Times change, things move on... but some things are always worth cherishing. Here's Country Life's advice on the wedding traditions that still have a place, and those that you can safely do without.
You could, of course, get married anywhere, wearing anything you like, before setting sail on a felucca. Yet contrary to modern thinking, a wedding is not a form of self expression; it’s a ritual that turns an intangible notion – the union of two people – into something tangible. And all rituals rely to an extent on traditions – swinging incense, tribal dancing and eating unleavened bread.
So it’s ironic that, in an era when even the most hardened atheist would feel robbed of Christmas without carols, so many engaged couples are keen to create a wedding that’s ‘unique’ by jettisoning time-honoured traditions. It’s a high-risk policy; most human beings not only take comfort in a degree of structure, they also crave familiarity. For many of us, the prospect of two people choosing to make a lifetime commitment is exciting enough without having to turn it into an adventure.
Not everything needs clinging on to, however: here’s the Country Life guide to the wedding traditions we need to cherish, and those that we can throw out like boxes of unused confetti.
The groom asking permission from the bride’s father
Most traditions are grounded in symbolism rather than reason. In the 21st century, few prospective grooms expect their future father-in-law to refuse his daughter’s hand in marriage, but, neither, when we shake hands, do we really need to check that the people we’re greeting don’t have swords behind their backs, as they did in the Middle Ages.
Instead, it’s a reassuring gesture that demonstrates the sincerity of the groom’s intentions and an acknowledgment of the responsibilities he’s undertaking. Nor is there any reason why it’s a courtesy that shouldn’t be extended to a bride’s mother or to same-sex couples. It’s just nice, like passing Port to the left or standing up when someone enters a room.
Men wearing morning suits
Then there’s the vexed question of dress. Why not just turn up in the blazer and
chinos you wore to the jolly Test match at The Oval? Or a suit you donned for a business presentation the day before?
The reason is simple. Morning dress has a metamorphic effect, creating a festive feel that has nothing to do with anachronistic snobbery and everything to do with the fact that the clothes we wear turn the everyday into a special day, whether it’s a christening gown, a regimental uniform or a pair of plus-fours (morning dress also has a metamorphic effect on the wobblier male figure).
Women wearing hats
Women tend to have a better track record in dressing for weddings. However, they often miss a trick because a flamboyant hat is the cherry on the cake of a great outfit that is no less transformative than a tailcoat and pair of chalk-stripe trousers.
Better still, it can add height and hauteur that will ward off any unwanted attention from wedding guests emboldened by a glass (or six) of Pol Roger. Even the most old-world traditions have useful modern applications.
Five wedding traditions to drop
Brides wearing white
Pastels can be perfect, and more flattering on the fair skinned.
Surely you have better things to do with your time and money?
The first dance
This toe-curling American import should be limited solely to Hollywood movies.
The bride’s family picking up the bill
Why bankrupt one family when you can just as easily bankrupt two?
The wedding night
The idea that you should consummate a marriage on the first night is wildly past its sell-by date.
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