requested a dispensation from Pope Pius XI. She was educated in France, giving her a worldly perspective on her husband’s government. And with that education came more concern; perhaps the bride had more French allegiance than Vietnamese. Additionally, the Emperor’s mother and one of his father’s secondary wives preferred a different bride altogether. This takes the stereotype of the ‘abrasive mother-in-law’ to a new level. But marry they did, and Nam Ph’o’ng served as Empress until the 1947 Communist takeover of the country.
Serbian bride in traditional floral headdress (1935)
This Serbian bride from Gložan, Zuzana Uram (née Dýr) reflects a bridal custom from nearby Hungary. She is wearing an extremely large floral headdress, resembling the Hungarian floral wreath bridal fashion. The tura is a large, elaborate flower wreath that adds height to the bride, and makes the bride stand out among the crowd. Real or artificial flowers make up the wreath. Brides will add other decoration to make it unique. Some headdress would include a red ribbon, hung at either side or over the eyes to protect the bride and symbolize vitality. While no record says whether Zuzana is adapting the Hungarian style headdress or making her own statement fashion, it definitely makes her stand out from the other women at the wedding. Modern Hungarian brides tend to go with a simpler headpiece, but some brides still hold to the floral wreath tradition.
The women at this Masai Wedding in Arusha in Tanzania carry on wedding traditions that persist to this day. The day before the wedding, the groom and best man brought a dowry to the bride’s family, which makes the marriage legitimate in the family’s eyes. On the same day, the bride’s head is shaved to symbolize the new chapter of her life. She is anointed with oils and decorated with imasaa, Masai beads, to complete her wedding dress. The groom’s relatives make the wedding dress, not the bride and her family, as a show of unity. The bride is blessed by elders when she leaves her home and village. As she makes her way to her husband’s home, villagers greet her with light-hearted teasing and wedding gifts. For each gift, the bridge ties a knot on an enkariwa wedding necklace to note how many gives she received.
Sometimes it’s not just the groomsmen who want to steal the bride on her wedding day. Extra security precautions have to be taken to ensure the safety of the couple and their guests during political and celebrity weddings. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. and Ethel DuPont married in 1937, it was the merging of two enormously powerful political and business families. The groom was the son of the President, who had just started his second term in office. The bridge was the heiress to a major chemical corporation. The couple had 300 powerful, well-connected guests. As guests arrived, each car was inspected by security to make sure they had full credentials to attend the reception at the Owl’s Nest, the DuPont family home in Greenville, Delaware. The couple would have two children, Franklin Delano Roosevelt III and Christopher DuPont Roosevelt, and divorce in 1949.
Bedouin, the semi-nomadic people specializing in goat and sheep herding in North Africa, used to start their wedding celebrations with a grand dance procession to the bride’s house. This dance built up to the bride and groom meeting for the first time. In the past, families brokered the marriage; the couple often didn’t even meet before the ceremony. The bride and groom would meet for the first time on their wedding day. The groom’s party started a procession, full of dancing torababa (a stringed instrument) and dalouka (drums). When they reached the bride’s house, the men and women stayed separate until a point in the dance ritual where an ‘emissary’ from the women’s room came to observe and playfully critique the men’s dance. Today, the couples have more say in who they marry, but the joyful dancing tradition is alive and well.
Princess Fawzia of Egypt and Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1939)
The wedding of Princess Fawzia of Egypt and Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince of Iran was a purely political match, to enhance Egyptian power in the Middle East and to increase Iranian respectability. The couple had two lavish wedding ceremonies, one in Egypt, one in Iran. It was, unfortunately, not a perfect match. Princess Fawzia and Prince Reza Khan disliked each other, and Fawzia preferred her Egyptian home to their lifestyle in Iran. The couple had one daughter in 1940, and had an Egyptian divorce in 1945, although the divorce wasn’t recognized by Iran until the couple filed for an Iranian divorce in 1948. It came at a price, though. Fawzia had to agree to let her daughter be raised in Iran. She later married for love and was reportedly happier married to her Colonel than she was to the Shah of Iran.
In April of 1940, German forces entered Norwegian territory. Despite German occupation, Norway refused to surrender and remained allies with Britain, even as Britain had to transfer resources to the fight in France. Even though the Norwegian people had the enemy in their backyards, they refused to give up their lives to the occupation. This wedding procession in the northern Norwegian city Karasjok shows indigenous Sami Norwegians carrying on with their celebrations, even under the gaze of Gebirgsjäger, German mountaineering soldiers. The Sami were forced to act as guides to the German military during the occupation of port cities like Narvik, served as laborers to build railroads and load trains to support the Germans, among other atrocities. The Sami had an advantage in understanding the terrain and the climate, and while the war destroyed a good deal of their culture and communities, the Sami culture has survived.
A Royal Post-War Wedding, Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Montbatten (1947).
The formal portrait of Princess Elizabeth (more famously known as Queen Elizabeth II) and Lt. Phillip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh, show the regal attire of a princess marrying a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. They married in November of 1947 at Westminster Abbey in front of 2,000 guests that included royalty from around the world. But that extensive guest list did not Phillip’s sisters, who had married into German royalty and had Nazi connections. King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, forbid their attendance due to lingering tensions between Britain and Germany. World War II touched another important aspect of the wedding, the bride’s dress. The fabric for Princess Elizabeth’s dress was purchased using clothing ration coupons. People sent their coupons from all over the United Kingdom to contribute to the dress, but they had to be returned. It would have been illegal for Elizabeth to use these gifts.
John F. Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier Kennedy in Candid Moment (1953)
This image captures a candid moment during the photo session at John F. Kennedy’s 1953 wedding to Jacqueline Bouvier. The attendants are looking every direction, mostly smiling or laughing. Jackie is having a grin at the photographer. But among the spontaneous mid- pose moment, John is looking intently at Jackie. Their wedding was a grand affair for the 800 political and society guests. Despite meticulous planning, the day had its glitches. John and his brothers played a quick touch football game before the ceremony, resulting in John plummeting into a rose bush and scratching up his face. Jackie’s father was sent home for drunkeness. Jackie’s stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, stepped in to walk her down the aisle. And even though every bride wants to feel beautiful on her Big Day, Jackie reportedly hated her taffeta gown. Despite these troubles, the two married and settled in to a not-so-normal married life.
This unnamed bride is wearing traditional Japanese wedding attire. Her kimono, called iro-uchikake, is traditional bridalwear in Shinto weddings. Iro-uchikake is richly colored, in this case a deep red, and embroidered with flowers, animals, or other special, unique designs. In this image, the bride chose a rich gold floral pattern. The kimono has long, trailing sleeves and a padded hem to protect it as it trails along the floor. Unlike ‘everyday’ kimono, iro-uchikake are worn open rather than tied close. The headpiece is a tsunokakushi. This roughly translates to “hides her horns.” The elaborate headpiece is meant to prevent jealousy and ill thought against her mother-in-law. The woman behind the bride is wearing a traditional black kimono. Mothers of the bride and groom traditionally wear black kimono. The family’s symbol is embroidered on their black kimono, symbolically welcoming the bride or groom to their household.
Northern Macedonian wedding, with money tradition (c. 1973)
Macedonian weddings are multi-day affairs. They start the Monday before the wedding by confining the bride to her house and putting her trousseau on display. After some smaller wedding events, the Big Show kicks off on a Saturday, when the food is prepared and the day passes with groom’s wedding procession (the patinadha) and dancing. The bride and her relatives receive the patinadha and join them in a bridal dance (kalamatiano). Sunday brings another procession, the ceremony, and more dancing. The post-wedding dance might include pinning money on the newlywed’s clothes to offer them a step toward prosperity in their lives together.
This image of a Romanian bride and groom features a baby wearing a bread ring as a necklace. This was likely not just something to pacify the child. In Romania, bread is an important part of a wedding ceremony. In the religious ceremony, the bride and groom eat three bites of bread and drink wine. This represents the hope of a prosperous, good life that they will share. In addition to the bread used in the ceremony, there is a braided wedding bread. The bread, called colacul miresei, is broken over the bride’s head by her godmother. The bride shared the bread and a beverage with the wedding guests. The bread brings good luck to the guests who eat it.
Prince Naruhito and Masako Owada, Japan’s Royal Wedding (1993)
Crown Prince Naruhito proposed to diplomat Masako Owada. Three times. Twice she refused. The third time she accepted, marrying him in June of 1993. Masako was a modern Princess. She was educated at Harvard and Oxford. She had a diplomatic career with the Foreign Ministry. This was controversial; traditionalists felt she was “too outspoken and Americanized.” Modernists wanted her to keep her career instead of leaving to be married. Despite the couple’s modern lives, their wedding was traditional. They wore 8th century Heian-era attire. Crown Princess Masako’s twelve-layered silk kimono weighed 13.5 kilograms (30 pounds). Prince Naruhito wore the orange robe representing Japan’s rising sun, which only the Crown Prince can wear. The couple’s daughter, Aiko, was born in 2001. Masako withdrew from public life in 2004 for personal reasons. She has slowly been returning to public life after she and Naruhito became Emperor and Empress of Japan in 2019.
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