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A "real man's ring": gender and the invention of tradition.

In 1944, a Catholic priest turned to the American Ecclesiastical Review for advice on whether the "double ring" marriage ceremony was permitted. If it was allowed, he asked, "is the prayer for the blessing of the ring, as found in the Ritual, said in the plural number, and do groom and bride successively place a blessed ring each on the finger of the other, saying the accustomed words, 'With this ring, etc.?'" Among Catholics and others prior to World War Two, most marriage vows took place with one wedding band. The Roman Ritual called only for the blessing of the bride's ring. The Catholic journal concluded that as the groom's ring was a matter of custom and not legislation, "it is custom which will govern the manner in which it is to be carried out." In 1951, the issue was taken up again, only now the journal concluded that "no objection can be set forth against the blessing of the second ring along with the ring of the bride," even though the Roman Ritual made no provision for the practice. By 1956, the jo urnal's Catholic authorities once again addressed the question, stating finally that the Congregation of Sacred Rites permitted the double ring ceremony and that the blessing was to be said only once but in the plural. As this extended discussion in the American Ecclesiastical Review suggests, everyday consumer practices transformed religious ritual. (1)

Unlike many wedding practices that have obscure origins, the American double ring ceremony can be traced to the 1940s and 1950s when the jewelry industry invented the tradition of the groom's wedding band and the marrying public adopted it with a vengeance. (2) The popularization of this tradition, however, is not merely a story of hapless brides and grooms influenced by advertising, buying new types of consumer goods as soon as they appeared in jeweler's windows displayed in new contraptions such as the Rings-O-Bliss tray that allowed retailers to show the two wedding bands together as a set. (3) The wedding industry was only able to transform mid-twentieth century practices when the goods and their accompanying rituals fit consumer demand, something shaped not merely by need, but by contemporary ideologies. The groom's ring only became "tradition" in the United States when weddings, marriage, and "masculine domesticity" became synonymous with prosperity, capitalism, and national stability. (4) The success o f this invented tradition in the World War Two and early postwar context provides a window into gender ideology in the mid-twentieth century, a time when a new cult of marriage worked its way into the national discourse. Invented traditions, however, did not always catch on, and the reasons for their failure shed light on the complex relation between business and society. By comparing the rise of the double ring ceremony with the story of the earlier 1920s male engagement ring--an invented tradition that failed--it becomes clear that jewelers were only able to change custom when such practices resonated with their potential audience.

Jewelers' promotion of invented traditions should be seen in the larger context of the industry's competition with mass marketers. (5) With the rise of consumer capitalism and new forms of manufacturing, merchandising, and distribution in the late nineteenth century, jewelers who had operated small family-run businesses faced increased competition and economic uncertainty. Specialty retailers had to find new ways to compete with the growing numbers of mass marketers that also sold luxury goods and their imitations. During the 1890s, mail order catalogs started selling cheap wedding rings and diamond engagement rings as well. Jewelers also competed for the bridal market with department stores like Marshall Field's in Chicago, which began handling diamonds and fine jewelry around 1890. Other department stores, such as Wanamaker's and Gimbel Brothers in Philadelphia, followed in 1904 and 1905 respectively. The jewelry industry responded, urging its members not to allow themselves to "be driven from the field alt ogether." (6)

Retail jewelers knew they could not sell their goods at the discounted prices offered by department stores, so they countered with expertise and specialized service. One such service was the gift registry. Introduced at the turn of the century as an attempt to centralize the gift-giving process and avoid duplications, it was also a way to keep customers from going to department stores and chain stores to buy silverware, glassware, clocks, candlesticks, or the ubiquitous vases found among lists of wedding gifts received in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century. More than gift sales, however, jewelers focused their energies on the ring purchase, which they claimed forged a long-term relationship between their business and the new household. (7)

When one considers the variety of ring styles and practices during this period, it becomes clear that jewelry manufacturers and retailers, from an early date, sought to invent traditions that would create new uses for their product. In addition to wedding bands and diamond engagement rings, catalogs for the trade and for the public offered specialty rings for babies and for young girls, signet and graduation rings for men, and dinner rings for women. In the late nineteenth century, for example, retailers introduced gold bands for girls that they labeled "sweet 16 rings." Manufacturer and retail catalogs also featured the guard or keeper ring, a plain slim gold band worn over the diamond ring to keep it in place. (8) The manufacturing process had a hand in the "endless novelty" of jewelry customs. (9) Manufacturers were able to supply retail jewelers with a wide range of rings, many of which were intended to promote new ritual practices.

The industry knew it had a vested interest in wedding customs that involved jewelry purchases and united in national campaigns to promote new traditions that required their expert, specialized services. Beginning in the 1920s, jewelers and their professional associations began running national campaigns to promote branded diamond engagement rings using national advertising and trade campaigns, tie-ins with Hollywood movies, and various merchandising schemes. Movie stills of wedding scenes were used in advertisements, such as the wedding scene from the 1927 Universal picture, "Butterflies in the Rain," which promoted Bristol Seamless bride and groom rings (figure 1). (10)

By the 1920s, the industry began paying attention to the groom. Jewelry manufacturer catalogs increasingly offered wedding bands for the groom, and specialty jewelers and department stores began advertising them." In 1926, manufacturers and retail jewelers launched a major campaign to popularize the custom of male engagement or betrothal rings. As the enthusiastic campaign got underway, Jewelers' Circular called for the appointment of a committee to organize the merchandizing and advertising program. Ring manufacturers participated in the campaign through radio advertising and by sending out newspaper electrotypes to be used by jewelers across the country. Window displays of men's engagement rings also tied in with this advertising. The campaign created networks of jewelers working co-operatively to put "this immense idea into the public consciousness." (12)

This 1926 male engagement ring campaign drew on a gendered understanding of "tradition," one that served to legitimize a new consumer rite. Co-operative advertisements by Newark jewelers promoted the so-called "ancient custom" using a photograph of a male hand posed with a cigarette, a symbol of sophisticated modernity as well as phallic power (figure 2). The campaign called for a "bang-up merchandising man" to design a window-display case of exhibit rings in rugged materials such as iron or bronze, like those worn by men in suitably heroic times, such as "in the ancient Gallic, Roman, Frankish and Pictish ages." The plan was to feature ads depicting pretty girls giving the rings, and "picture some 'he-men' wearing 'em." Advertisements for the male engagement ring used images of knights going into tournament or battle wearing a token ring. (13) Such ad copy and imagery showed that jewelers were trying to legitimize the male engagement ring as a heterosexual tradition.

To succeed in this campaign for the male engagement ring, jewelers had to educate the public and overturn social norms that linked jewelry with femininity. During the 1920s, advertising copy and style names for all types of rings for men cast these items in a particularly manly light. In general, such ring advertising tried to appeal to men through gendered language that signaled power and cultural authority. A ring like "The Major," a carved green gold ring with a blue-white diamond, was advertised as something "for the 'he-man' who appreciates true value." Men's rings that were not wedding-specific signaled their association with power or positions of authority through style names like the Pilot, the Advocate, the Master, the Executive, and the Stag. Men who wore them had sexual prowess; they were in leadership positions or were in control. (14) Such rings were not worn, at least openly, as symbols of marital status.

Moreover, jewelers had to counter the idea that engagement was something that happened to women. Men had worn engagement rings in the mid to late nineteenth century, but examples of the practice were rare. (15) Engagement rings themselves were by definition feminine objects that had a distinct look. Tokens that did not follow the gender logic of the woman's engagement ring might be more acceptable to prospective grooms, and thus the industry did not adopt one particular style. Unlike women who proudly and publicly announced their upcoming marriage through this symbol, men were expected not to want to declare their engaged status with a ring. According to the trade literature advising jewelers how to promote the custom to brides, "none but the engaged couple knows it is an Engagement Ring." Those in the industry must have realized that few referents existed for the male engagement ring tradition when it was introduced in the late 1920s. Unlike the proposed male engagement ring custom, the purchase of the femal e engagement ring was a cultural event legitimized in advertisements showing the bride-to-be trying on her ring with her future husband watching (16) (figure 3). Numerous etiquette books described how women got engaged, who should pay for the ring, and whether the bride should be involved in the selection. (17) Men paid for the bride's engagement ring and wedding band, even shopping alone for the item. The purchase of the bride's ring could be a ticklish matter for prospective grooms--almost a rite of passage that had to be endured--as in the case of John O'Rourke of the Receiving Department at Strawbridge & Clothier in Philadelphia, who was spotted by fellow employees "examining plain gold rings" and then teased about the incident in the department store's company newsletter. While the engagement period itself was historically a time when the woman had more power than she would after marriage, the ring signaled male prerogative. Men proposed, women got engaged. The diamond ring, moreover, showed others a wom an was "out of circulation." (18) It was a sign of the man's ability to pay, as well as a symbol of his love. A male engagement ring did not fit this story.

Such a ring might have been a suitable symbol for what historian Margaret Marsh described as "masculine domesticity," a newly desired trait among upper-middle-class suburban men in the early twentieth century. Suburban husbands assumed an "increased responsibility for the emotional well-being of their children," and began "to spend their leisure with their wives rather than male cronies, and even to take on limited domestic duties." (19) A male symbol of commitment and fidelity might have resonated among those dedicated to the new ideal of companionate marriage. Marsh and others have argued, however, that this gender ideal had declined by the 1920s. (20) While some might have continued to uphold or believe in companionate marriage, the idea of married "togetherness" was not as widespread as it would be by the 1950s. (21)

Jewelers' attempt to re-gender the engagement ring was complicated by the fact that by the 1920s, consumption was a feminized activity. Trade journals argued that the "psychological time" to sell the bride a male ring was at the time of her engagement. The groom, however, could get in the way. Unlike women, men were understood to be reluctant consumers who needed special treatment to get them into the right buying frame of mind. For example, if the groom knew the bride "contemplated purchasing a ring that would cost from $30 to $50" for him, according to the trade literature "he probably would veto the plan." Jewelers were thus given suggestions on how to contact the bride without her groom through personal letters with enclosed finger size cards for measuring the groom's ring finger, though how she was to measure his fingers without him knowing was left unexplained. (22) Such measures show the jeweler allying with the bride against her groom in an attempt to make this tradition lose its invented status. With such obstacles, it is no wonder the practice never caught on. Soon after this 1926 campaign, the male engagement ring custom dropped from view.

During the depression, the industry continued introducing new practices in its attempt to develop the lucrative bridal market. In this dark period when marriage rates declined, jewelers clung to the hope that "Love knows no depression." They believed wedding rings were "staple" articles, something people would not do without: "Whether times are good or bad, whether war or peace, people still get married" ran one trade advertisement. (23) People continued to marry, but they did not necessarily spend their money on rings. Jewelers had to counter the practice of making one ring do the work of the two. In the 1930s, jewelers began promoting more expensive bridal sets, which consisted of an engagement ring and a matching wedding band, although many rings continued to be sold separately. (24) And, for the first time, an article appeared in the industry trade literature encouraging jewelers to get men "to wear the marriage token." Grooms rings, the article argued, helped to "build up the romance and sentiment that r ightfully belongs to the jewelry craft." By including what they called a "real man's ring" in their assortment, a jeweler could open up "another avenue of profit." The availability of groom's rings in catalogs by the late 1920s and the appearance of the double ring ceremony in a 1937 etiquette book suggest that the practice was becoming more common, perhaps in response to a growing awareness among retailers of its profitability. (25)

Jewelers faced increased competition for bridal business in the depression. Department stores were hit hard, but jewelers, who could not rely on a broad range of necessity goods to generate profits, suffered more. Between 1929 and 1933, the number of jewelry stores declined 28 percent. Their sales during this time period plunged 67 percent. The number of department stores, in comparison, declined 16 percent, with sales dropping 41 percent. In 1929, there were 19,998 jewelry stores in the United States. By 1933, that number had declined to 14,313. Sales plunged from approximately 536 million dollars in 1929 to 175 million in 1933. In spite of this, jewelers appeared to have held their own against department stores' jewelry sales. In 1929, the value of jewelry sold in specialty stores was almost thirteen times that sold in department stores. Eventually, however, jewelers lost ground to department stores and chains. In 1948, consumers spent almost twelve dollars in jewelry stores to every one they spent on jewel ry in department stores. By 1963 jewelers outsold department stores by slightly more than four dollars to one. (26) By 1965 it was "Farewell to Mom and Pop" as family jewelry businesses lost out to chains. (27) To make matters worse for jewelers, department stores introduced more wedding services during this period as the bridal salon idea spread throughout the 1930s and 1940s. (28) These mass retailers offered rings, but also could provide a complete wedding, with photography, florist, and gift registry services, as well as the chance to buy the gown and trousseau in one location.

When the onset of war ended the Depression, the improved economy meant that those who had delayed marriage could finally tie the knot. Climbing marriage rates gave both jewelers and department stores increased opportunity to sell all types of wedding rings. While many had deferred or abstained from marriage during the depression, World War Two brought about a "marriage fever." Marriage rates had dropped by 5.9 percent between 1930 and 1931, and then dipped again by another 7.5 percent the following year. In 1946, the United States had nearly the highest marriage rate of the industrial world at 16.4 per 1,000 population, an increase of nearly 25 percent from 1942, the year that held the previous record. (29) To take advantage of these unprecedented demographic trends, jewelers and department stores tracked marriage rates and campaigned against the commonly held belief that June was the only month for wedding promotions. By the early 1940s, engagement rings were the leading line of jewelry in most department st ores, and in fact, many jewelry departments were dependent on wedding and engagement ring sales. (30) Retailers celebrated as, according to one trade article, "Cupid Really Mows 'Em Down." (31)

It was in this context of surging numbers of marriages and World War Two that American jewelers were able to make the groom's wedding band seem 'natural" or "traditional" in a way that was not possible with the male engagement ring. While wedding bands for men were not a completely new phenomenon in the United States around 1940, neither were they "tradition." In fact, no one tradition existed changeless throughout the Western world or descended in a linear fashion from a single national origin. Wedding bands for men had a complex liturgical history that changed over time and varied in different cultures. (32) From late nineteenth-century German Jewish brides who lobbied their rabbis to adopt the groom's ring in order to bring a sense of equality to the ritual, to brides in World War I-era England who debated the question of whether men should have to wear rings as was custom in many "continental countries," male wedding bands made brief appearances in the Western world at different times. (33) In the United States during World War Two, the Jewelry Industry Publicity Board campaigned widely to promote "the story of the double ring service." Using radio, trade publications, movies and newsreels, the publicity reached schools, clubs, factories, home economics departments and country newspapers. (34) The campaign and other efforts were successful. According to a 1947 Fortune magazine article titled "Ring Twice," from the end of the Depression to the late 1940s, the percentage of double ring as opposed to single ring marriages increased from 15 to approximately 80 percent. The article noted that there was "a time when it was considered odd in the United States for males to wear wedding rings. But those who indulge in the practice now can be assured of being perfectly acceptable." (35) In the 1940s and 1950s, the ceremony crossed denominational lines, appearing in Catholic, Unitarian, Baptist, and Methodist churches, among others. (36) Although it is difficult to say for certain, it seems that civil ceremonies followe d the trend as well.

Men and women learned about the new ceremony from a variety of sources. Bridal consultant manuals addressed etiquette concerns and the new bridal magazines appearing during this period reflected the growing interest in the practice. (37) One reader of a California bridal magazine in 1948 wrote in to request an article on the double ring ceremony, noting that she was "interested in this type of wedding for myself but [knew] very little about it." She wanted to know who bought the groom's band and how the exchange was carried out during the ceremony. (38) In addition, couples about to marry could probably not avoid seeing the window displays and advertising campaigns introducing the practice. Using such promotional methods, one Fresno, California jewelry store was able to sell "three men's wedding rings for every four engagement-wedding ring combination sold to the brides." (39) The groom's ring also entered popular culture through the Hollywood romance. Humphrey Bogart chose to wear his first groom's ring when he married for the fifth and final time to Lauren Bacall in 1946, and Shirley Temple had a double ring ceremony during this period as well. By the end of the 1940s the tradition was even used to sell other wedding-related products, such as 1847 Rogers Brothers silverware, which was sold in a new "Double Wedding Ring Chest" (40) (figure 4).

Jewelry retailers credited the new interest in the "masculine band" to wartime sentiments, but they also helped shape the contours of this sentiment. Materially the groom's band was slightly different from the earlier male engagement ring, in that its physical appearance was supposed to announce a man's married status. Like male engagement rings, however, wedding bands for men came in a variety of styles from the simple band to the art-carved. (41) By the 1940s, it was not the object that changed, but the meaning it began to convey. Couples about to marry may have seen that tokens of love and commitment could provide some relief from the pain of separation and potential loss. Jewelers were aware of and capitalized on the new meanings that consumers gave to the groom's wedding band. According to one saleswoman from a jeweler's diamond department, men about to leave for war could be "play[ed] up heavily." (42)

In the 1940s, jewelers' efforts to popularize the double ring ceremony succeeded in part because wedding consumption became a patriotic act. The industry understood that a wedding band could be presented as a manly object in harmony with war aims, as depicted in an image from a cover of Click Magazine that was reprinted as an advertisement in a 1944 issue of the jeweler's trade journal (figure 5). In the photograph, a soldier holds a letter from home, likely from his wife as the prominently fore-grounded art-carved wedding band suggests. With his eyes downcast or closed, he holds the letter up to his throat in a gesture of intimacy. The image captures a personal moment, one that links the soldier with the home front and the wife he left behind. The gun slung over the soldier's arm frames the image on one side, reminding the viewer of the danger faced by men at war. The gun also handily stands as a phallic object, a sign of the soldier's masculinity, something uncompromised by the shiny ring he wears on his le ft hand. (43) The ad copy accompanying this image heralds the market potential of the soldier when he returns, suggesting that weddings and marriage were seen as suitable symbols of the wartime aim of preserving what would have been understood at the time as the American Way of Life. The double ring ceremony in particular highlighted the bonds of marriage and family, bonds that could be extended to include nation and the capitalist "free world." During wartime, a man could wear a groom's band as a symbol of what he was fighting to preserve. (44)

While preserving a consumer democracy was the long-term goal, wartime shortages created an immediate problem. Men's rings could contain three times as much gold as women's, something that had to be justified during World War II. In 1943, the War Production Board (WPB), which regulated production of civilian goods and oversaw the conversion of industries, limited jewelers to 50 per cent of the gold they used in 1941. William Schwab, the president of J.R. Wood & Sons, Inc., the largest manufacturer of wedding rings at the time, campaigned against the WPB restrictions. Schwab had thought about increasing sales by popularizing the double-ring ceremony before Pearl Harbor, but "[h]is chance came during the war when prospective brides and bridegrooms, facing wartime separation--with all its apprehensions--were emotionally susceptible." (45) He argued with the WPB over whether a man's ring was a necessity or a luxury. Likely in response to what were seen as the "religious overtones" of the argument, the WPB raised i t gold limitation to 75 per cent, then eight months later lifted it entirely. (46) The WPB and the government supported the jewelry industry's case for the groom's ring, showing just one of the many uses of tradition.

Beyond wartime patriotism, however, the double ring ceremony would not have become "tradition" if it did not overcome male consumers' suspicion of jewelry. As in the 1920s, the industry continued to construct gender difference in ways that either reflected its own beliefs or it hoped appealed to consumers. According to Miss Bierman, a California jewelry saleswoman quoted in a trade article in 1946, "at one time men were inclined to feel a bit 'silly' about the purchase of a wedding ring." After the war, Miss Bierman observed that "sensitivity" to the practice "vanished." According to her, even "the most rugged of men now cheerfully exhibit wedding rings, and many want them made up to exactly the same design as those worn by their wives." Women were "invariably delighted with the suggestion." In fact, during the war women often purchased the groom's ring, which suggests their greater interest in the ceremony, as well as the wartime absence of men. (47)

As in the 1920s, jewelers used gender-specific merchandising tactics when inventing tradition in the 1940s. Retailers believed that men required a masculine space, one that distinguished their consumer acts from women's. One Pennsylvania jeweler established a separate "groom's room" intended to "give cupid a push." The paneled room, decorated with sporting prints on the wall, allowed the groom to avoid the embarrassment of being the focus of attention when shopping for wedding rings. (48) When selling groom's wedding bands, Miss Bierman of the Fresno, California, store used a different sales pitch. Her store s policy was to never mention the man's ring until the woman had made up her mind on her own rings. At that point, the salesperson brought out the man's ring that most closely matched and suggested the double-ring service. Wedding bands for men were also presented differently. Miss Bierman noted that she "found it excellent sales psychology to keep all men's wedding rings concealed in slide drawers beneat h the feminine ring displays in the case." Women's rings were displayed against blue sateen and were "made as feminine as possible." Men's rings, she observed, "would 'clash' in this atmosphere." (49) In the early 1940s, catalogs featuring such rings distinguished them from the bride's band, noting that they were "wider, heavier and mannish in appearance" or that they were "plain and decidedly masculine." (50)

Sales techniques and advertising campaigns that reproduced dominant gender ideologies surely played a major role in the success of invented traditions during this period, but the wedding industry was also aided by the fact that marriage had entered youth culture. During the depression, the average age at marriage had risen dramatically. At the end of this decade, the average age was 26.1 for men and 23.3 for women. After the war, couples married on average at a much younger age. By 1951, the average age for men was a youthful 22.6, for women, a mere 20.4. (51) Manufacturers and retailers, who closely watched the dropping age of marriage, were encouraged to "woo the teen-ager," even before she became Mrs. Consumer. (52) Magazines, such as Seventeen, Bride's, and Modem Bride sponsored studies of the bridal market that were used to lure advertising dollars. As a "newly made lady of the house," teen-age girls stood "on a threshold of gigantic household buying, probably never to be repeated in her lifetime." With this market in mind, manufacturers and retailers were to focus on "the girl's formative years." For example, the Hope Chest Study, conducted by market researcher Eugene Gilbert for Seventeen Magazine in 1957, found girls as young as 13 or 14 interested in collecting items for their future households. The vast majority of the study's sample of teen-agers expected to collect hope chest items that the jewelry industry would be interested in supplying, such as flatware, glassware, and china. These hopeful brides-to-be were also expecting to collect other types of goods, such as blankets, bedspreads, draperies, towels, and tablecloths. (53) Such studies reveal large numbers of teen-age girls eager for domesticity.

The wedding industry focused its attention on the teen market, but what it had to offer needed to resonate with young people about to marry. As a cultural producer, the jewelry industry helped draw the boundaries of what was considered appropriate, and yet when consumers decided whether or not to purchase these goods they produced their own meanings. The double ring ceremony may have appealed to the many young couples who sought a ritual that would differentiate them from their parents. Older courtship patterns had eroded as "going steady" became the ideal, as if in preparation for early marriage. Rather than viewing marriage as "the end of youth," as had been the case before the war, the popular media began celebrating American marriage as something specifically for young people. With married students supported by the 0.1. bill and new married student housing, college life felt the effect of the marriage fever. (54) For women, early marriage became almost a requirement. One study of the teen market noted tha t "the fever of getting married young has risen to such a pitch that girls who are not engaged before they finish college feel that they stand a good chance of becoming old maids." (55) An engagement ring was a public announcement that a girl had nothing to fear. For young men, agreeing to marry and wear a wedding ring could be a way to assert a mature male identity and allay cultural anxieties over homosexuality. (56) Unlike the woman's ring, the groom's wedding band expressed his ability to support a wife, to enter the adult world. In keeping with new concepts of masculine domesticity, it also represented equal commitment to marriage and the containment of sexuality. (57)

The new tradition also appealed to a growing sense of middle-class American identity that was based upon new conceptions of the family and proper gender relations. Spreading suburbs created a physical and psychological separation of public and private, work and home, changing both men's and women's roles. A groom's wedding band signified the new gender configurations that were part of the landscape in the 1940s and 1950s. The popularity of the double ring ceremony suggests that early twentieth-century "masculine domesticity" returned more broadly as an ideal around World War Two. With the rise of working-class home-ownership and the move to the suburbs, men's role changed as their domestic responsibilities increased and their focus turned inward toward the family. In this context, the rise of the companionate family, "characterized by romance, companionship, sexual fulfillment, mutual respect, and emotional satisfaction," transformed middle-class masculinity. (58) By the 1950s, married white, middle-class me n were ideally supposed to find their primary identity at home with their wives and families. Popular sources at the time heralded the young husband who shared domestic responsibilities with his wife. As historian Robert Griswold points out, however, studies of families in the l950s document the small role that men played in household tasks. (59) Women remained the primary consumers and provider of services for their families. However, the fact that women's magazines and other popular sources reported on dual-income families and wrote about husbands who shared childcare and chores with their wives suggests the presence of an alternate masculine ideal, one which nevertheless still validated a basic gendered division of labor. (60) The double ring ceremony naturalized this new, ultimately conservative version of masculinity, making it seem "traditional." The groom's band came to represent a man's acceptance of this form of domesticity, the shiny gold of his new ring a physical marker of his new role as husband and prospective father.

More and more men could claim this middle-class identity as the postwar economy boomed. Annual expenditures on such things as jewelry were twice what they had been in the years just before the war, and large numbers of Americans began to be able to afford the trappings of middle-class life. Before the war, most households were without refrigerators and other electric appliances. Only half of all urban families owned an automobile and most Americans rented. By the mid-1950s, three out of five urban dwellers owned their homes. (68) As increasing numbers of working-class men becoming middle-class suburbanites tending their gardens and their backyard barbecues, they found that the groom's ring fit. For example, accounts of marriage among garment workers at the Maidenform Company in Bayonne, New Jersey showed an interest in the double ring ceremony during the late 1940s and 1950s.

Working-class men, however, did nor necessarily always embrace the middleclass domestic role signified by the groom's ring. When Maidenform employees Doris Ryan and James Farrell had a double ring ceremony in 1946, the grooms resistance to the ring was the subject for humor on the shop floor. The account in The Maiden Forum, the company newsletter, is as follows:

As the two gold bands were slipped on, Jimmy began to feel the pressure of his marital chains, the ring Doris put on his finger was just a little too small. Jimmy claims he hasn't yet been able to take it off. He says he tried to convince Doris of the danger of a mechanic wearing a ring while working at machines, but Doris refused to be convinced. (62)

The reporters here were drawing on the stereotype of the wife as ball and chain for humorous effect. Farrell's concerns, however, were legitimate. For industrial workers, a wedding band could be dangerous, sparking or catching in machinery. Practical concerns aside, perhaps such golden bands ill fit working-class notions of masculinity. A groom's ring signaled an identity rooted in marriage, in personal concerns, rather than one centered on breadwinning or class consciousness. (63) Working-class masculinity was rooted in the more homosocial worlds of the trade union, the lodge, and other male-dominated urban spaces. To the working-class groom, perhaps his ring symbolized marital bonds, a loss of freedom, a new responsibility.

Working-class women, however, did not see the double ring service the same way. Maidenform employee James Farrell's wearing of the ring was of utmost importance to Doris Ryan, likely because those bonds were a gain for her in terms of social status and economic standing. The groom's ring stood as a symbol of her success, as well as the man's willingness to participate in his new role. The bride's ring signaled her new role as wife, but did not symbolize companionate marriage, unless the groom also agreed to wear a wedding band. In a time when there was a perceived "man shortage," and when being married was extremely important to women, so much so that those women who were not married by twenty one were considered old maids, a groom's ring signified a bride's claim to her husband. (64) Perhaps fears about the scarcity of men furthered women's support of the new ring custom.

Not all men and women about to marry planned to have a double ring ceremony or carried it out in a fashion that would make the jewelry industry happy. Both black and white men adopted the band, but as one late twentieth-century African American wedding consultant wrote, a bride could not assume her groom would wear a ring. (65) Some religious groups like the Amish refrained from using rings at all. Moreover, brides might subvert the double ring ceremony, taking it out of its commercial context. The jewelry industry certainly intended couples to buy their matching wedding bands. Generally, Bride's Magazine aided the industry in this through editorials promoting the custom, but it also related versions of the practice that were counter to the interests of jewelers. One innovative bride, according to a 1943 issue of Bride's magazine, used an heirloom gold band and had it enlarged for her groom. (66)

While some ambiguity remained over this invented tradition, the practice was becoming mainstream by the early 1950s. The double ring ceremony, however, did not simply become popular when the requisite object appeared on the market in the late 1920s or because jewelers ran national promotions. Marketing on its own could not change dominant notions of gender, as demonstrated by the failure of the male engagement ring tradition. The practice only became the thing to do when cultural producers and consumers conspired in the act of cultural production, forging new meanings around the ritual of ring exchange.


I would like to thank Roger Horowitz, Chrys Ingraham, Sean Kelley, Philip Scranton, and Susan Strasser for their helpful comments and suggestions as I prepared this essay.

(1.) "The Double Ring Ceremony," American Ecclesiastical Review (October 1944), 311. "The Double Ring Ceremony Again," American Ecclesiastical Review (February 1947), 146. "Double Ring Ceremony," American Ecclesiastical Review (September 1951), 225-6. "Double Ring Ceremony," American Ecclesiastical Review (May 1956), 351-2.

(2.) This article adapts Eric Hobsbawm's concept of the invention of tradition, applying it more broadly and adding gender as a category of analysis. As he has argued, invented traditions had "a social and political function, and would nor come into existence if they could not acquire them." Traditions were invented to deal with change, to make at least some parts of social life appear constant. According to Hobsbawm, they were that "set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition." Eric Hobsbawm, "Introduction: Inventing Tradition," in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1-3.

(3.) "Rings-O-Bliss," Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (February 1946), 99.

(4.) Margaret Marsh, Suburban Lives (New Brunswick, 1990), xiv, 186.

(5.) Susan Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of an American Mass Market (Washington, DC, 1989). William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York, 1993).

(6.) "Diamonds Sell, Slowly But Surely," Department Store Economist (September 1949), 98. "Hints for Retailers," The Jewelers' Weekly 20 (15 May, 1895), 10; Also, see "Hints for Retailers," The Jewelers' Weekly 20 (19 June 1895), 19; "Dry Goods Cheapness Exposed," The Jewelers' Weekly 20 (3 July 1895).

(7.) See Vicki Howard, "American Weddings: Gender, Consumption, and the Business of Brides," Ph.D. diss. University of Texas at Austin (May 2000), 66-69, 62-63.

(8.) "Sweet Sixteen Rings," The Jewelers' Weekly 20 (18 September 1895), 19; J.R. Wood, 1918. On the custom of "keeper" or guard rings, see Anne Randall White, Twentieth Century Etiquette, n.p., 1904, 90.

(9.) Nineteenth-century jewelry manufacturers were batch producers, meaning that they used a flexible manufacturing format characterized by short runs of varied goods. Flexible specialization allowed them to meet consumer's desires for new styles, in contrast with mass producers who had to generate demand. Philip Scranton, Endless Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization, 1865-1925 (Princeton, N.J., 1997), 353.

(10.) "Bride and Groom Rings, Bristol Seamless Ring Co., New York," Jewelers' Circular, 1 June 1927, 11. "Keepsake Diamond Rings, Magazine Advertising Schedule for Fall 1944," Jeweler's Circular-Keystone (October 1944), 167. "Joseph H. Jacobson & Sons, Inc.," Department Store Economist (March 1947), 43; "New Wedding Rings Tie-Up with Movie Stars ," Jewelers' Journal (June 1929), 47.

(11.) "A Million Weddings, Traub Manufacturing Co., Detroit," The Jewelers' Circular, 7 June 1928, 22. Montgomery Ward & Co., Catalog 106, Baltimore, Spring and Summer, 1927,308.

(12.) "Popularizing Engagement Rings for Men," The Jewelers' Circular, 29 May 1926,53. "Stimulating a Stagnant ... "Printer's Ink, 21 October, 1926. Making 'Men's Engagement Rings' all the Vogue," The Jewelers' Circular, 16 June 1926, 105.

(13.) "Popularizing Engagement Rings for Men," The Jewelers' Circular, 29 May 1926, 3, 53. "Making 'Men's Engagement Rings' all the Vogue," The Jewelers' Circular, 16 June 1926, 105-7.

(14.) Jane Wells, "Your Money's Worth in Jewelry: Etiquette of Gift Giving" (New York, no date ca. 1920s), pamphlet, Finlay & Strauss Jewelers Collection, Archives Center, NMAH, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. For a discussion of the cultural opposition to men's jewelry see Jenna Weissman Joselit, A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America (New York, 2001), 94-97.

(15.) Harvey Green, The Light of the Home: An Intimate View of the Lives of Women in Victorian America (New York, 1983), 19. Ellen Rothman, Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America (Cambridge, 1987), 161-162.

(16.) "Popularizing Engagement Rings for Men," The Jewelers' Circular, 29 May 1926, 53. "Making 'Men's Engagement Rings' all the Vogue," The Jewelers' Circular, 16 June 1926, 106, 107. "The Most Important Sale You Make, Traub Manufacturing Company," The Jewelers' Circular, 4 May 1927, 25. Store Chat, 15 April, 1911, Strawbridge & Clothier Collection, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE.

(17.) For example, see Mrs. Massey Lyon, Etiquette: A Guide to Public and Social Life (London, 1927). This particular book was published in England, as well as Canada, yet American brides likely still turned to it for advice. It also included references to the rare practice of a male engagement ring. p. 87.

(18.) Ellen Rothman, Hands and Hearts, 164. Harvey Green, Light of the Home, 17. Rainbow Reporter, October 1948, 7. Binney and Smith Collection, Archives Center, NMAH.

(19.) Marsh, Suburban Lives, xiv.

(20.) Perhaps the failure of the male engagement ring tradition in the 1920s is linked to the contemporary accounts in the popular press of male fear of female domination described by Marsh. See Suburban Lives, 184. For a discussion of shifting masculine identities, see Robert Griswold, Fatherhood in America (New York, 1993).

(21.) Marsh argues that the "suburban vision of the early 1950s was less a new expression of the domestic ideal than a feverish--and in the long run unsuccessful--attempt to erase the depression and the war and return to the 1920s." Marsh, Suburban Lives, 185

(22.) "Making 'Men's Engagement Rings' All the Vogue," The Jewelers' Circular (June 16, 1926), 106.

(23.) "Wedding Profits for Jewelers," The Jewelers' Circular (May 1932), 30. "Get This Angle in Buying Wedding Rings," The Jewelers' Circular (October 1931), 10.

(24.) N.W. Ayer, 125 Years of Building Brands, in-house publication, N.W. Ayer Collection, Archives Center, NMAH. "Wedding-Rings: Gain in Marriages Encourages Jewelers and Manufacturers," The Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (February 1937), 5. Bennett Brothers, Inc., trade catalog, 1937, Hagley Museum and Library. Finlay & Strauss Jewelers Collection, ca 1920s. Archives Center, NMAH.

(25.) Otto S. Liberman, "Wedding Links Set the Fashion," Jewelers' Journal (October 1930), 28. The earliest bride and groom sets I have found were from the late 1920s. See "A Million Weddings, Traub Manufacturing Company," The Jewelers' Circular, 7 June 1928, 22-23; 58th Annual Illustrated Price List of Jewelers' Merchandise, Otto Young & Co., 1929, trade catalog; 1931 B.A. & Co. Annual Catalogue, Chicago, 146; Illustrated Fort Dearborn Gift Book & General Catalog, 1936, Fort Dearborn, Illinois, 19, 21, 24, trade catalog; The Oskamp Molting Co. Wholesale Jewelry, Giftware, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1938, 14-15, trade catalog, Hagley Museum and Library. Not every trade catalog in the 1930s featured groom's rings, however. For example, see Bennett Brothers, Inc., trade catalog, 1937, Hagley Museum and Library. For an early citation in etiquette books, see Harriet Brooks, Etiquette for All Occasions (Reader Mail, Inc., 1937), 31. I have found no examples earlier.

(26.) U.S. Department of Commerce, Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 Distribution, Vol. 1, Retail Distribution, Part I (Washington, 1933), 47, 49; U.S. Department of Commerce, Census of American Business: 1933, Retail Distribution Vol. I, United States Summary: 1933 and Comparisons with 1929, May 1935, A-1, A-12, A-13. U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Census of Business: 1948, Vol. I, Retail Trade-General Statistics, Part 1 (Washington, 1952), 1.02, 1.04, 1.05; U.S. Department of Commerce, United Stares Census of Business: 1948, Vol. II, Retail Trade-General Statistics, Part 2 and Merchandise Line Sale Statistics (Washington, 1952), 18.03, 19.02, 24.03; U.S. Department of Commerce, 1963 Census of Business, Vol. 1, Retail Trade Summary Statistics, Part 2: Merchandise Line Sales, 7A-7, 7A-14-16, 7A-24-25.

(27.) "Not Just the Carriage Trade: Jewelry is shifting from a class to a mass business," Barron's (19 April 1965), 3.

(28.) See Vicki Howard, "American Weddings," chapter 3.

(29.) Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore, 1988), 41-42. Also see Susan Hartmann, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s (Boston, 1982).

(30.) Marc Koven, "Diamonds Next Door," Journal of Retailing 20 (1 April 1944) 49. "Fields Knows How to Sell Fine Jewelry," Department Store Economist (March 1948), 143.

(31.) "Wedding and Jewelry Sales," Dun's Review 48 (June 1940), 39. See Helen Myers, "Diamonds Sell, Slowly But Surely," Department Store Economist (September 1944), 98. This had been going on earlier as well. For example, see "Cupid's Month is Every Month," Jewelers' Circular 1, June 1927. "Cupid Really Mows 'Em Down," Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (June 1946).

(32.) For a discussion of early practices, see Kenneth Stevenson, Nuptial Blessing: a Study of Christian Marriage Rites (New York, 1983), 48-49, 52-53, 81, 92-97, 100, 173. Some, like the Puritans, objected to the use of any wedding ring at all. David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York, 1989), 81.

(33.) Jenna Joselit Weissman, Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950 (New York, 1994), 36; George Frederick Kunz, Rings for the Finger (Philadelphia, 1917). 230.

(34.) "Why the Jewelry Publicity Board," Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (June 1944), 158.

(35.) "Ring Twice," Fortune Magazine (November 1947), 148.

(36.) Department store employees at Strawbridge & Clothier and factory workers at Maidenform reported in their company newsletters accounts of marrying in double ring ceremonies. The years these ceremonies were reported were 1944-57 at Strawbridge & Clothier, and 1951-54 at Maidenform. Earlier or later double ring ceremonies were possible, but either were not reported as such or the available archival material did not support a search for the ritual. Strawbridge & Clothier Collection, Hagley Museum and Library; Maidenform Collection, Archives Center, NMAH.

(37.) Robey Lyle, Mademoiselle's Handbook for Bridal Consultants (New York, 1946), 37. "Confetti," Bride's Magazine (Summer 1943), 49; "The Fable of the Enchanted Diamond," The Wedding Belle (June 1948), 33.

(38.) "In the Editor's Mail box," The Wedding Belle (July 1948), 5.

(39.) "Wedding Rings for the Men Builds Volume for This Store," Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (April 1946), 220. The store attributed its success to this campaign and to its buying efforts to coordinate styles for men and women's rings

(40.) "'1847' Double Wedding Ring Chest," Department Store Economist (April 1949), 39.

(41.) Groom's rings that matched the bride's wedding band could be quite elaborate. For example, see the wide range of patterns depicted in The Allen Monthly, June Wedding and Graduates Special (Chicago, 1947), 6, Hagley Museum and Library.

(42.) "Wedding Rings for the Men Builds Volume for This Store," Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (April 1946), 220. Other attempts to use wartime sentiment to sell rings appeared. For example, jewelers promoted the friendship ring, which consisted of a clasped hand symbol. See Criterion, Rohde-Spencer, 1942, 21, trade catalog, Hagley Museum and Library.

(43.) "Men in the Armed Services: Most Important Post-War Influence," The Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (January 1944), 14-15.

(44.) Robert Westbrook makes a similar argument about working-class womanhood and pin-ups as "objects of obligation." See Robert B. Westbrook, "'I want a Girl, Just Like the Girl that Married Harry James': American Women and the Problem of Political Obligation," American Quarterly 42 (December 1990): 605-606, 596-604. For a discussion of the links between consumption, democracy, and citizenship in a pre-World War Two context, see Charles McGovern, "Consumption and Citizenship in the United States, 1900-1940," in Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century, ed. Susan Strasser, Charles McGovern, Matthias Judt (Cambridge, 1998), 37-58.

(45.) "Wedding Rings for the Men Builds Volume for This Store," Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (April 1946), 220.

(46.) "Ring Twice," 148.

(47.) "Wedding Rings for the Men Builds Volume," 281.

(48.) R.W. Corrigan, "'Groom's Room' Idea Bids for the 'Forgotten Man,"' The Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (September 1946), 250; Bob Corrigan, "'Groom's Room Store Gives Cupid a Push,'" The Jewelers' Circular-Keystone (November 1946), 242. Department stores sought male consumers in the postwar period and attempted to promote shopping as a family experience. See Liz Cohen, "From Town Center to Shopping Center: The Reconfiguration of Community Marketplaces in Postwar America," in His and Hers: Gender, Consumption, and Technology, ed. Roger Horowitz and Arwen Mohun (Charlottesville, 1998), 214-215.

(49.) "Wedding Rings for the Men Builds Volume for This Store," Jewelers' Circular Keystone (April 1946), 279.

(50.) Criterion, Rohde-Spencer, 1942, 24-5, trade catalog, Hagley Museum and Library.

(51.) Bailey, From Front Porch, 41-42. Also see Hartman, The Home Front and Beyond.

(52.) Eugene Gilbert, Advertising and Marketing to Young People (Pleasantville, NY, 1957), 298-99. Trade literature for department stores suggested that retailers promote diamond engagement rings by placing them in ads directed at teen age and misses fashion. "Diamonds Sell, Slowly But Surely," Department Store Economist (September 1949), 103.

(53.) Gilbert, Advertising and Marketing, 303. For example, 12.4 percent of the total sample already owned silverplate flatware, while 9.8 percent owned sterling.

(54.) Bailey, From Front Porch, 42-43. For an account of married students on campus, see Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York, 1988), 78-80.

(55.) Gilbert, Advertising and Marketing, 302.

(56.) Robert Griswold, Fatherhood in America, 188-189.

(57.) Elaine Tyler May has amply demonstrated the links between political and family values in the postwar period. In the context of her work, the double ring ceremony fit into the home-centered culture created in response to Cold War fears. The postwar containment of sexuality she describes can also be extended to my interpretation of the groom's ring. See Homeward Bound.

(58.) Robert Griswold, Fatherhood in America, 89.

(59.) Robert Griswold, Fatherhood in America, 194.

(60.) For example, see the varying perspectives in the articles collected in Nancy Walker, ed. Women's Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press (Boston, 1998). For a discussion of alternate popular conceptions of female roles, see Joanne Meyerowitz, "Beyond the Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958," in Not June Cleaver ed. Joanne Meyerowitz (Temple University Press, 1994).

(61.) Andrew Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream in Postwar Consumer Culture (New York, 2001), 5. Also, see Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound.

(62.) Maiden Forum (February 1947), 4. Maidenform Collection, Archives Center, NMAH.

(63.) For a discussion of class differences in fatherhood and masculine identity, see Robert Griswold, Fatherhood in America, chapter 9.

(64.) Weiss, To Have and To Hold, 23. Bailey, From Front Porch, 34-35.

(65.) For example, see "Ebony Contest Winner Takes a Bride," Ebony Magazine (June 1960). Also, see Harriette Cole, Jumping the Broom: the African-American Wedding Planner (Henry Holt & Co., 1993), 40.

(66.) "Brides on Parade," Bride's Magazine (Spring 1943), 34.
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Title Annotation:American double ring ceremony, 1920s male engagement ring
Author:Howard, Vicki
Publication:Journal of Social History
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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