24 Traditions You Can Skip

Even if you consider yourself a traditional couple, we're betting there's at least one wedding ceremony upgrade you'd consider.
by Simone Hill
  1. Old-School Rule: Brides must wear a long, white gown.

    Colorful wedding dress
    photo by Q Weddings

    The New Twist: Wear whatever you want. Sure, most brides go the long white or ivory dress route, but for your wedding day attire, anything goes—from a retro short dress to a silver, slinky sheath or a black pantsuit. We’ve seen tons of couples put their own twist on their dresses and suits. Make it colorful, make it casual—as long as you feel fabulous in your outfit. 

  2. Old-School Rule: You have to wear a long white veil.

    Flower Crown
    photo by Jillian Mitchell Photography

    The New Twist: You don't have to wear a veil at all! Break away from the standard headpiece with a chic headband, flower crown or a few sparkly hair clips. Or you could just leave your hair down with nothing in it at all (you rebel, you!).

  3. Old-School Rule: You can only have two wedding colors.

    Colorful Table
    photo by Brandon Kidd Photography

    The New Twist: Your palette can have as many (or as few) colors as you want. The trick is to make sure they work together by using multiple neutrals or colors in the same family of shades (think: pink, orange and yellow, or a palette of white, cream and blush). Some of the prettiest palettes are monochromatic, whether it's a cool white, a deep green or a bold purple.

  4. Old-School Rule: Traditional ceremonies can't be personalized.

    Tying the knot ceremony tradition
    photo by Cly by Mathew

    The New Twist: These days, it's all about updating classic ceremony customs. For unity rituals, add a fresh spin by incorporating some new materials instead of the classic candle lighting. We know of two chefs who mixed together spices and another couple who combined their favorite cocktails at the altar. Or try a lesser-known tradition, like the wine box: Lock a bottle of wine and love letters in a box during the ceremony to be opened on a predetermined anniversary date.

  5. Old-School Rule: You should walk down the aisle to Wagner's "Bridal Chorus."

    Nontraditional wedding processional music
    photo by Katie Stoops Photography

    The New Twist: Sure, it's a great standard, but it's not the only option. Have a bluegrass band play an acoustic banjo version of your favorite pop song. You can also look to your cultural heritage to inspire your music: Caribbean steel drums, Scottish bagpipes or a Mexican mariachi band are all great ideas. They don't have to stick to playing the classics either—anything from The Beatles to Beyoncé will do. (Just make sure to run your music choice by your officiant or venue first—especially if you're saying "I do" in a house of worship.)

  6. Old-School Rule: The ceremony program has to be formal.

    Fan ceremony program
    photo by Michelle Edgemont

    The New Twist: Programs should include important info, like who's in the bridal party and the meaning behind your cultural traditions, but that doesn't mean you can't have a bit of fun with the design. Turn your programs into a playful Mad Lib, crossword puzzle with clues about your relationship or even make fortune-tellers with fun facts about your childhood or even something as functional as a fan. Guests will love the idea, and they'll appreciate having something to do while they wait for the ceremony to start.

  7. Old-School Rule: Bridesmaids are female and groomsmen are male.

    Groomswomen and bridesmen in wedding party
    photo by Heather Waraska

    The New Twist: Don't confine your list of VIPs to your female friends (and vice versa for grooms). If your best friend in the world happens to be a guy, make him your bridesman, or a groom can ask his good friend to be a groomswoman. Coordinate their looks with the rest of the party with accessories like a colorful bow tie or sash.

  8. Old-School Rule: You can't see each other before the ceremony.

    First look before wedding ceremony
    photo by Laura Ivanova Photography

    The New Twist: This superstition has long been proven false, so there's really nothing stopping you if you don't want to wait until your walk down the aisle to see one another. Schedule a first-look photo shoot (you and your fiancé meet with just the photographer before the ceremony). This frees up more time after the ceremony so you can actually enjoy your cocktail hour—and it can also help with prewedding jitters.

  9. Old-School Rule: Cocktail hour takes place after the ceremony and before the reception.

    Preceremony cocktail hour
    photo by Jen Lynne Photography

    The New Twist: Even the order of events doesn't have to be set in stone. You could get the party started early with preceremony refreshments (stick to snacks and lemonade, iced tea or fruit-infused water if you don't want guests hitting the hard stuff early). We've also heard of couples having the cocktail hour first and then doing the ceremony in the middle!

  10. Old-School Rule: You should make your exit in a shower of rice.

    Sparkler Exit exit
    photo by VALERIE DEMO PHOTOGRAPHY

    The New Twist: There are so many more exciting options than rice, from guests throwing eco-friendly confetti or paper airplanes to waving ribbons wands or ringing bells. You can even create a "toss bar." Set out bowls of confetti, glitter, popcorn (hold the butter) or herbs (like lavender) for guests to shower you with. Don't forget a few paper cones or bags for them to fill.

  11. Old-School Rule: You and your fiancé's wedding bands have to match.

    Mismatched wedding bands
    photo by Flora + Fauna

    The New Twist: You're both going to be wearing these rings forever, so you should each choose something you can see yourself sporting on any occasion—not just your wedding. If one of you prefers yellow gold while the other likes white gold, it's totally fine to have different metals. A nice way to have your wedding bands coordinate is to engrave them with your wedding date, initials or even a meaningful phrase or lyric.

  12. Old-School Rule: Your bridesmaids should wear matching dresses.

    Mismatched bridesmaid dresses
    photo by Erin L. Taylor Photography

    The New Twist: Let your girls' individual personalities shine by having each one pick a dress that suits her own taste and figure. The trick to pulling off the mismatched look is to have one cohesive element, like the same fabric, color or length. Or let them personalize their look with accessories, like funky jewelry, boleros or patterned tights.

  13. Old-School Rule: You must walk down the aisle.

    Mother and father walk bride down aisle for wedding processional
    photo by Be Light Photography

    The New Twist: You don’t have to walk anywhere. Perhaps you’re a flats-wearing gal and your trip down the aisle may turn into a real trip in your wedding heels. Or maybe you’d prefer to skip all the hoopla that’s associated with that long walk. Whatever your rationale, it’s your prerogative. Your partner is already going to be up at the altar, so why can’t you be too? Who says you have to have a processional at all? Yet, for Jewish weddings, it’s strongly suggested that brides (and grooms too) walk down the aisle. That’s because they each make their way to the chuppah with both of their parents. If you want to skip the walk, but still want to honor your mom and dad, present them with flowers during your ceremony. And if you’d rather just walk with your partner, that’s fine too. 

  14. Old-School Rule: Ceremony seating is based on a bride’s side and groom’s side.

    Spiral seating arrangement for wedding ceremony
    photo by Jen Lynne Photography

    The New Twist: It used to be that guests of the bride sat on the left and guests of the groom on the right. Even now, plenty of your guests will go by this guideline. But if your partner’s family is huge and yours is tiny, your ceremony will look a little weird if most people are seated on one side. And at Jewish weddings, the sides are flipped anyway. If you’re having ushers, ask them to direct your VIPs, grandparents, aunts, uncles and the like to prime seats toward the front of either side and instruct your other guests to sit in any open seat. No ushers? No problem. Place a sign in the area and have it read something like, "Choose a seat, not a side—we’re all family once the knot is tied."

  15. Old-School Rule: You need one flower girl and one ring bearer.

    White flower crowns on flower girls
    photo by Luminaire Foto

    The New Twist: While you don't actually need either one, you can have as many or as few child attendants as you'd like. You could try switching things up by having "flower boys" or a female ring bearer. If you have a group of kids to include, start your wedding with a parade of sorts, where all the kids wave ribbon banners. Even your beloved dog can play a starring role with the ring (or a fake one) tied around his collar.

  16. Old-School Rule: Guests sit on chairs or in pews.

    Outdoor ceremony with benches
    photo by Ready Luck

    The New Twist: Choose ceremony seating that reflects the style of your wedding. Hay bales covered in soft, colorful quilts suit a rustic affair, whereas a few chic couches will fit in perfectly at a formal wedding. If you're getting married in a place of worship and your guests will be sitting in pews, have a few pretty patterned cushions to add your own style.

  17. Old-School Rule: An altar is an altar.

    Backyard ceremony arch
    photo by Carolyn Scott Photography

    The New Twist: Your guests are going to be staring at it for the entire ceremony, so shouldn't you at least take the time to make it pretty? But jazzing up the altar space doesn't have to mean two tall floral arrangements. Think: banners, oversize paper flower garlands, tons of pillar candles or even a couple of upright surfboards to define the space.

  18. Old-School Rule: Your accessories should be understated.

    Bold bridal Necklace
    photo by Megan Noll Photography

    The New Twist: Go ahead and make your accessories stand out. Punch up your wedding ensemble with boldly colored shoes, a statement necklace or a cute bolero. Worried they'll distract from your gown? Keep your look simple for the ceremony and then add fun details for the reception.

  19. Old-School Rule: You should exchange traditional vows.

    Personalized wedding vows
    photo by The Nichols

    The New Twist: There's nothing wrong with sticking with the same vows many couples have said before you, and a lot of to-be-weds like the "bigger-than-us" feeling of saying traditional vows. But adding your own language can make the ceremony more meaningful to you. If you're nervous about writing your own vows from scratch, work with your officiant to come up with something custom or just add a few tweaks to the traditional wording.

  20. Old-School Rule: Bridesmaids should carry matching bouquets.

    Mismatched bridesmaid bouquets
    photo by ATHENA PELTON

    The New Twist: Your bridesmaids don't have to hold the same kind of flowers to look the part. Have each one carry a bouquet in a signature hue or let your florist create several monobotanic bouquets in the same shade. Or add fancy ribbon wrappings to help each girl stand out.

  21. Old-School Rule: Wedding ceremonies take place in religious institutions.

    Floral arch in loft
    photo by Amy Arrington Photography

    The New Twist: If you grew up attending worship services and have always dreamed of walking down that aisle, skip this and read on to the next tradition. Otherwise, pick a ceremony venue that's meaningful to the both of you. It can be anywhere: a park, backyard, an old theater or a hip city loft downtown. Just check with your officiant ahead of time to make sure they're comfortable with marrying you outside of a religious space.

  22. Old-School Rule: Your registry should consist entirely of housewares for your new home.

    Wedding registry
    photo by Kang Kim Photography

    The New Twist: You can register for anything, from honeymoon hotel accommodations to skiing equipment—and even cash. Lots of couples live together before they get married and may have all of the towels and cookware they’ll ever want. You can request upgraded versions of home items you already own, but nothing should stop you from creating a honeymoon or otherwise "nontraditional" registry. These are your gifts and you should be happy with them. To avoid unwanted presents, register at two to three places, including a national retailer with brick-and-mortar stores, plus an e-commerce site, at TheKnot.com/registry. And feel free to include a ping-pong table for your basement or a flat-screen television on your wish list if you don’t need (or want) yet another kitchen appliance or set of sheets.

  23. Old-School Rule: Your engagement ring should be a diamond.

    Blue engagement ring
    photo by Blenda Montoro Photography

    The New Twist: The diamond engagement ring isn't going anywhere anytime soon. That said, if a classic ring, like a round solitaire or cushion cut, isn't your style, then you should feel free to branch out to other types of stones and settings. Antique jewelry is one way to go, and ask your jeweler about alternative stones to diamonds, like sapphires, emeralds and morganite.

  24. Old-School Rule: You have to do a bouquet and garter toss.

    Bouquet toss tradition at wedding reception
    photo by Tifani Lyn Photography

    The New Twist: If you're not into the idea of singling out the singles, try one of these alternatives. Take your bouquet apart and present individual flowers to your friends and loved ones, or have a bouquet and boutonniere station where guests can make their own. Another alternative option is to have a special anniversary dance to celebrate all the married couples at your wedding. Here's how it's done: The DJ plays a song and eliminates each couple depending on the amount of time they've been married. The last couple remaining is presented with the bouquet as a gift.

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