The Basics

Wedding traditions.

If you’ve daydreamed about having a traditional wedding since you were six years old, then go for it by all means.  

On the other hand, there doesn’t have to be a meringue in sight.   

Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes, but there are very few rules that you absolutely have to follow. To make sure that your marriage is officially recognised, you will need a public proclamation of marriage by a figure of authority or a celebrant, with both members of the couple making vows to one another and/or agreeing to simple statements. Other than that, feel free to cherry-pick whichever traditions suit you. If you feel that some are no longer relevant, or simply don’t appeal, just leave them out.

Many brides, for example, still want to be walked down the aisle by their fathers; this can be a touching tribute to all the love and care he’s shown you over the years. But there’s no law that says you can’t invite both your parents or someone else of significance to you to accompany you to the altar, and you don’t have to stop there; you could have a whole pack of family members marching up the aisle.

In same-sex marriages, of course, there’ll be two brides, or no bride at all; in which case having the couple walk down the aisle together, with or without family members, is a popular option.

It goes without saying that in most cultures, the whole notion of ‘giving away’ the bride is wildly outdated; women are no longer chattels to be passed from father to husband. Some couples still choose to use the traditional wording, but with the unspoken understanding that there is no ‘ownership’ involved. Others may change it from ‘who gives this woman’ to ‘does (name of bride/groom) have the blessing of his/her family’.

Have open discussions with your partner and family about how you would like to make your entrance, and your officiant will be able to help you decide on alternate declarations; or indeed, to omit this bit completely.

It’s even easier to tweak the ‘look’ of your wedding – the style, the décor, the order of events – to make it feel more personal to you as a couple.

For example, there’s no need to squeeze your bridesmaids into identical dresses; finding a style that suits everyone from your size-6 seventeen-year-old niece to a size-16 matron of honour can be problematic. An easy alternative is to choose a colour palette, which gives everyone plenty of freedom to find an outfit that they’ll be comfortable wearing. One bride of our acquaintance invited her bridesmaids to accessorise their lilac dresses with their own black leather jackets. “I knew they’d all own one,” said Lisa. “They’re my friends, after all…”

Few brides impose a strict dress-code over the rest of the guests. However, if there’s a clear theme for the wedding – festival style, for example – it’s fine to encourage everyone to dress accordingly. Just make it clear that this is optional; most nonagenarian great-uncles will baulk at the prospect of spandex and fraggles.

Traditionally, wedding favours for guests took the form of simple cones of sugared almonds, but in recent years these have been overtaken by more imaginative gifts; laser-cut place names, or hangover recovery kits. Favours don’t need to be expensive, and a quick online search will reveal endless cheap, witty and DIY ideas. However, if you’re looking to cut costs and/or save time, just jettison them altogether. After all, what grown-up really needs a goody bag?

The wedding cake is an even easier tradition to play fast and loose with. You can order a classic iced fruit cake with more tiers than the Tower of Pisa, if that’s what you want, but this is far from being the only option. Towers of profiteroles can double as dessert, while truckles of cheese or piles of pork pies double up as handy snacks when the post-disco munchies come around.

Some couples worry about creating a Gift List, but trust us, you do need one. Guests will almost certainly want to give a gift and prefer to be given a steer. Without one they’ll go off piste and you’ll have all sorts of random items turning up on the day. I have seen a wrapped ironing board in a church before now! If you’d like to receive money or contributions to the honeymoon, that’s perfectly fine these days. Do mix in at least a few physical gifts or experiences for the more traditional gift giving generation though.

Just a final word of caution: if you reject too many traditions in an attempt to stamp your individuality on proceedings, you may end up chucking the baby out with the bathwater. Here are just some well-loved traditions that have stood the test of time.

• Tossing the bouquet: still an exciting highlight, and a great photo opportunity.

• White wedding dresses: popular for a good reason since the days of Queen Victoria – not just romantic and flattering, but the best way to guarantee that the bride stands out from the other female guests!

• The best man’s speech: this can be a real highlight if done well (and can still be hilarious if done badly…)

• The groom not seeing the bride the night before the wedding: not merely very romantic, but adds to the excitement of the day. And as an added bonus, you get the bathroom all to yourself.