The Professional Usher.
You can always tell the professional usher by the number and style of his scarf pins. Few men run naturally to the accumulation of scarf pins as a fad. The usher does not have to achieve his, but has them thrust upon him.
He is apt to begin his career as a page at some wedding when he is a child, and makes a hit by his bearing and dignity as he marches down the aisle with the little maid of honor.
Somehow this first performance of his becomes a part of family history and he then begins ushering in a mild way at the weddings of relatives. By degrees he forms the habit of being asked to usher sometimes at the wedding of men with whom he may only have a slight acquaintance, but as he gets on in certain sets, it would almost seem as though no marriage ceremony were complete without him.
He is so experienced and graceful in his ushering that his presence adds tone to a wedding, and sometimes he has two or three in a day during the rush season at Easter or in June. But he fairly revels in it, and it is a joy to him to be asked out of town to usher at a wedding where he may only have a casual acquaintance with the groom or may be, perhaps a distant relative of the bride.
The fact that he is invited out of town shows conclusively that his fame as an usher is growing, and in time he becomes an authority as to the newest wrinkles in church weddings, the proper togs which will show a knowledge of the season’s fashions, and the best hotels to go to on a wedding tour.
Of course, the usher must be popular, but he must be something more than that. He must be a man of which the bride and her family strictly approve. No over-gay college chum or roistering bachelor companion can figure prominently as an usher. His reputation must be as spotless as his linen.
Eccentricity and the artistic temperament are all very well in their place, but not in an usher. To be depended on he must be correct through and trough. Many a man’s career as an usher has been cut short at his first wedding by the trace of levity on his face, or perhaps too deep a sorrow, or a severe expression calculated to give the event a funereal tone.
A bad gait or a peculiarity in the manner of arranging the hair makes a man impossible as an usher. His appearance counts as much as a butler’s or a footman’s. Ushers at a wedding, you will notice, are nearly always cast somewhat in the same mould. They acquire the professional usher manner unconsciously and can always be trusted to do the right thing in the right way. At the farewell bachelor dinner the next day the ushers are always as conspicuously gay as the next day they are enveloped with a gracious charm of manner that has just its infinitesimal trace of regret. In reality the usher is always heartily congratulating himself on the fact that he continues a bachelor. Popular as he is as an usher with the community at large and with prospective mothers-in-law, he goes on ushering to the end of the chapter and rarely attempts the feat of personal bridegroomhood.
Once an usher can proudly display twenty-four presentation scarf pins that he has acquired by assisting at the nuptials of his friends, he gives up the idea of any marriage for himself. He accepts the role of a looker-on in Venice. [a jocular misquote of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, “a looker-on in Vienna.”] There is certainly some deterring influence in the habit, for there is a legend that a girl who acts as bridesmaid more than a certain number of times will never wear orange blossoms of her own.
So the usher grows old and gray in the work of escorting his friends from the altar. He rarely achieves the dignity of best man, for the best man is always chosen for some deeper reason than his good appearance or even his good character. Old friendship, a college intimacy, or a palship that extends back to schoolboy days, will bring a man forward in the part of best man, and in this, at least, the groom is allowed his own choice.
But the ushers are a different proposition. They must match as far as possible in size, and must never present the appearance of a vaudeville quartet—one tall, the other short, one fat and jolly, the other lean and severe looking. Above all, the usher must be experienced and guaranteed not to escort some unknown woman on his arm to a place of honor in the front pew, while he leaves the rich maiden aunt of the bride languishing in the back of the church. He must not stumble over his own feet or the bridesmaid’s gowns, nor must he starts hastily from his place, as though glad that the matter was over and done with, as soon as the clergyman pronounces the last word of the service. On the contrary, the usher, of all men, must seem reluctant. His progress up and down the aisle must be slow, for a step too quick will throw the whole procession out of order and demoralize it.
The usher has his name in the papers so often in connection with weddings that people get to take him for a society man, but in reality he never gets further than being an usher. It is his life work, and he is prominent at weddings and bachelor suppers only, and the sextons get to know him well by sight. It is as an usher that he shines, and he knows his limitations. To miss an occasion of the sort would make him positively ill, for it is the one thing that he does well.
The man who occasionally acts as usher can always be picked out in contrast to the hardened habitué. He is confused and nervous, sometimes almost as uncomfortable looking as the groom himself. But the professional usher you can tell at once by his swan-like motion of proceeding up an aisle—the head erect, the eyes calm, the shoulders held well, and the elbows gracefully posed. He is a glowing contrast to the “duffer” usher, and, of course, he is a valuable factor to a fashionable wedding. This is what causes him to be sought for, and this it is that finally transforms him into a sharper on weddings who knows all the very newest fads in the event matrimonial.
The Illustrated Bee [Omaha, NE] 13 September 1903: p. 16
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Always an usher, never a groom… Mrs Daffodil thinks it a pity that a young man, so clever at finding his métier, does not think of a way to woo the rich maiden aunt.
Surprisingly, the professional usher had a female counterpart: The professional bridesmaid, noted for her statuesque beauty and ability to step-halt, step-halt to the “Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin.
Here is one of the fairy-tales about American customs that find credence in England. It is from one of the leading society weeklies: “The professional bridesmaid is one of the latest transatlantic institutions. Whether from unwillingness to incur expense, or to receive the cost of a dress from the bride’s family, the young ladies who belong to the creme de la creme of New York society are no longer available for this purpose. Some say they are not invariably up to the accepted standard of beauty. So it comes about that a good-looking, graceful girl may earn thirty dollars and all expenses for appearing at one of the fashionable matrimonial ceremonies of Fifth Avenue. The other day a fair bride was followed to church by no fewer than fifteen hired virgins to bear her company. An exceptionally charming young lady can command even a bigger remuneration, and one of the most successful of these feminine acolytes is said to expect at least one hundred dollars. She has officiated on two hundred occasions and saved twenty thousand dollars, so that her own turn may come very soon.”
The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 23 May 1897
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.