Today’s wedding traditions may be a far cry from the rituals of yesteryear, but merging the old with the new can add a bright and unique spark to your big day.
Then: Ancient Egyptians sealed their love with a ring of hemp, leather or ivory, while Victorians exchanged bands set with birthstones. The first recorded diamond engagement ring dates back to 1477, but these precious stones weren’t universally popular until the 1930s, when jewellers De Beers coined the line ‘a diamond is forever’. In most countries, the ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, stemming from the ancient Roman belief that it contains a vein leading straight to the heart.
Now: Diamonds still reign, adorning more than 80 percent of brides. But colour is making a comeback – just look at Kate Middleton’s sapphire! Bear in mind that some coloured gems, such as topaz, are softer than diamonds and so need to be treated more delicately. Men are also veering away from tradition; Ted Daniels from Artifact says two-tone titanium bands are a popular option for grooms. ‘The metal is strong, light and doesn’t wear away. It’ll last forever.’
The Gown and Veil
Then: White gowns became fashionable after Queen Victoria wore one to marry Prince Albert in 1840. At the time, few brides could afford the luxury of a single-use dress, so many simply wore their best clothes. Traditionally, British brides also favoured blue, the colour of faithfulness, while red was a preferred matrimonial colour in Asia and the Middle East, where it symbolised fertility.
Now: Flashing an ankle or a shoulder was once considered risqué, but according to Anita Turner-Williams of Vinka Design, today’s gowns reveal a little more – tastefully, of course. ‘Everyone wants to show off their figure, so it’s all about the fit,’ she says. As well as white, pale colours such as champagne, lilac and light pink are also making an appearance. No longer is a veil the default option; many brides adorn their ‘do with a fascinator, headpiece, netting, or nothing at all.
Then: Once upon a time, brides carried bouquets of aromatic herbs with special meanings. Garlic was popular as it was thought to ward off evil spirits, while sage symbolised wisdom and wheat sheaves stood for fertility. Over time, blossoms replaced herbs, and the Victorians created a “flower language” to attach meaning to different blooms, such as lilies (purity), ivy (fidelity) and myrtle (love).
Now: Today’s bride is no longer restricted to flowers – foliage, twigs and berries lend themselves to sculptural arrangments, while some opt for a bouquet of costume jewellery or heirloom brooches. Feathers, shells and silk or felt flowers are also emerging trends. Alternatively, forgo the bouquet entirely and add faux blooms or silk rosettes to your hair, or wear a wrist corsage.
The Wedding Party
Then: In ancient times, attendants were dressed identically to the bride and groom, in order to confuse evil spirits about who was really getting married and thereby ensuring they didn’t curse the happy couple. Bridesmaids were literally maids – young, unmarried women – and a married bridesmaid was officially termed a matron of honour.
Now: Attendants’ dresses no longer match the bride, or even each other! Gone are the days of uniformed bridesmaids and groomsmen; varied dresses are all the rage, often tied together by a universal style or colour. Some brides also opt for male attendants to recognise the role of a brother or close friend in her life.
Then: The Bridal Chorus from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, commonly known as Here Comes the Bride, has been popular since it was written in 1850. Other traditional musical options for walking down the aisle include Mendelssohn’s Wedding March or Canon in D by John Pachelbel.
Now: Anything from classic jazz standards to Brooke Fraser is appropriate for the modern bride’s procession, as music has become a way for couples to express their personality in the service. Newlywed Beth Morris walked down the aisle to the Foo Fighters’ Everlong, while other brides have opted for Billy Idol, AC/DC, or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Once you’ve chosen your tune, make sure you time the walk to ensure it’s not too fast or slow.
Then: Following the invention of photography in the early 1800s, most couples would only pose for one single wedding portrait wearing their best clothes – often before or after the big day. It wasn’t until after World War II that the idea of documenting the entire event emerged, and photographers began capturing the preparation and ceremony in addition to formal portraits.
Now: As well as creating a visual record of the entire day through still photography – from getting ready in the morning to the last hours on the dance floor – videography has surged in popularity as a way of preserving memories. Some couples also install a photobooth at their reception to capture snaps of their families and friends, while others arrange engagement shoots before the day, or post-wedding photo sessions.
Then: Before the printing press was invented in 1447, weddings were announced by the town crier, who proclaimed the engagement along with the news of the day. Wealthy families commissioned monks to create beautiful invitations using calligraphy. Engraving first appeared in 1642, and has remained popular to this day –although back then it was customary to include the name of each guest on the invite!
Now: Today’s imaginative brides have invitations printed on a medium that suits their wedding style, whether that’s pressed leaves, vintage handkerchiefs or old-fashioned record sleeves. Some invitations contain a map to the wedding venue, a menu or information about the local area for guests travelling from out of town – usually artistically drawn by an illustrator or graphic designer. Digital invites can take the form of a DVD, email or personalised website.
The Tossing of the Bouquet
Then: Once upon a time, guests would tear off a part of the bride’s dress in order to capture some of her good luck. To stop this from happening, brides began tossing their bouquet into the crowd. Whoever caught it received all the bride’s good fortune and thus would be the next to marry. In some Eastern European countries, the veil is tossed instead.
Now: Brides are reluctant to part with their picture-perfect bouquets. Instead, a bridesmaid’s bouquet is used for the toss, or the florist will create a small version especially for throwing. That way, the bride’s flowers remain in pristine condition for photographs and the blooms can be dried as a memento.
Then: The original wedding cake was a loaf of bread, which was broken over the bride’s head to symbolise fertility. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that cakes became popular, and each country had its own flavour. In Denmark, guests feasted on marzipan rings; in France, a tower of profiteroles and in Turkey, a sweet honeyed cake. Each guest ate a piece to wish the happy couple good luck.
Now: From macaroons to cupcakes, bite-sized morsels are all the rage. Meanwhile, cakes are embellished not only with a layer of marzipan but also fresh flowers, fruit, jewellery, ornaments, lace or motifs unique to the couple. Some brides choose to forgo the cake entirely, preferring to satisfy their sweet tooth with a candy bar or sumptuous dessert buffet.
Then: In Europe, friends and family traditionally supplied the happy couple with enough honeyed mead to last them a month, or one cycle of the moon. The couple stayed hidden away during this time – a special holiday before they had to rejoin society and take on the tasks of daily life.
Now: Rather than escaping to a secluded spot, many couples choose to stay with their family and friends after the wedding so that they can spend more time with those who have travelled from afar. Modern honeymoons often include lavish overseas trips where the couple visits a variety of places; delaying the travel means the they can save up and make the most of their time away.
The Guest Favours
Then: In the 16th century, European aristocrats would distribute bonbonniere to their wedding guests – small trinket boxes made of crystal, precious stones, gold or porcelain. These usually contained confectionary or sugared almonds known as bonbons, a lavish gesture as sugar was an expensive commodity.
Now: Modern guest favours are matched to the wedding theme, and many are designed to enhance the décor or table arrangements. Sweets, chocolate, pot plants, picture frames, candles, sweet pastries or Lotto tickets are all popular gifts.
The Grand Finale
Then: Traditionally, guests threw rice at the couple as a way of wishing them prosperity and plenty of offspring. As rice grows quickly, it’s a symbol of fertility. In the Middle Ages, guests would bang pots, ring bells and make plenty of noise to drive away bad luck as the couple left for their honeymoon.
Now: Some brides tie tin cans to the bumper of their wedding car to reflect the medieval tradition of making noise. In addition to rice, guests throw birdseed or coloured confetti, blow bubbles or release doves into the air to give newlyweds a memorable send-off into their ‘happily ever after’.
THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG
We’re all familiar with the notion that weddings should include ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence in your shoe’ – but where did this saying come from? With its origins in the Victorian era, ‘something old’ represented the bride’s connection to her family and the past, while ‘something new’ stood for her new life ahead. Brides included ‘something borrowed’ from a happily married woman in order to receive her good fortune, while ‘something blue’ symbolised faithfulness and constancy. The silver sixpence meant wealth and prosperity, and to maximise your chances of good luck, tradition dictated that you should place it in your left shoe.