In the last decades of the 18th Century, in the south of England, there was a trend It was often referred to as a ‘shift‘ or ‘smock‘ marriages. These even went so far as to sometimes be puris naturalibus or naked marriages. It seems, in the tradition of Lady Godiva of Mercia, If a woman appeared at the church with either little or nothing on, then she was free of debt when she married.
At Cranborne, Dorsetshire on 10 December 1757 a young woman who was married at our church, had only a shift on for a wedding garment; and the reason she gave for her coming to perfectly undressed, was, that she might be entirely quit of all debts she owed before marriage.Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 30 June 1763
Worcester, June 23. The following circumstances, we are told, attended a marriage a few days ago, at a church near Stourbridge in this county. As soon as the woman came into the church, she stripped off all her cloaths, except her cap, shift, shoes and stockings; in which delicate and decent appearance she passed through the ceremony. This extraordinary piece of whom, we are told, was thus occasioned. The bridegroom owed an acquaintance of his a sum of money, the creditor agreed to cancel the debt, on condition the woman could be prevailed upon to be married in the manner above mentioned.Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 30 June 1763
On 21 September, Richard Elcock, a bricklayer, and his new bride, Judith Redding were married in the town of Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire. Judith wished to exempt her future husband from the payment of any debts she might have incurred. Judith went into one of the pews in the church, and stripped herself of all her cloaths except her shift, in which she went to the altar and was married, much to the astonishment of the parson, clerk etc.Salisbury and Winchester Journal 2 October 1775
In order to get rid of some pecuniary obligations, ’twas judged expedient by the above couple, that the bride should cross the high road, attired en chemise only, in the presence of three male witnesses. Three neighbours were accordingly sent for, without being informed of the occasion, before whom the widow performed the curious ceremony, but as one of the witnesses was so confounded at what he saw, as to render him incapable of swearing to particulars, ‘tis doubted’ whether the stratagem of the newly married pair will prove successful.Northampton Mercury, 22 November 1794
This marriage related to an Abraham Brooks, a widower, aged about 30 and his bride to be, a widow, Mary Bradley aged almost 70. Mary was believed to have been a little in debt and as such, Abraham obliged her to be married in her shift.The Runcorn Examiner, 3 February, 1774
The weather was very severe on that day and caused her to suffer a violent fit of shaking, so much so, that the minister being compassionate, covered her with his coat whilst the marriage was solemnized.
There is a prevalent (though we believe a very erroneous) opinion that if a widow is married without clothing, except a chemise, her second husband will be free from her debts.The Caledonian Mercury 27 October 1794
Similar marriages took place in America and not just in the 18th Century.
The bride stood in a closet and put her hand through a hole in the door, sometimes she stood behind a cloth screen and put her hand out at one side, again, she wound about her a white sheet, furnished by the bridegroom and sometimes she stood in a her chemise or smock.Hamilton Daily Times, 30 October 1919
Seems nude weddings on the beach are not unique to hippies in California after all…