Weddings are as unique as the couple making a commitment to one another – a fact that, if you’ve spent any time reading bridal magazines, you’ll know to be true. While many of us look forward to rummaging through racks of bridal gowns, plenty of women are beginning to walk up the aisle in dresses they’ve ordered online.
Some of us invite our friends and families for a sit-down dinner, while others look forward to tucking into a hired fish and chip van. And, while some couples are happy planning every meticulous detail of their day during a two-year engagement, a handful skip the ‘wedmin’ altogether and opt to elope. All in all, there’s more than one way to tie the knot!
However, a trend that’s really setting brides apart from one another is the act of breaking particular wedding traditions. There are a handful of rituals that cause some of us to raise our eyebrows in surprise, whilst other brides defend them to the end, reasoning that it’s the traditions that make their weddings so special. So, where did these three traditions come from, where are they heading in the future, and what will you do on your wedding day?
Tradition #1 – White wedding gowns
White bridal gowns are almost every women’s choice of outfit when they marry. But why? Well, it’s a tradition that was set by Queen Victoria in 1840. Before Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert, brides of all ages and incomes wore their best dress with added decoration – resulting in a kaleidoscope of colours, fabrics and styles. However, it was Victoria’s love of virginal white lace that set a copycat trend raging through the country and abroad, and to this day, a white gown of some variation is what most brides will wear.
Where’s it heading?
Even with colourful dresses, two pieces and jumpsuits becoming a mainstream option for many, we don’t think this tradition is likely to disappear in the near future. Most brides argue that they can borrow the best bits – like the romance and nostalgia of a white wedding – without having to subscribe to its Victorian roots or virginal connotations. As Laura Bates put it, “nobody at our wedding will be under any illusions, knowing that we’ve lived together for five years”.
However, with the results of a 77 Diamonds’ survey revealing that the average couple spends at least £650 on an engagement ring (and £1150 if you’re betrothed in London!), it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see fewer couples splashing the cash on expensive, bespoke white lace gowns. Instead, we’re expecting to see more women wearing high street or second hand dresses in a bid to keep wedding costs down.
Tradition #2 – Giving away the bride
But what about traditions that are less concerned with how you look and more about what they mean? ‘Giving away the bride’ is a tradition dating back far into history, seeing fathers handing over their daughters to begin the ceremony. This tradition has its origins in transferring ownership and conferring property rights to a woman’s new husband, so it’s hardly surprising that 21st century brides are feeling uncomfortable about it.
“Who gives this woman?” is a question that jars with feminism, offends brides and their partners, and even ruffles feathers amongst friends and family seated to witness! Therefore, many women are beginning to walk alone or walk with their soon-to-be-spouse. However, there is another way to twist this tradition, as one bride explains…
Amy, married in 2015, asked both of her parents to accompany her down the aisle.
“I really didn’t want to be ‘given away’,” she explained, “but I wanted my parents to have an important part in the wedding. Them being there was definitely more about having company (and a hand in case I tripped) and acknowledging the important role they have in my life”. For Amy therefore, twisting this tradition rather than doing away with it completely meant she was able to enjoy the ceremony without feeling that she was being ‘passed over’ to her new husband. And yes… the three of them did just about fit down the aisle together after making some adjustments to her petticoat!
Where’s it heading?
Will the formality of ‘giving away the bride’ disappear from weddings in the future? Perhaps, but if it can shake off its old meaning in the same way that the white wedding dress has, it might stick around a little while longer. For many brides, walking down the aisle with their parent by their side (or best friend, sibling or any other person for that matter) is actually an act of love and comfort, giving a significant person the ‘honour’ of being included in such a precious moment. And who better to sooth those nerves or calm those jitters than the trusted arm of someone dear?
Tradition #3 – Male only speeches
Another old fashioned tradition is the practice of men giving speeches at weddings, exclusively. Conventionally, speeches were given by the father of the bride, the groom and the best man, leaving no formal opportunity for women to address the room, share their stories or offer their support for the newlyweds. Why was this the case? Well, in previous years, the job of talking about the bride was strictly reserved for her father. It was also accepted that the words conveyed in the groom’s speech represented the opinions of his new bride too, and no-one batted an eyelid that a voice hadn’t been heard from the groom’s side of the family…
Where’s it heading?
Unsurprisingly, this tradition feels strange for many couples, and for many guests in attendance too. With a stronger regard for equality, couples are beginning to do away with male-only speeches altogether. Of course, if it just so happens to be the case that only men are comfortable giving a speech at your ceremony or reception, there’s absolutely no problem! But, many brides are now choosing to give speeches themselves, as are the mothers and female friends of the newlyweds. In fact, it’s becoming more and more commonplace to see bridesmaids giving speeches (or rapping, singing and dancing!) which for many marks an important change for 21st century weddings. After all, excluding women’s voices from a wedding day leaves out half the story, doesn’t it?
Therefore, we think this tradition is one that we will consigned to the history books – if indeed it hasn’t been already. After asking a number of brides, we discovered that very few recognise or respect male only speeches as a ‘rule’ in 2016. In fact, many who were questioned about this tradition reported that they gave speeches themselves and listened to those delivered by their sisters, mothers and best friends without even realising that they were breaking a tradition. And, as many same-sex brides have pointed out, upholding this outdated tradition would make for a silent day indeed…!
It seems that wedding traditions are evolving because they mean something different to each of us. And, there’s no doubt that equality, changes in the law to facilitate same sex marriages, everyday sexism and challenging the status quo is playing a part in these changes. But does that mean you have to break traditions on your wedding day? No, we don’t think so! Deciding to plan a traditional bouquet toss, appointing a group of bridesmaids and changing your surname is just as acceptable as not doing any of those things at all.
Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of what’s right for you. You and your partner certainly shouldn’t feel pressured to abandon a tradition if it’s something you want to celebrate… especially if you consider it to be nostalgic, romantic or meaningful. But equally, you should make sure you’re not being forced to go along with a tradition if doing so makes you feel uncomfortable or offended.
What to do if you’re nervous about breaking a tradition
Kelly married her husband in 2013, forgoing a traditional wedding cake in favour of a tower of cheesecakes, saying that they were both “determined to have the day that was perfect for [them]. If a detail didn’t suit [her] or him, then it wouldn’t happen”. Not convinced you can pull off the same on your wedding day? Kelly suggests that there’s one simple way to have the wedding you want. “Do not let others influence your day, do not end up with a day that is less than perfect for you both and, most importantly, do not let others’ opinions or meddling make you guys fall out. My husband and I stuck to our guns and stuck together – and yes, that meant a few tough conversations with others, but never between us”.
So, do what feels right for you and your partner. Whether you break every tradition in the book, twist a few, or keep the whole lot, trust that your wedding day will be perfect if you and your soon-to-be-spouse are calling the shots and staying true to your vision!
| Words by Eilis Carr |