7 of the Most Common Wedding Traditions, Explained

When it comes to weddings, are you a traditionalist or a modernist? As a bride, do you envision a traditional wedding, complete with white dress, veil, and a walk down the aisle with your dad? Or do you see yourself wearing red and eloping to Vegas? Some love the idea that their wedding will tie in traditional elements that bind them together with other married couples, while others prefer to plan a day that is as unique and different as they are. Most couples nowadays take a middle-of-the-road approach when it comes to wedding customs.

No matter your views on these common wedding traditions, when you’re planning your wedding day, you’re faced with scores of decisions, big and small, that must be made. To help you make some of these choices about your big day, we put together this guide to the most common wedding traditions. Read on to learn what these customs and rituals are all about so you can decide if they’re right for you. 

Bouquet Toss: This tradition harks back to the days when marriage was considerably more important for a woman than it is today. While today, women need not marry to acquire wealth, status, and respect, this was not always the case. Hence, newly married women were the envy of their peers, and jealous unmarried ladies would often try to tear off pieces of bride’s gown or bouquet in an attempt to glean some of her good luck. The bride, eager to be free from this unwanted attention, would toss her bouquet over her head to appease the masses while she and her beloved made their escape.

Garter Belt: The garter belt toss goes hand-in-hand with the bouquet toss in many ways. Its bizarre origins have similar roots, as the tradition was begun as a way to pacify rowdy wedding guests who were not only intent on snatching a piece of the bride’s accoutrements, but also attempted to follow the couple to their honeymoon quarters to ensure the marriage was being consummated! To mollify the nosy guests, the groom would toss the garter out the door as a way of announcing that the bride and groom were making their marriage, ahem, “official.” This makes today’s tradition, which involves the groom reaching under his new bride’s gown to remove her garter from her upper thigh in front of hundreds of guests, seem quite innocuous in comparison.

Bridesmaids: While today, bridesmaids serve a mostly symbolic role (though they do assist with planning and help throw the bride a shower and/or bachelorette party as well), this was not always the case. Hundreds of years ago, bridesmaids used to not only wear the same colors as one another, but also as the bride. The reason they did this was to confuse evil spirits or others who might wish to harm the bride. Bridesmaids would also be expected to fend off anyone who attempted to physically attack the bride.

Who would want to hurt the bride? In the olden days, a rival suitor might well attempt to kidnap the bride and take her for his own. Incidentally, the bride also stands to the left of the groom for the same reason: this way, the groom’s right hand would be free to draw his sword and fight off those wishing to hijack the wedding—and make off with his would-be wife.

The maid of honor’s role was to hold the new wife’s gloves and purse during the ceremony, the latter of which contained the dowry due to the groom (a dowry is cash paid to the groom by the bride’s family in exchange for him marrying her).

Groomsmen: By now, you’re probably beginning to realize that weddings of yesteryear were not the carefree, joyous celebrations they are today. Groomsmen of yore were chosen for their ability to help the groom kidnap his new wife and wrestle her away from angry relatives who were intent on keeping her safe. The best man was considered the groom’s right-hand man in this task, as well as in any subsequent swordfights that often ensued when those upset relatives showed up at the nuptials.

As they often do today, both groomsmen and bridesmaids also serve as witnesses to the marriage. Other historians say groomsmen were also charged with protecting the bride as well as her dowry and her virginity.

Wearing White: As reported above, earlier iterations of the bridal gown had the bride wearing the same color as her ‘maids. It’s report that the white-gown trend was first sparked by Queen Victoria in the 1800s and has endured ever since.

As reported by CNN, “Queen Victoria eschewed the heirloom jewels, heavy fabrics, and rich colors (common of aristocrats of the time because) she didn’t want to make her vows to her husband as a monarch, but rather as the woman he loved.”

Nine years after the queen’s 1840 marriage to Prince Albert, in 1849, it was written in Godey’s Lady’s Book, a Victorian women’s magazine, that “Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”

Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue: The “old” is a nod to the couple’s past, while the “new” represents their future together. The bride is supposed to borrow something belonging to a happily married woman in hopes her good fortune will rub off on the newly married. “Blue” is a color that represents fidelity, loyalty, and purity.

Wedding Veils: There are many theories about the origins of the bridal veil, but many say women wore them on their wedding days to ward off evil spirits that might attempt to thwart their happiness. Today, the veil is more often meant to symbolize purity and innocence and add an air of reverence to the affair.

What’s Your Favorite Wedding Tradition?

We’ve only touched on a few of the most common wedding traditions, and there are many more that have equally fascinating histories, so we’ll be sure to revisit the topic again in the future. As you can see, today’s weddings are full of superstitions and traditions with rather disturbing roots. When you consider all that newlyweds had to put up with, it probably puts the argument you had with your mom over the seating chart seem like not such a big deal!

Which common wedding traditions will you incorporate in your big day? Which ones will you forego? Let us know in the comments below!

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