It’s almost Valentine’s day, we are heading to Paris today and our heads are definitely in the clouds!
However, this occasion made us talking and wondering about our French wedding mirrors and armoires – “miroirs et armoires de mariage” and the meaning of their different symbols.
Wedding fêtes in France are still not taken lightly today, but in the past the gifts given to the newly weds amongst others included furniture pieces such as a mirror and an armoire. If possible the wood was cut from a tree from the garden or the land of the bride and made into a lovely personal gift: the wedding armoire.
The bridal trousseaux
The tradition of bridal trousseaux originated in France hundreds of years ago. The word trousseau comes from the French word trousse, which literally means a bundle of linens and clothing. Lingerie, opulent embroidered sheets, treasured textiles, and even jewelry were just a few of the pieces a young French mademoiselle would have made or collected as part of her bridal trousseau.
Being sent off in style was of such importance that a wedding would often be canceled if the trousseau was incomplete. Trousseaux were even more expensive than the wedding itself at times! The family heirlooms and handmade linens that a bride-to-be was expected to bring to her new home were often an indication of her family’s wealth and status, meaning the greater and finer the trousseau, the higher the bride’s status. Typical trousseaux included twelve pieces of each: napkins, tablecloths, dishtowels, bed sheets, nightgowns, and petticoats — all hand sewn and hand embroidered with the bride’s married initials. Since wealthier families often had live-in seamstresses that would do most of the sewing (instead of the bride and her relatives), well-to-do brides might bring hundreds of pieces of linens with them — as well as linens for the servants. And custom dresses and gowns sewn by dressmakers in Paris of course. Oh la la!
The preparation for a young bride’s trousseau once began at birth and often before. It only makes sense then that preparations for the armoire de mariage or wedding armoire that would store this carefully curated collection also began at birth.
Reading the symbols
The beautiful French armoires de mariage are all hand carved with motifs of wealth and prosperity that represent good wishes for the newlywed couple. Intricate carvings include lovebirds evoking love, baskets of flowers representing fertility, pairs of nesting doves symbolizing the “nest,” sheaves of wheat and grape vines describing abundance and domestic prosperity, and musical instruments and sheet music as an allegory for harmony.
Traditions vary, but it is said that in parts of Normandy it was common for a father to cut down a large tree when a daughter was born and use planks from the tree to make the armoire de mariage once the daughter was engaged. In other parts of France it was common for a father to make a wedding armoire when a daughter was born and give it to her during adolescence. As the girl grew up, she would fill it with items from her trousseau and take it with her to her new home after she was wed.
By the 18th century, wedding armoires were made by talented craftsmen and given to the bride and groom as a gift from the bride’s parents. Often the mother of the bride designed the symbols of the armoire. In Brittany, it was customary before a wedding for the marriage armoire and the bride’s trousseau to be carried to her new home in a brightly decorated cart drawn by a pair of oxen draped in flowers. The bride’s mother would fill the armoire with the trousseau once it arrived and the father of the bride would then throw open the doors in a dramatic fashion to the “oohs and ahs” of all the guests. Afterwards, the priest would bless both the marriage armoire and the marriage bed before the two families sat down to dinner together.
For us these type of armoires are a perfect blend of French charm and modern storage. Take some time to really look at the carvings and see what all you can discover. You’ll be surprised… and find that a whole lot of love went into these armoires.
NB – Other French interesting wedding traditions:
The French don’t have wedding cakes, well, not as we know them. Instead they have what is called a croquembouche – essentially a pyramid of vanilla cream filled, balls of goodness! This custom stems from the mid ages, where wedding guests would each bring a small cake to the wedding to be piled high. The profiterole style cake is sometimes replaced with an alternative conical offering – maybe macrons or other French pastries. Either way, we’re not complaining!
One from the Napoleonic era is Sabrage. A bottle of champagne is opened using a sabre – incredibly swash-buckling and romantic in a Darcy kind of way. It certainly has Wow factor but definitely not one to try with a shaky hand! Another champagne related custom is the French masterpiece which has been adopted all over the world – the champagne pyramide. Off we go to Paris now!
A bientôt bisous!