How weddings changed in the last 50 years

Date

Robyn Doreian

What has changed about marriage – and what hasn't? Three generations of women from one family reminisce about their wedding day.

Rite of passage: weddings have changed greatly in three generations, but the motivation stays the same.

Rite of passage: weddings have changed greatly in three generations, but the motivation stays the same. Photo: Getty Images

GRANDMOTHER

Name: Karen Robertson, 67.

Married: 1966.

'60s nuptials: Karen and Robert Robertson in 1966.

'60s nuptials: Karen and Robert Robertson in 1966.

The meeting: Karen met her husband Robert Robertson via the telephone exchange where she worked at Horsham. Robert worked at the Edenhope post office, 93 kilometres away, and when Karen's supervisor left at 10pm they chatted. Three months later, they met when Karen got a ride on a mail truck to Edenhope.

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Engagement ring: Gold band with a quarter-carat diamond from Paul Bram in Swanston Street, Melbourne.

Cost: $85.

'80s wedding: Michelle and Greg Hoffman in 1989.

'80s wedding: Michelle and Greg Hoffman in 1989.

The ceremony: 19th-century bluestone Presbyterian Church, Edenhope. "That day my surname changed from Boardson to Robertson. It's what you did."

The dress: Made by a local dressmaker for $56, it was white satin with a boat-neck, guipure lace top and elbow-length trumpet sleeves. "In the 1960s you didn't wear cream as it had the connotation all wasn't well with you." The matching headband had a floor-length tulle veil.

The reception: A church hall built from Mount Gambier limestone. There were 78 guests seated in a horseshoe-shaped table arrangement. White tablecloths were the sole decoration. Church ladies catered the meal: cold chicken and ham, and layered salad. Desert was either trifle or pavlova. No alcohol. Instead, small bottles of lemonade, and fruit punch for the toast.

Millennium couple: Rhiannon Hoffman and James Fu, married last year

Millennium couple: Rhiannon Hoffman and James Fu, married last year

The cake: A three-tier square fruitcake with intricate hand-piped icing. The tiers were supported by Ionic columns. "You were supposed to keep the top tier of the cake for your first child's christening. Back then, your first child was born within two years of getting married." Guests who couldn't attend were posted a slice in a small square tin bought from the baker's shop.

Wedding song: No music at reception and no wedding dance.

Honeymoon: Seven days at the Palms Motel, Footscray. Drove to Melbourne in Robert's red Mini Minor. Most romantic memory of the honeymoon: "Just being with Robert. In those days if you wanted to be together, you got married. You wouldn't have lived together, and I wouldn't have done it anyway."

Total cost of wedding: $300, paid by Karen's parents.

Best memory of the day: "It was an easy day, no hassles. Nowadays, brides panic about every detail of their wedding, in case something doesn't go exactly right."

On marriage: "Marriage is just perseverance. Next year, we'll have been married 50 years. Being married is still special. Robert is my backstop. Recently he said, 'You're very precious to me.' I said, 'Really?' I replied that I felt the same. Society tells us that marriage is just a piece of paper, but it's not. It's a binding contract to be upheld through love and war."

MOTHER

Name: Michelle Hoffman, 46 (Karen's daughter).

Married: 1989.

The meeting: Michelle met Greg Hoffman at the Shamrock Hotel, in Donald, Victoria, on the Labour Day weekend in 1988. Despite fatigue from a seven-day waitressing stint, Michelle gave in to girlfriends who insisted she return to the pub as it was full of men from Melbourne. "I was 19 and he was 21. Our attraction was instant. From that weekend we became inseparable."

Engagement ring: A solitaire half-carat diamond set on a gold band.

Cost: $600.

The ceremony: 19th-century Uniting Church, Donald.

The dress: Chosen from a McCall's pattern book and made by a dressmaker in Donald for $250. Made of ivory duchess satin, it had a boat-neck, puffed sleeves with french lace extending from the elbows to the wrists and the bodice was embellished with crystals, pearls and beads. A floor-length veil fell from a slim headband of ivory rosebuds and baby's breath. "Coincidentally, I had something old, new, borrowed and blue, as I wore my grandmother's pearls, my mother's pearl earrings, a blue silk garter and my dress was new."

The reception: In a red-brick church hall. There were 75 guests seated at rectangular-shaped tables decorated with lace tablecloths, strands of ivy and candles. The Country Women's Association catered, serving a smorgasbord of cold roast beef, lamb, rice salad and coleslaw, cheesecake, sponges and trifle for $8 a head. Apple cider, soft drink and fruit juices were available, with champagne for the toast. Guests were given drawstring organza pouches of ivory and pink sugar almonds.

The cake: Two-tier square fruitcake made as a gift by Michelle's paternal grandmother.

Wedding song: Could I Have This Dance by Anne Murray. "We had forgotten about the dance and hadn't practised. We tried to do a slow waltz but we were hopeless. If we'd had a disco we would have rocked our socks off. It was embarrassing."

Honeymoon: Three nights at the four-star Port of Echuca hotel, Echuca.

Most romantic memory of the honeymoon: "Driving there in Greg's beige Holden HQ. We were just ecstatic to be married and starting our life together."

Total cost of wedding: $5000, paid by Michelle's parents.

Best memory of the day: "Dad walked me down the aisle and I saw my grandparents ahead and then Greg standing at the altar. As we moved closer, the sun streamed through the sky-blue and ochre of the stained glass window. I thought, 'Wow.' "

On marriage: "I love being married. It gives me a sense of security and a feeling of completeness. It is one of the best decisions I've ever made, and I take the commitment very seriously. The euphoria of love wears off and then you are faced with the reality of spending the rest of your life with that person. To me, it's about doing those extra things to keep the flame alive."

DAUGHTER

Name: Rhiannon Hoffman, 25 (Michelle's daughter and Karen's granddaughter).

Married: 2014.

The meeting: Rhiannon met James Fu at Hope Church at La Trobe University during her first year studying for a double degree in social work. "He wasn't my first boyfriend, as I'd dated, and had been in a relationship for five years. James is a gorgeous person. I fell in love with him and went with my heart. "I had dated a Chinese man before, so the experience wasn't new to my parents, but growing up in the country, Dad imagined I'd end up with a brawny Aussie bloke. Possibly back in my gran's time, marrying an Asian man might not have been allowed."

Engagement ring: Handmade by a jeweller in Collins Street, Melbourne. White gold band with two carats of diamonds. Cost: $9000.

The ceremony: On Mentone Beach's wooden pier. "I didn't take James' surname. I like my own. Prior to marriage, we discussed how the gender roles would work, as I am staunch in wanting a career and not having my dreams crushed by kids. We've talked about James staying home for a couple of years, then us swapping."

The dress: Princess ball gown with ivory and almond tulle over light gold satin. "I wore Mum's veil, which was special."

The reception: Sails on the Bay, Elwood. Fifty-five guests dined on quail with prosciutto, grilled trevally, gremolata roasted chicken and sticky date pudding.

The cake: Three-tier dark and white chocolate mudcake. Next to the cake sat icing figurines of Rhiannon and James. "You can't really get a white bride and Asian groom cake-topper, so my friend made it. It looked nice, as it was personalised."

Wedding song: Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran. "We had a dance instructor teach us the slow rumba. We also had a DJ at the wedding. The highlight was watching my father and others dancing to Gangnam Style. It was hilarious."

Honeymoon: Three-weeks in Vietnam.

Most romantic memory of the honeymoon: "We stayed in a suite on a boat. We had our own jacuzzi, sauna and private deck. It was sunset and we were drinking cocktails in the spa."

Total cost of wedding: Approaching $25,000. The reception cost of $9000 was shared between the parents, the remaining expenses were paid by Rhiannon and James.

Best memory of day: "At the reception, Dad put on the song I Loved Her First by Heartland and then made a speech. He said how proud he was of me and how much he loved me. I cried my eyes out."

On marriage: "We value each other as best friends and look at marriage as a positive thing ... we want to celebrate the two of us, as well as each other. In 10 years' time we'd like to renew our vows. We put effort into our marriage and want to keep it special. Plus, I'd like to get another dress."