I often assisted as an altar-server at weddings. During the warmer months
of the year I served at weddings almost every Saturday; sometimes I served
at several weddings on the same Saturday. Altar-servers received a tip of a
few dollars from the groom or best man, so Saturdays were very profitable
for me. In those days (the late 40s and early 50s) in our working-class
neighborhoods in Pawtucket few families could afford a really big wedding
Most weddings had a maid/matron of honor and two or three bridesmaids, and the corresponding groomsmen to pair off with the ladies. Many weddings had flower-girls, rather fewer had ring-bearers, and hardly any had pages.
Flower girls: If the wedding didn't have children in the party, the maid of honor handled the bride's bouquet, veil and train (if any), and the best man took care of the rings. Flower girls wore fancy dress in white or pastel.
Ring bearer: The ring bearer frequently wore a dark suit, or else a miniature rented outfit like the groomsmen. Less frequently, the ring-bearer wore a white lace-trimmed blouse, satin trousers or shorts (white or pastel), white knee-socks or tights, white or pastel mary-jane shoes. Occasionally, the boy wore a plain white shirt and dark shorts, white knee-socks, and black lace-up shoes. Black-patent mary-janes, apparently worn as dressy footwear by American boys in some places up until the 60s and 70s, were very rare.
Pages: The pages at a wedding dressed like the ring-bearer as a rule. Only once or twice in several years did I observe pages in what was considerd overly sissyish page-boy dress: short tunics, very short satin pants, tights, strap-shoes, and perhaps pill-box caps.
Most of the boys didn't seem to much enjoy the experience. I have to say that as an altar server I was very used to my own ceremonial dress of cassock and surplice, and also very used to being right up there in front of an audience. I knew what I was doing,
having done it dozens of times. However, most members of a wedding party
are not used to being in fancy dress, and not used to being at the focus of
attention. Often enough, they don't really know what they're doing, having
rehearsed it only once or twice. It isn't easy for an adult, and it's much
more difficult for a child, boy or girl, to enjoy the ceremony itself. Kids
are fidgety to begin with, more fidgety in fancy dress, and most fidgety in
front of an audience. I'd say, from first-hand observation, that most pages
and ring-bearers didn't much enjoy the actual ceremony. Most flower-girls
didn't much enjoy it either.
That said, our culture generally teaches girls to enjoy being dressed up,
and teaches boys to dislike it. Girls and boys who have the opposite
dispositions are exceptional - because people who stand up against social
pressure are exceptional: the unusual girl who doesn't like getting dressed
up, and the unusual boy who does. Most boys I knew who did duty as pages or
ring-bearers did it under duress. They didn't like having to dress up in
satin tunics and tights and strap-shoes one little bit. They did what they
were told, only under pressure. The exceptional boy, moreover, who did
enjoy dressing up in such "sissy" duds would generally deny to his friends
that he enjoyed it, out of self-protection.
Often the adults would comment on the costumes. Most adults, I recall, generally thought that the wedding-party kids were cute. I sometimes heard parents and other grown-ups assuring pages or ring-boys that they didn't look like sissies or girls. You could tell,
though, that the adult assurances were not believed. You'd also hear the
boys' peers, both male and female, teasing and ridiculing them. Moreover,
their fathers and other men sometimes seemed less than comfortable with the
way their boys were dressed.
I never had the chance to be a wedding page or ring-bearer, or to dress up
in similar costume. I believe that inwardly I would have enjoyed it, but I
knew that outwardly I would have had to show nothing but disdain for such
sissy clothes. I suspect that some of my friends felt the same. Up until I
was 5 or 6 I had long blond curls, and I cried when my parents took me to
the barber to have them cut off for kindergarten so the other kids wouldn't
make fun of me. (It's too bad, when you're such a small boy, to have to
already pretend to be a man.) When I was 4, 5 and 6 my Mom sent me out
trick-or-treating on Halloween with my two girl cousins, all three of us
done up like little princesses in frilly party dresses and patent-leather
shoes and dime-store tiaras. Once I becam a schoolboy, all that sort of fun
was closed off to me.
As an altar-server I ordinarily wasn't invited to the wedding receptions,
although the priest generally put in an appearance to say grace and wish the
couple well, etc. However, judging from other weddings I've been to as a
member of the wedding party or as a guest, the pages, flower-girl and
ring-bearer were commonly kept in their costumes during the reception.
After all, lots of pictures, both formal and informal have to be taken, and
all the guests want to see the kids dressed up. Besides, their parents
would have inconveniently to carry around a change of clothes for them.
Towards the end of the reception, when people were partied out and the
dancing was done, then you might see the kids changed into play clothes -
but then again, you might not. One feature of a wedding reception is that
the women often kick off their (generally brand-new and consequently not
broken-in) high-heeled shoes and dance in their stocking-feet; flower-girls
and pages and ring-bearers often do the same, kicking off their
patent-leather shoes to dance and play.
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