Meaningful French Wedding Traditions for Your Special Day
From the history to the beautiful cities (we're looking at you, Paris!), French weddings are without a doubt stunning and memorable. Another thing that makes French weddings special are French wedding traditions. So whether you're a French or non-French couple planning your big day in France, want to incorporate French influences into your wedding, or you just sent your RSVP for a French wedding you were invited to, it's helpful to learn more about the cultural traditions including what to wear, what gift to give and what to expect at the ceremony and reception. For that and more, we chatted with Nancy LaTart, a Paris-based American wedding planner of Fête in France. Keep reading to learn all about French wedding traditions.
French Prewedding Traditions
According to LaTart, typical French weddings don't usually have any pre-wedding traditions leading up to the big day. For instance, she says It's not traditional to have a rehearsal or rehearsal dinner or even a bridal shower. However, she adds that the soon-to-be newlyweds are often treated to bachelor and bachelorette parties before the wedding day.
Another thing LaTart notes is that in French weddings, both families are very much involved in the wedding planning process. "The parents of the groom, particularly the mother of the groom, have a much more prominent role than in American weddings," she says.
French Wedding Attire
For the bride-to-be, LaTart says traditional wedding attire consists of a bridal white wedding dress. Grooms, on the other hand, have a few options to choose from depending on the formality of the event.
For traditional French weddings, LaTart says grooms may choose a "morning suit" which is a three-piece suit, usually in a gray color. The suit features a jacket with tails, and the outfit is finished off with a top hat.
For grooms who wish to wear a more modern look, LaTart says they may opt for a sharply tailored suit in blue or a light color such as tan or cream. A black suit usually isn't a top pick. And, she adds, some grooms even adopt a "high-low" look by pairing their suits with white sneakers.
In French weddings, the couple must also choose two to four témoins, who are essentially witnesses and will sign the civil wedding certificate. "The témoins are usually friends or siblings, and their role is similar to the role of maid of honor and best man, but it's very rare to impose a specific dress for the female témoins," LaTart says.
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French Wedding Ceremony
As for a French wedding ceremony, LaTart says soon-to-be-married couples must first have a civil ceremony at their local city hall or town hall. (For destination weddings, couples often take care of the civil ceremony before arriving in France.) Then, if they wish, they can have a religious ceremony or a symbolic ceremony on the day of their wedding reception at their wedding venue of choice. "The civil wedding can be held on the same day as the religious wedding, but sometimes the civil wedding takes place on another date with a smaller group of family and friends, and they may organize a 'vin d'honneur' cocktail reception afterward," she says.
French Reception Traditions
One fun French wedding tradition that couples may enjoy as they are ushered into married life is adding entertainment starring their favorite people. "It is very common at French weddings for the couple's friends and/or family to entertain guests during the dinner," LaTart says. "This often takes the form of skits, games, songs or video presentations put together as surprises for the couple."
Traditional French Wedding Food, Drinks and Desserts
"Food is very important to the French and celebratory 'prestige' food such as foie gras and smoked salmon often feature in the wedding menu," LaTart says. "Champagne is always associated with festivity in France and therefore is the primary drink served at the cocktail [hour], which usually stretches well beyond one hour."
On the wedding night, she says dinner at French weddings can also be quite lengthy. "It's not uncommon for the party to start at midnight," LaTart says. And, a French wedding dinner isn't complete without wine, which she notes is often selected and provided directly by the families.
For couples having destination weddings in France, LaTart says it's also common to blend American traditions with French wedding traditions which can include trimming down the length of the seated meal.
As for sweets, LaTart says the traditional French wedding cake is a tower of cream-filled pastry puffs arranged in a pyramid or stacked in another shape, known as a "pièce montée de croquembouche."
French Postwedding Traditions
After the "I dos" are said and done, LaTart says French weddings typically have a next-day event or brunch for the couple's close family and friends, often hosted at the same venue.
French Wedding Traditions Frequently Asked Questions
How long does a French wedding celebration last?
As mentioned earlier, French weddings are celebrations that are meant to be savored slowly. So, don't expect them to be quick. LaTart says they often continue very late into the night and into the early hours of the morning. In other words, you may be partying until six or seven in the morning. Our advice? Wear comfortable shoes and maybe take a nap before. For destination weddings in France, however, she says it's rare for the party to go past 3 a.m., which for American couples is already late given that weddings in the states usually end at midnight.
What is the typical cost of a French wedding?
According to survey data, LaTart says the typical cost of a French wedding is 12,000€. However, she notes that this is reflective of a Franco-French wedding. A destination wedding in France would be a different price range, as it would include travel and accommodation costs, as well as other expenses.
What are traditional French wedding gifts?
Gifting guests wedding favors is another common tradition. LaTart says favors are often something edible that guests can enjoy such as Jordan almonds, chocolates or macarons. Or, the favor may be something connected to the region in which the wedding reception is being held—think a lavender sachet or a local craft.
Not sure what to gift the happy couple? LaTart says in French weddings the couple usually makes it easy by creating a registry, but what's unique is that they the registry is often in the form of a "kitty" where guests can gift a certain amount of money and the couple can then choose to either put it towards a gift on their registry or take it as cash.
What should a guest wear to a French wedding?
To answer this question, LaTart says it depends on where the wedding takes place. If it's in the countryside, for instance, guests typically dress up but not in an extravagant or flashy way. If the couple comes from a more traditional family and they have a church ceremony, she says it's common for women to wear fascinators or hats. And if there is a break between the ceremony and the reception, it's also common for guests to change their outfits. As for men, LaTart says French wedding attire usually consists of a suit and tie if it's a formal event, or they may skip the tie if the setting is more casual.