Tips from the Pros: Wedding Mysteries, from Maureen Taylor

Joseph N. Vrazel and Viola L Hafernik, January 1921, Moulton, Lavaca Co., Texas.Among the often asked questions about family photos is the following: Why is my grandmother standing while my grandfather is sitting? I haven’t found a definitive answer to that question yet but here are a couple of things to consider.

  • Was your grandfather a lot taller than your grandmother? Height is a factor. By posing one standing and the other sitting the height difference is less noticeable. 
  • When was the picture taken? While it’s considered good manners for a man to give his seat to a woman, it was fairly common in the late nineteenth-century photos to do the reverse in a portrait. The actual reason is lost in time, but it probably was just a photographic style.

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This photograph was sent in by Jim Vrazel. It is his parents’ wedding picture: Joseph N. Vrazel and Viola L Hafernik, January 1921, Moulton, Lavaca Co., Texas. Thanks for sharing your picture Jim! Click on the image to enlarge it.

22 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Wedding Mysteries, from Maureen Taylor

  1. Thanks for the tip. I have always wondered about this.
    In my grandparents wedding picture (abt 1893) it looks like my grandmother may have been taller than my grandfather, even though my grandfather is sitting.


  2. In the case of Weddings consider also that then as now emphasis was placed on the bride’s finery! Her dress is displayed to much more advantage standing than it would be sitting

  3. In reference to pictures in which the woman is standing and the man is sitting, I know that it does not just pertain to wedding pictures. I have pictures of my father as a child sitting on the knee of his father, while my grandmother stood behind them and the chair my grandfather was sitting on.

    My personal opinion would be that it had to do with subservient ways of the female to the male dominant in those days. Just a thought.

  4. There is another possibility: Since this is a wedding photograph; perhaps we are to focus more on the wedding gown (more visible with the bride standing) and less on the height of the participants. Even in contemporary times a bride stands to have her picture taken.

    Patricia Christiansen

  5. We have a beautful framed photograph at least 3 feet tall of my paternal great-grandparents. It seems to be from the 1890’s, but not a wedding photograph. (It surprises me that they could make such amazing enlargements back then.) My great-grandmother is indeed standing, looking very serious, strong and imposing. My white-bearded great-grandfather, jovial and healthy-looking, the perfect Santa Claus, is sitting. My father told me that in Vienna, the wife was the one who supported the family, running a sidewalk shop. While her husband spent most of his days with his friends at the synagogue or coffee houses. However he was sometimes asked to SIT for artists, because of his appealing appearance.

  6. I agree with 2 of the comments about why the woman nearly always stood while the man sat during photographing sessions. In the 19th century, most women were indeed subservient and it was important to men’s appearance and ego. I remember my mother talking about her mother and the girls in the family doing most of the hard farm work while the father and the boys “ran around” or did the lighter work, so the other comment about the women making the living is probably true also. My grandparents were Germans who immigrated from Kiev, Russia.

  7. My gr grandparents were posed as you have discussed and

    I would like to suggest, that in the case of my gr grandfather

    being seated is that he was a Civil War veteran who came home

    so ill from measles he got during the campaign(s) that he

    was unable to hardly stand and was plagued with dreadful

    coughing spells. But, this doesn’t apply to all grooms, I

    realize, just a noteworthy comment.


  8. My thought is that because of the syles of the dresses, it was sometimes difficult for women to sit down with such large skirts on the dresses. I have been told by a historian that chairs of earlier times were made to accomodate the large skirts of dresses. My photo of the 1879 wedding of my husband’s great grandparents shows her dress as having a bustle. I always thought she was standing in their photo because the bustle would not allow her to sit comfortably.

  9. Just a few years ago my wife and I were posed that way for a church directory picture. Maybe the photographer was doing it the old fashioned way?

    We joked about it afterwards by saying the photo could be captioned as “stand by your man.”

  10. The husband in the 19th century was the head of the family and had considerable legal authority over the wife. The chair was his throne – his symbol of authority. A few practices still around today are holdovers from that earlier era. We still address letters as “Mr. and Mrs.” rather than “Mrs. and Mr.”
    Johnny Carson once asked George Gobel on the Tonight Show if he made the big decisions in his family. George replied yes that he made all the big decisions – like what we should do about our foreign policy or the national debt. His wife Alice only made the small decisions like where we would live and where the kids would go to school.
    The husband is no longer the King of his Castle — there is no longer a need for a Throne.

  11. I once commented to my dad how tall his grandfather must have been, he asked my how I knew. My great-grandmother was alive until I was in my 20’s and I had seen a head and shoulders picture of them and my g-gf was several inches taller. My dad laughed and said he was standing on a box! G-Granny was tall, and lived to be 101, born before the Civil War. I wish I had known to ask questions.

  12. Hi All:
    As a retired photographer I may see this male seated pose in a different way. If the lady is seated and the taller man standing, the photographer must move the camera back in order to fit the taller man in the camera frame thus making the figures in the photo frame smaller. By seating the man the photographer can compose a tighter frame and make the subjects larger in the frame.
    I also buy into the large skirt on the dress argument.
    Regards, Jack Novicki

  13. In the 1600s and before that in Britain it was considered very ill mannered for a wife to enter a house before her husband. He was the master and therefore went first. I should think that this attitude covered everything so having a likeness made with this new-fangled photography would have meant that the Master would be seated whilst his spouse hovoered in attendance – actually I think it was purely a case of expediency. The photographer would get a tighter picture if the tallest of the couple sat down and the widest was slightly further away.

  14. Until a couple is known as Ms and Mr, or Mr and Ms, or Mss and Mrs or Mrs and Mss the female is not treated equally. If the female form of address is changed with marriage then the male address should also. Forty years ago I took my husbands last name when we got married but I refuse to be known as Mrs. I do not make a fuss when a letter comes to us addressed in the traditional fashion. Yet I refuse to send letters addressed that way. My friends all have names. I use their names. When I am at school, where I volunteer, I use both my first name and Ms ( Ms Rebecca) when working with the children. In the south many southern children will call adults that are their friends Miss Annie and Mr Gene with no regard for if the person is married. There are ways for children to show respect without the address of Mrs.

    I was told by a photographer that often the person standing looks slimmer. To insure a bit of slimness I always try to remain standing.

  15. The answer is obvious: the society in those days, and even today, is blatantly sexist.

  16. My little Scotish grandmother gave me the answer many years ago: He was too sore to sit; she was too tired to stand.

  17. My grandmother always told me that she was standing in her wedding photo (1924) to show off the dress. The fact she was 5’2″ and grandad 6’2″ may have also counted. In my great-aunt’s turn of the century wedding pic she and her father were standing (both quite short people) and the groom, groomsman, and bridesmaid (quite tall) sitting.

    Knowing the track record of most of the women in my family, the subservience theory was way out of the question!

  18. I somewhat agree with Diane’s comment (#17) – but the raunchy reason was, according to our wedding photographer who took a similar picture of us, she was too sore to sit and he was too tired to stand. Remember, these wedding photos were also taken the day after the wedding, not on the same day as we do now.

  19. Besides the fact that the wedding gown/dress would wrinkle easily and thus need ironing with the heavy old irons you heated on top of the kitchen wood-burning stove (no “Perma-Press” in Grandma’s day!), and being uncomfortable sitting down on the bustle…Grandma probably had on a pretty tight CORSET to give her that hour-glass figure. If she sat down for more than a few seconds, she would probably faint for lack of oxygen! Much easier to breathe standing up.

  20. We have taken many family photos, up to 5 generations. If you want them all in the picture, group them closely! Even the ones all male or all female subjects, usually the older is the one sitting, smallest on sides, taller or younger standing behind, makes a smaller more compact picture, and less showing of that awful wall paper!

  21. For everyones information, My dad was shorter than my mother. It is probably the reason why they posed this way.
    Jim Vrazel

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