When people hear the word wedding some things will automatically spring to mind; marrying in white, something old something new, being carried over the threshold, you may now kiss the bride, throwing the bouquet, wedding veils, horseshoes and garters to mention just a few, but have you ever stopped to wonder where the wedding traditions started or why we do certain things on a wedding day?
A white wedding dress is still the first choice for many brides, but it is a relatively new tradition as it was only when Queen Victoria broke with the tradition of coloured dresses and wore a white dress at her wedding in 1840, that the idea became popular. Prior to this, royal brides had worn silver dresses and most people wore smart ordinary clothes, rather than the highly decorated gowns that we have become familiar with.
A white gown became a symbol of purity and once the Edwardian era was underway dresses became more elaborate, but the styles became simpler again with the outbreak of WWI. When Coco Chanel designed a knee length white dress in 1920, designed to be worn with a long veil, the idea of a white wedding dress became firmly established.
The verse “Something old, something new…” also dates from the Victorian era, with the ‘old’ item traditionally being the garter of a happily married woman who passed her good fortune on to the bride with it; ‘new’ was an item that would symbolise the start of a bright future for the couple; ‘borrowed’ would usually be an item from the bride’s family such as a piece of jewellery; and ‘blue’ could be anything from a ribbon in the bride’s hair or sewn in to her dress, to a blue flower in the bouquet or attached to the gown. The colour blue is commonly associated with fidelity which would be a desirable quality in a bride and most couples still try to incorporate these items into their day, along with a sixpence in the bride’s shoe to bring prosperity to the marriage.
The wedding veil dates from Roman times, although this was commonly a yellow colour rather than white, and would be an integral part of the bride’s outfit to disguise her from evil spirits who might be jealous of her happiness and wish to do her harm. The Romans also believed that a circlet or wreath worn on the head would protect the wearer from harm.
The bridal bouquet is thrown as a way of spreading the bride’s good fortune as whoever catches it is said to be the next to marry. It is thought to have started as a distraction for guests in medieval Europe who would try and rip off a piece of the wedding dress as a good luck charm. The dress was usually not worn again, but as the gowns became more expensive brides wanted to stop this from happening and it became more common to throw a garter or decorated ribbon. Nowadays some brides will throw the bouquet to a guest who is already engaged to avoid embarrassing other female guests, and others have done away with this tradition entirely, instead giving a bloom from the bouquet to each female guest, and thus avoiding any unsightly stampede.
Speak to family members when planning your wedding and see if there are any stories about family traditions or heirloom items that you can incorporate in to your wedding day.