By Ashley Allen
It is often said that every little girl dreams about her wedding day and how magical and elegant the big event will be. She will wear that white, flowing gown and will marry the prince who sweeps her off her feet. It all seems like a dazzling fantasy, and it’s certainly glamorized in American culture. But progressive change is causing many brides to question certain wedding traditions — I definitely did when I got married.
Traditions and cultural norms in America have changed and continue to do so. American families have changed racially, ethically and spiritually. Women’s roles have changed dramatically. Same sex marriage is massively more accepted than it was just a decade ago. Many weddings traditions are conservative, and don’t necessarily apply to the modern couple anymore.
And for another thing, there’s the cost. Americans spend an average of $72 billion per year on weddings. In 2018, each wedding cost an average of $33,000! From flowers, catering, and locations to getting an officiant, the dollars quickly add up. That doesn’t even include the cost of the honeymoon! With such a price tag attached to weddings and the pressure that it be as extravagant and glamorous as possible, engaged couples and their families are feeling the pinch. But within those costs lie traditions that Americans have stuck to for ages, some of which we may be able to kick to the curb for the sake of cultural progress and saving some much needed moolah!
As the great legend Bruce Lee once said, “If you follow the classical pattern, you are understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow — you are not understanding yourself.” So just because something is traditional, doesn’t mean it is for everyone. Americans are becoming more and more motivated to change and emphasize individualism. Could that apply to how we operate our weddings? Here are six wedding traditions that we may reconsider in 2019.
- The first wedding tradition that is outdated is the idea of a white dress. It signifies innocence and virginity of the bride. If the dress is even an off-white color, murmurs of her purity begin. In the 2010s, it is estimated that 5 percent of brides are virgins. A vast majority of wedding dress stores carry only white styles due to the traditional demand. Not only is this a demeaning habit for weddings, it is also very outdated to expect a woman to adhere to a display of their “purity” by wearing a certain color. Instead, brides should wear a color that suits their taste and personality.
2. Taking the husband’s name is the next tradition that many reconsider a thing of the past. More frequently women are choosing to keep their maiden name because of their established careers and to keep from upheaval in their professional life. In some cases, men are choosing to take their wives last name for the same reason, to spare their wives’ existing careers. It can seem like a mundane part of getting married, an afterward chore, but many women often don’t consider the option of keeping their own last name, and most men do not even entertain the idea.
3. The father “giving the bride away” is a possessive and belittling tradition for women getting married. This is another aspect of weddings that just seems so “normal” that many don’t consider how old-fashioned it truly is. This tradition treats women as property to be traded from one man’s ownership to another. The act of transferring a woman from one name to the next is extremely sexist, yet it has become so ingrained in tradition that it is often carried out without a second thought. It is considered to be respectful and honorable to ask the father’s permission before asking her hand in marriage, and her transition from one man to another is seen as a sort of “coming of age” tradition.
4. It is standard that the bride has a bridesmaid party and the groom a gang of groomsmen. It is also standard for bridesmaids to be female and groomsmen to be male, and it’s not often these rules are strayed from. The term bridesmaid itself entails a woman who is unmarried but is of marriage age. From the beginning of traditions to latch to marriage ceremonies, the bride having an entourage of five maidens (or virgins) was an initial starter. Groomsmen had a group of five men to help defend the bride from robbery and potential jealous suitors. The concept of bridesmaids is another example of how a woman’s sexual history and marriage status is an underlying definer of her standing and placement in the wedding. Instead, we should consider men being bridesmaids or women groomsmen (or bridesguys and groomsgirls, as they’re sometimes called). Some progressive brides refused to give bridesmaids that title, calling them “attendants” instead, among other options.
5. A less talked about tradition for American weddings is the bride’s family paying for the entire wedding. Since the dawn of weddings, the families of brides would pay the men marrying them in some way to take the women off their hands. This is called a dowry, or the transfer of a woman from her parents to her future husband with gifts or money. Dowries have been replaced with the bride’s family coughing up the cash for the wedding. When they can’t afford it, parents often scramble frantically to find the funds for their daughter’s wedding and sink into debt. In modern America, with the number of people living in poverty being nearly 40 million in 2017, the cost of weddings should be split between the families.
6. The flower and garter toss are considered fun and whimsical wedding traditions. The flower toss is typically the final part of a wedding ceremony when the bride throws her bouquet behind her to her bridesmaids, and they scurry to catch it. That tradition comes from early weddings in which bridesmaids would try to get a part of the bride’s bouquet to gain some of her luck, so they may soon wed themselves. This tradition assumes that women’s lucky aim in life is to marry. The garter toss has the same meaning, only for the groomsmen. The garter is taken off of the bride’s leg during the reception after the wedding, usually with the groom’s teeth, and then thrown to the crowd of single men so that they may have some of the groom’s luck and soon wed. This tradition assumes that all the single folk are chomping at the bit to get married, when in reality marriage rates for Millennials are plummeting. With 25 percent of Millennials likely to never marry, traditions like the bouquet toss are becoming outdated.
Weddings in America have massively popular traditions that are carried on often without much thought to what they really mean. Many aspects of how brides are treated and what is expected of them are sexist and belittling. So, should these traditions be reconsidered? Every woman has the option whether or not to include any of these, or any other traditions, in their own weddings. Weddings don’t have to be conservative and present the bride as a transference of property from one man to another. A woman’s sexual history is her own to keep private without need for representation of it to her family and friends. Couples in 2019 should be free to keep or discard any wedding traditions they see fit, but I believe it’s important to keep in mind some of our traditions’ patriarchal roots when planning for the big day.