As a generation raised on Spice Girls, Beyonce and Sex & The City reaches the momentous era of marriage, many are questioning whether age-old wedding traditions are still relevant in the modern era? The ritual of the father ‘giving the bride away,’ once an actual transaction, defies the current ‘we should all be feminists’ social slogan. While the ceremonial bouquet toss – once a sought-after sport believed to indicate who was to marry next – now just feels cringeworthy.
Thankfully, according to many wedding experts, these traditions are no-longer considered mandatory. “Wedding traditions have become “opt-in,” says Hamish Shephard, founder of wedding planning app Bridebook.co.uk. “Couples are no longer tied to tradition, but free to cherry-pick what matters to them.”
Wedding planner Holly Poulter of Revelry Events agrees that traditions for traditions’ sake no longer make sense. “The traditions of old come with a weird historical context that just doesn’t mean anything to the modern couple.” Instead, Poulter says that many couples are opting to follow family traditions, combine different cultural traditions, or simply make their own.
Here Vogue talks to industry insiders on the wedding traditions to adopt, adapt or skip for your big day:
In an increasingly paperless world, paper wedding invitations still remain the favoured custom over a casual email. “There’s something so exciting about receiving a beautiful hand-addressed invitation in the post, as it’s so rare now in our digital age,” describes wedding planner Liz Linkleter. “Designing stationery is one of our favourite parts of creating the overall look of a wedding and it really pulls everything together.” Although most couples are still sending paper invitations, their guests are no longer burdened with paperwork admin thanks to easy online RSVP systems. If it’s been a while since you’ve ventured to the post office, the tradition is to send your wedding invitations six weeks in advance.
“When it comes to the wedding ceremony, most people are very traditional,” says Alison Cathcart of Old Marylebone Town Hall, which hosts around 2000 weddings each year. “It’s still very common, particularly for first time brides, for their father to walk them down the aisle.” Though the origins of this tradition might not match up to today’s feminist standards, Bernadette Chapman, Founder-Director of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners, believes the tradition has evolved to become a cherished moment. “It’s not viewed so much as their father giving them away anymore, it’s more symbolic of their father taking them on their last walk together.”
According to Cathcart, same-sex couples are equally traditional when it comes to their ceremony, with the only common change being the walk down the aisle. “Sometimes you might have two brides or two grooms walk down the aisle together, or one half of the couple might already have been in the room when the other walks in. Sometimes the two grooms will walk in with their mums, as a slight nod to tradition.”
If there’s one tradition that’s time is officially up, it’s receiving lines. Of all the wedding experts and insiders we spoke to, all agreed the traditional receiving line – where the newlyweds and their parents line up to officially welcome each guest – is worth ditching. “We haven’t done a single receiving line for any of our weddings,” describes Linkleter “They’re so time consuming, lead to queues on the way into a wedding and mean the couple are tied up for half the drinks reception.”
The bride wearing white
Ever since Queen Victoria, the original celebrity bride, wore the shade on her wedding day (back when keeping white clean was a sign of your wealth), white wedding dresses have been a signature tradition within western weddings. Even today, most wedding dress trends still abide by the “virginal” shade, although it has become common place for bridal designers to feature colour into their collection. Case in point Vera Wang’s 2020 bridal collection, where whimsical gowns appeared in not just white, but also blush pink, nude and even pistachio green.
Wedding guests wearing white
As wedding dress traditions mature, the rules for wedding guests are relaxing. According to Chapman, it’s become a lot more common for bridesmaids and guests to wear shades of white to a wedding. “Fifteen years ago, you would never see a guest wearing anything white at all, it was a huge no-no. Whereas now, it’s not uncommon to see a wedding guest wearing, for example, a white dress with a floral print. So there’s a lot more individuality in terms of what people are wearing.”
In a tradition that stems from ancient superstitions, the original purpose for bridesmaids was to wear the same dress and veil as the bride in order to confuse jealous suitors and evil spirits. This tradition has of course developed into close friends playing a more supportive role in the celebrations, and as of late has evolved even further. “It’s not unusual for the bride to have a male best friend in the bridal party,” describes Chapman. “And likewise I’ve had couples where the groom has had a female best friend, and she’s part of his groom party.”
As wedding parties becoming increasingly diverse titles such as bridesmen and groomsgirls are now commonplace while some couples, according to Poulter, have completely rebranded the titles to have gender neutral terms like ‘I Do Crews’ and People of Honour.”
If the latest wedding trends are anything to go by, wedding cakes are still a celebrated part of the big day, and one where couples are free to be as traditional or creative as they want. That said, the tradition of guests watching the couple cut the cake together, seems to be fading. “I still love to see wedding cakes because they make beautiful statements,” says Chapman. ”But I think making a spectacle of cutting the cake seems outdated.”
Tradition dictates that the bride’s parents are to foot the wedding bill, but as more couples are marrying later in life, financial responsibility has shifted to the newlyweds. According to a recent Bridebook survey, 90% of couples planned on paying for their wedding. “Gone is the outdated idea that it is all about the bride,” says Shephard. “More and more couples are planning together and contributing to the wedding budget, with the parents less involved.”
The new wedding tradition: social media
Whether by choice or force, the newest wedding tradition to emerge is social media at weddings. ”Weddings have become less about ritual and more about spectacle, as the moments to wow their guests become increasingly important to couples,” says Shephard. With the Insta-factor in mind, photogenic traditions like the confetti toss, floral decorations and wedding favours are still going strong. And the new traditions to stem from social media? If you didn’t have a wedding hashtag, did you even have a wedding at all?