British Wedding Traditions and the Changing Face of Wedding Culture

Alys & Johan wedding | Zoe Binning weddings | Credit: Benjamin Wheeler Photography

It has occurred to me that I have never actually written a blog post about Wedding traditions in the UK!

In fact, if I’m honest, the idea has largely come out of a favour my favourite aunt has just asked of me… she’s currently in China on a work trip and is attending a lecture on Chinese wedding culture and been invited to contribute – which if you knew my aunt would make you smile, as her job has no links to the wedding industry at all and to be honest, by her own admission, weddings would probably be one subject she has relatively little interest in (and being a fabulous feminist will totally balk at most of these traditions anyway!)…

…hence the favour – could I put together a few slides on UK Wedding culture?

But of course! a) because she is my favourite aunty and b) because I love any opportunity to share my wedding expertise with the world 😊

So, here you go, my brief presentation on a few of our British Wedding Traditions and the Changing Face of Wedding Culture, transformed into a blog post just for you:

1) The White Wedding Dress

In olden times, wedding dresses weren’t any particular colour, primarily because ladies didn’t have the luxury of owning multiple dresses.  As a result, when they got married, they would wear their Sunday best, whatever colour it was.  This tradition carried on right up until 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and wore a white dress!  And ever since then, Wedding dresses have invariably been white or ivory.

Today, although white or ivory is still the colour of choice for the majority of brides, we are seeing an increase in different colours within bridal wear, particularly for second and subsequent weddings and older brides.

Coloured wedding dress | Image credit: Bride magazine | Zoe Binning weddings

Image credit: Bride magazine

2) Giving Away the Bride

It is still customary today for the father of the bride to escort his daughter down the aisle and ‘give her away’ to her new husband.

(Added to this, the bride would then stand to the left of her husband-to-be, away from his sword arm, to enable him to fight off any would-be suiters who might try to carry her off before the ‘I Do’s’!)

This tradition of giving the bride away, dates back to the Middle Ages when women were considered to be the property of their father, until they were ‘sold’ to their new husband.

Unsurprisingly, in part due to the changing nature of family set-ups today, more often brides are choosing to be escorted down the aisle by other key people in their lives, such as their mums, a sibling, or their children.  Famously last year, Meghan Markle walked down the aisle on her own, followed by a selection of small flower girls and page boys.

Meghan Markel Walking Down the Aisle alone | Image credit: ABC News | Zoe Binning weddings

Image credit: ABC News

3) Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue… and a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe

This is one of those lovely traditions that is still very popular today, the idea being, that the bride must choose something to wear, for each of these elements.

Something old is usually an heirloom such as a necklace or bracelet, a hair adornment or a brooch.  This is to signify the family that the bride comes from.

Something new (usually the dress or the bride’s shoes) represents success and good fortune in the new life that the bride is choosing.

Something borrowed reminds the bride that her friends and family will always be there for her, in her life to come.  This is often something like an item of jewellery, a handkerchief or a clutch bag.

Something blue to represent faithfulness and loyalty (in biblical times, blue represented purity), often a ribbon sewn into the wedding dress or attached to the bride’s garter.

The final piece of the jigsaw, ‘the silver sixpence in her shoe’ is often forgotten today (in part because silver sixpences are a bit more difficult to come by these days), but it represented wealth and happiness for the new couple.

Charlotte Mills wedding shoe | Image Credit: Charlotte Mills | Zoe Binning weddings

Image credit: Charlotte Mills Shoes

4) The Wedding Cake

Wedding cakes are a big thing in the UK – who doesn’t love a piece of cake with a cup of tea after all?

But the tradition stems from the days when the groom had to kiss his bride over a pile of sweet bread rolls in Medieval times (Who even knows why?!) and then this tradition moved on to the bride receiving a pie under her pillow – which seems ever so messy! And these days, thankfully, its cake – the multiple tiers representing that pile of sweet bread rolls!

Cakes come in all shapes and sizes these days, we’ve largely moved away from fruitcake to a varied selection of flavoured sponges, alternatively it might be cupcakes, macaron towers or for those without a sweet tooth; cheese, but I think this is one tradition that in some form or another is definitely here to stay!

Meghan and Harry wedding cake | Image Credit: Marie Claire | Zoe Binning Weddings

Image Credit: Marie Claire

5) The First Dance

Dancing has always been a popular element of any celebration and of course weddings are no exception!

When a party was thrown, the dancing was the start of proceedings, usually performed by the guest of honour and the hostess.  This then became a wedding tradition, when the father of the groom danced with the bride, before she then danced with her new husband.

Whilst this formality no longer happens, the first dance between the bride and groom is definitely still the start of the evening wedding party, after which everyone is on the dancefloor – until the early hours!

Sara & Geraint Thomas First Dance | Image Credit: Hazel Hannant | Zoe Binning weddings

Image Credit: Hazel Hannant

6) The Couple Not Seeing Each Other Before the Ceremony & Why The Bride Wears a Veil

Now I have combined these two traditions, as they were actually intrinsically linked… It is supposedly bad luck to see your future spouse on the morning of your wedding, but this tradition, actually had more of a practical basis!

In the days where marriages were arranged and often large dowries of money, land or titles changed hands as a result of the exchange, the couple often didn’t know each other.  As a result, the bride was kept hidden away until the ceremony, basically, to prevent risking the groom doing a runner until he’d committed to the marriage deal!  The bride’s parents also covered the bride’s face with a veil until the exchange of the ‘I Do’s’ just to be on the safe side!

Today, more often couples who already live together, will arrive to the ceremony together or as increasingly popular tradition today, is a ‘first-look’ shoot where the photographer captures the wow moment of the couple’s meeting, dressed in all their finery, just before the ceremony!

First Look Photo Shoot | Image Credit: Modern Wedding Magazine | Zoe Binning weddings

Image Credit: Modern Wedding Magazine

One question I am asked so often by clients, is “Do we have to follow all of these traditions?”

My answer is always the same… “Hell, no!”

Wedding traditions, whilst often quaint and fun are in many cases, just not realistic for today’s wedding couple!  As I’ve discussed above, they invariably date back to the days when marriage was often a deal between families, rather than undertaken because a couple actually fell in love and wanted to spend their lives together, when second and subsequent marriages were frowned upon, depending upon your religion and when single sex marriage was just not permitted.

As a result, my advice is – do what you want to do, in the way you want to do it! It’s your wedding and you’ve got to make the day perfect for you both!

It makes me really sad when people say that they look back on their wedding day with regret, as they were too worried about keeping everyone else happy!

So, pick out the bits you like and ignore the bits that just don’t fit!

Enjoy! And happy planning! x

Same Sex Marriage | Image credit: The Drum | Zoe Binning weddings

Image credit: The Drum