Your wedding day is all about the balance between tradition and personalization. You honor the past with classic wedding traditions, but put a modern spin on the celebration to make it your own. But where do the original traditions come from? Why do brides wear white at all? Who decided you should have a best man? And why on earth do we carry “something blue?”
Our brides love to learn about the odd origins of these classic rituals! So we’ve put together a series of posts featuring all the weird, wild, wacky origins of our favorite wedding traditions. Today, we’re revealing the bizarre history behind all things related to your bridal attire. Take a look at the crazy history behind these beloved wedding traditions!
Wild Wedding Traditions, Part 1: Bridal Attire
1. White Wedding Dress: the white gown is a classic bridal staple, right? Well… it wasn’t always that way! White wedding dresses were not customary until Queen Victoria donned a white gown for her wedding in 1840, marking the beginning of this quintessential tradition. Before that, most brides would simply wear the best dress they owned—in any color.
2. Bridal Veil: although the bridal veil is now considered a beautiful accessory, it once served a very serious purpose. When arranged marriages were common, it was essential that the political union between two families would take place… even though the bride and groom had not yet met each other. As such, the bride wore a veil to obscure her face until vows were made—so the groom couldn’t back out if he didn’t like what he saw! Additionally, the veil was thought to protect the bride from being recognized by evil spirits who might steal her away.
3. Engagement Rings: For a long time, engagement rings simply weren’t needed. In 1215, Pope Innocent III decreed that there should be a waiting period between betrothal and marriage—thus leading to the idea of an “engagement ring.” They were typically simple bands, used only to signify commitment until the wedding. Decorative engagement rings weren’t really popularized until the Victorian Era; in those days, large colorful gems reigned supreme. The bands were often decorated with symbolic motifs, like intertwined hearts and snakes—a popular symbol of eternity.
4. Diamonds: Believe it or not, diamond engagement rings are a direct product of advertising. In the Late Victorian Period, large diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa—making diamonds easily accessible and commonly available. Ultimately, they were marketed by De Beers as the quintessential engagement ring stone. It’s almost hard to believe they became so ubiquitous!
Colorful settings made a comeback in the 1920s–1930s, featuring geometric designs representative of the Art Deco era. Emeralds and rubies were often paired with diamonds, resulting in luxurious combinations befitting of the Gatsby-era. Colored gemstones were again popularized in the 1980s, thanks to Princess Di’s iconic sapphire gem. And of course, Kate Middleton’s hand is now adorned with the same royal jewel, inspiring a renewed interest in sapphire stones.
While diamonds are certainly still the most popular selection, we are starting to see a trend toward more unique engagement rings. Brides today are looking for rings that represent their personality—whether that means a modern halo, a conflict-free design, or a colored gemstone.
5. Diamond Prices: All that being said, the price of a diamond is largely sentimental; compared to other gems, diamonds are not particularly rare or special. They are expensive only because we, as a society, have placed so much value on their sentimental meaning.
6. Ring Placement: the wedding rings are worn on the left hand “ring finger” because Egyptians and Greeks believed this finger was connected straight to the heart. (Aww!)
7. “Something Old, Something New…” no doubt you’ve heard this traditional wedding-day rhyme. These practices were all designed to bring fortune to the newlyweds. “Something Old” reminded a bride of her past, while “Something New” heralded hope for a happy future in her new family. “Something Borrowed” would traditionally come from a successfully married woman—a good omen for the new bride’s own marriage. “Something Blue” had rich symbolic meaning: loyalty, faithfulness, purity, and good fortune. “And a sixpence in your shoe” symbolized hope for a prosperous life together.
8. Bridal Garter: this tradition originates from the Dark Ages—and it’s definitely an odd one! In those times, guests would follow the bride and groom upstairs to “help” them disrobe for the wedding night. It was considered good luck for a guest to snag a piece of the bride’s attire… often tearing the poor bride’s dress (not to mention her privacy) to shreds.
As an alternative, the “Garter Toss” evolved as a way to pacify guests with just one small item of clothing, and to distract guests (who would fight over the lucky garter) from the bride and groom as they escaped from the celebration. It’s safe to say we’re glad that this tradition has evolved over the years!
9. Bridal Bouquet: carrying a gorgeous bouquet down the aisle seems like an obvious choice—what a beautiful addition to your bridal ensemble! However, the origin behind the bridal bouquet is actually somewhat unsavory… In older days, hygiene wasn’t what it is now. A common person might only bathe once or twice a year (yikes). A bridal bouquet (made of garlic, rosemary, dill, and other herbs) served twofold: cover the bride’s own body odor, and ward off evil spirits with its strong fragrance. You can credit Queen Victoria with the idea to replace the herbs with gorgeous (better-smelling) blooms.
10. Bridesmaids and Bridesmaid Dresses: today, it’s considered a faux pas to wear white to a wedding if you are not the bride. However, back in Victorian times, bridesmaids would also wear white. Why? To confuse evil spirits, of course! (Ha!) Originally, bridesmaids were selected as decoys, intended to prevent evil spirits or ex-lovers from identifying the real bride and stealing her away.
Thankfully, the original needs behind these wedding traditions have all faded away (we are certainly glad that our brides get to shower more than twice a year)… But the tradition behind each ritual is a fascinating peek into the history of wedding customs! Luckily, today’s brides have plenty of options: put a modern twist on any of these traditions to make it your own, or feel free to skip any rituals that don’t fit your personality. Your day should be all about you.
Stay tuned for more Wild Wedding Traditions next week! We’ll cover odd facts behind the wedding ceremony itself. Find out where we got the phrase “tying the knot,” why we throw things as a couple makes their grand exit, and the peculiar history behind honeymooning!