Five outdated traditions you can modernise for your wedding

18 May 2017

Ever thought about the origins behind popular wedding traditions? We list the history behind five, and how you can update them for your modern wedding 

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There’s nothing wrong with wanting to defy convention: it’s what makes each of us unique. When it comes to weddings, however, certain traditions remain ever-popular to this day despite their bizarre and questionable origins. Here are five of the most popular wedding traditions and their origins – and how you can either eschew or adapt them for your 21st century wedding.

Wearing a white dress

Before the 19th century, women would simply wear their best dress for their wedding, with wealthier women choosing patterns and designs that were fashionable at the time. White dresses didn’t become popular until 1940, after Queen Victoria married Albert in a white gown and the photograph was circulated. It is widely assumed that the colour white is worn to symbolise purity, but many people dispute this, with a common theory being that the white gown, similar to a Christening gown or a gown worn by women making religious vows, is symbolic of Christianity.

Basically, unless you are devoutly religious, there is no real reason to wear white on your wedding day. If you’re not a fan of the colour white, eschew the tradition and look at other options. Floral dresses are very popular at the moment, and pale blue wedding gowns are set to be the new trend for the 2018 season. Alternatively you could forgo the gown altogether and just go for something that you’re comfortable in and that makes you look, and feel, amazing.

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Being given away by your father

This tradition is based on ancient Roman customs, and the days of arranged marriages. In those times, daughters were considered their father’s property, so the tradition symbolises the act of the father literally handing his daughter to a new owner. The bride was transferred from the possession of her father to her new groom, usually for a price.

If you don’t like the idea of being treated like property, then consider avoiding or altering this particular tradition. There are many options for walking down the aisle: a popular choice nowadays is walking halfway down the aisle with one or both parents, and then walking the rest of the way alone. The first half represents being raised and supported by your parents, whilst the second half symbolises them letting you go, grow up, and be independent. Alternatively you could walk by yourself, or even with your partner if you want to illustrate the equality in your relationship.

Cutting the cake

Wedding cakes have always been present at weddings in one form or another. The tradition originated in ancient Rome: the groom would break a small cake made of barley over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple, and guests would nibble on the crumbs to share in the good luck. The cake went through several transformations throughout its history, including the once-popular “bride pie”, until the mid-sixteenth century when sugar became more accessible. The more refined the sugar was, the whiter it was – and the bigger the cake was, the more money a family was believed to have. Therefore bright white, large cakes became the norm.

Cutting the cake is a throwback to that ancient Roman tradition of breaking the cake, and is supposed to symbolise fertility and prosperity – if you believe in such things. If you don’t, or you’re just not too keen on cake, there are lots of alternative options. Tiered stands consisting of small desserts such as cupcakes or macarons are growing more and more popular, as are savoury options such as cheese or pies.

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Taking your husband’s name

Similar to a father walking his daughter down the aisle, taking the partner’s surname is symbolic of the bride being given to a new family or owner. Many modern day couples choose to continue this tradition, whilst others have adapted it for their own preferences. For example, double-barrelling a surname eschews the concept of possession and property by representing the joining together of two families. Other couples elect to mix their surnames together to create a brand new family name, and some opt to keep their own names to establish their independence.

Wearing a veil

There are several theories behind the origin of the wedding veil. In Christian history, the veil represented purity, and by lifting the veil to reveal the bride’s face the groom metaphorically consummated the marriage. In the times of arranged marriages, when a bride and groom may have never seen one another before, a veil was used to physically hide the bride’s face from the groom. It was lifted after the ceremony, making it too late for the groom to back out if his bride’s appearance displeased him. The final theory is that the ancient Romans hid the bride’s face from view to disguise the bride from evil spirits. Her bridesmaids would also wear veils and similar dresses in order to confuse the evil spirits and keep them away.

None of these theories are particularly relevant nowadays, however - unless you are superstitious about evil spirits. In fact, many women choose to shun the wedding veil specifically because of its origins, believing that it is a sexist tradition. There are many other ways to adorn your head for your wedding, such as flower crowns, hair accessories, or birdcage fascinators. 

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