A "Real Man's Ring": Gender and the Invention of Tradition

Unlike many wedding practices that have obscure origins, the American double ring ceremony and the groom's wedding band can be traced to advertising and promotional campaigns by the jewelry industry in the 1940s. The popularization of this invented 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. 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 gender ideologies. The success of this invented tradition during the World War Two and early postwar context provides a window into a time when a new cult of marriage was working its way into the national discourse. Invented traditions did not always catch on, however, and the reasons for their failure shed light on the complex relation between business and society. This essay compares the rise of the double ring ceremony with the story of the 1920s male engagement ring--an invented tradition that failed-- arguing that jewelers were only able to change custom when such practices resonated with their potential audience.