The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 29 August

Can you celebrate a second marriage with a white wedding? Thomas Blaikie navigates this middle-aged minefield
Dear Thomas,
What do you think about an elaborate white wedding for a couple in their 50s where one of them has been married before and whose first wife, who is still alive, and children, will be attending? We have been asked to such an event and aren’t sure how excited or approving to be.
Rita Conningsby, Ipswich

Dear Rita,
Ah yes! The tail end of the summer. I had wondered when weddings were going to come up. What an intriguing angle! I quite understand your discomfort.

By tradition, second marriages of older persons were discreet affairs, even if only one of the party had been married before. The bride might wear a dress and coat in ice blue or French grey and have a modest bouquet and a hat. No more than a handful of guests, not usually relations who were all at home in high dudgeon, would attend. An out-of-the-way location was ideal, perhaps a seedier seaside town, far away from known connections. The registry o­ffice ceremony would be decorous but perfunctory, followed by a hotel lunch, not necessarily held in a private room.

Now it’s all quite different. The glaring white-wedding vehicle can be wheeled out again, no matter what has gone before. The bride, of advancing years, will re-forge down the aisle amidst an acreage of tulle and white satin. The marquee, the little gilt chairs, the sit-down dinner, the speeches, the band. It will all be exactly as it was before but with different personnel and perhaps greater lavishness – the older couple might well be richer.

The explanation offered is typically that the bride (for it is usually the bride) has never been married before so must not be denied her big day. All very well, but a second white wedding on a grand scale can be tactless to say the least. The children of the †first marriage may dislike it intensely and refuse to attend. If any former marriage partner is languishing in lonely agony, is it not cruel?

On the other hand, the middleaged bride may not look ridiculous in white if she is not frilly or ‰flounced. The feelings of the couple must not be ignored. Second marriages are often a great success, thanks to the responsibilities of parenthood and the upward career struggle being over. The couple is free to amuse themselves with cruises, minibreaks and gourmet cooking. Perhaps they feel that at last they’ve found each other, that their †first marriages, if not a mistake, were not going to suit their time of life, for whatever reason. We move through the changing scenes of life and must shift as best we can. A second white wedding need not trample on the †first but might be regarded as its equal.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Is it rude to offer guests cream two days past the sell-by date? Should you mention it? Do you worry that your shepherd’s pie made on Monday will be toxic by Friday? Hygiene is a lot better than it used to be. I once had tea, in the 1960s, with some unmarried sisters who ran a private junior school where the main item on the curriculum was betting and the children eagerly watched horse races on television each afternoon after extensive briefings as to form in the morning. Anyway the sisters’ meringues were lethal at tea. ‘Don’t touch them,’ my mother murmured.

In another home nearby, it was commonly understood that the dogs had licked everything on the lowest layer of the cake stand. Gradually it dawned, though, that all the dog-level items were moved up to the next storey the following day. Now we veer too much in the other direction. You’ve got to be awfully careful with tins and bottled produce, but you can tell if the cream’s all right by tasting it. The same with much else. A few days over the sell-by date? Just don’t breathe a word to your guests.