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28 Wedding Traditions That Are Due for an Upgrade

The wedding traditions you know—remixed.
cheese wheel wedding cake
Jonny Valiant
The Knot
by The Knot
Updated Feb 01, 2019

Can we let you in on a secret? (Okay, it's not really a secret at all.) There's no right way to get married! To help you carve your own path to "I do" we've rounded up all the tried-and-true wedding traditions you're more than welcome to skip, replace or upgrade to a new, improved and personalized version. Here's a ton of inspiration to help you plan your wedding, your way.

Old-School Rule: Brides Must Wear a Long, White Wedding Dress

Colorful yellow wedding dress
Allison Kuhn Creative

Make It Yours

Wear whatever you want. Sure, many choose to wear a long white or ivory dress, but for your wedding day attire, anything goes—from a short retro frock to a slinky silver jumpsuit or navy pantsuit. We've seen tons of couples put their own twist on their day-of outfits (custom leather jackets anyone?). Make it colorful, make it casual—as long as you feel amazing in what you're wearing. 

Old-School Rule: Brides Have to Wear a Long, White Veil

Make It Yours

You don't have to wear a veil at all. Break away from the standard veil with a chic headband, flower crown, tiara or a few twinkling pins. Or skip a headpiece altogether and show off those luscious locks (you rebel, you!).

Old-School Rule: You Can Only Have Two Wedding Colors

Make It Yours 

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. But don't shy away from elements other than color, such as punchy patterns, varied textures or even a more overarching wedding theme or vibe.

Old-School Rule: Bridesmaids Are Female and Groomsmen Are Male

Groomswomen and bridesmen in wedding party

Make It Yours

Don't confine your list of VIPs to one sex, or even friends who are the same sex as you. If you're a groom who's close to your sister, make her a part of your crew. Coordinate their looks with the rest of the party with accessories.

Old-School Rule: Brides Should Wear "Something Blue" to Ward Off Bad Luck

something blue themed custom leather jacket for bride
Rebecca Carpenter Photography

Make It Yours

Maybe you credit luck with meeting your soon-to-be-spouse, or you might be doing everything you can to get it on your side ahead of your nuptuals. Whether you want to prevent a rainy ceremony, a hungover groomsman or legit marriage doom (come on, you know better than that!), the "something blue" superstition of centuries past has also turned into a way to have a bit more fun. Originally meant to deflect the Evil Eye and represent purity and fidelity, blue-hued tokens are now taking on many forms for modern couples, like a getaway car, painted leather jacket, frosty signature cocktail or even cool, blue hair.

Old-School Rule: You Should Process to Wagner's "Bridal Chorus"

Nontraditional wedding processional music
Katie Stoops Photography

Make It Yours 

Sure, it's a great standard, but this classical march isn't 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.)

Old-School Rule: Wedding Accessories Should Be Understated

Make It Yours

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

Old-School Rule: The Ceremony Program Should Be Plain and Formal

Make It Yours

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, something as functional as a fan, or even make fortune-tellers with fun facts about your childhood. Guests will love the idea, and they'll appreciate having something to do while they wait for the ceremony to start.

Old-School Rule: You Can't See Each Other Before the Ceremony

First look before wedding ceremony
Derek Chad Photography

Make It Yours

Whether out of superstition or religious reasons, many couples forgo seeing each other before hitting the aisle. And while it's totally a personal choice, it doesn't mean you can't score those cute "first look" photos you see all over Insta. If you don't want to have a face-to-face with your love before the ceremony, why not try a secluded hand-hold-meets-pep-talk where you touch—but not see—your partner? Or, get wow-worthy reactions from your crew by revealing your wedding day look to your parents, friends or siblings.

Old-School Rule: Cocktail Hour Falls Between the Ceremony and Reception

Make It Yours

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 to kick off the celebration early. Or we love the idea of cracking open a bottle of bubbly during the ceremony or right after for a recessional toast.

Old-School Rule: You Should Make Your Exit in a Shower of Rice

Make It Yours

There are so many more exciting options than rice, from guests throwing eco-friendly confetti or paper airplanes to waving ribbons wands, blowing bubbles 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.

Old-School Rule: Your Wedding Rings Have to Match

Make It Yours

You're both going to be wearing these wedding rings forever, so you should each choose one you can see yourself loving forever. However different your wedding rings look, a nice way to have them coordinate is to engrave them with your wedding date, initials or even a meaningful phrase or lyric.

Old-School Rule: There's Always a Bride's Side and a Groom's Side at the Ceremony

Make It Yours

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."

Old-School Rule: You Must Walk Down the Aisle

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

Make It Yours

You don't have to walk anywhere. Maybe you're a fan of flats 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. 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.

Old-School Rule: Guests Sit on Chairs or Pews

Outdoor ceremony with benches
Ready Luck

Make It Yours

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 an eclectic, 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.

Old-School Rule: Your Bridesmaids Should Wear Matching Dresses

colorful mismatched bridesmaid dresses
Hunter Ryan Photography

Make It Yours

A bit of real talk here: Historically, matching bridesmaid dresses stemmed less from wanting a color-coordinated squad and more from, you know, distracting vengeful attackers looking to kidnap a bride because of her dowery. Thankfully, we live in the 21st century, where you can marry who you want with whomever you want by your side. If you don't envision your crew rocking the same outfit, encourage them to choose unique looks that put personality front and center. Unifying the vibe through a palette or pattern helps it feel cool but cohesive.

Old-School Rule: You Only Need One Flower Girl and One Ring Bearer

White flower crowns on flower girls
Luminaire Foto

Make It Yours

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.

Old-School Rule: Your Ceremony Must Be Formal and Traditional

tree-cutting unity ceremony
Kristen Marie Parker

Make It Yours

At its core, marriage is two lives becoming one, so it's no surprise that customs meant to reinforce unity are at the center of many religious and spiritual ceremonies. Veteran acts like lighting a candle or tying your hands together (known as handfasting) are still wildly popular with modern couples, but more duos are choosing to cement their bond with a "unity" moment reflective of their love story. Was your first date at a Mexican taco joint? Down tequlia shots as your first act as a married pair (yes, seriously). Or get your blood pumping by tag-team sawing a log to display in your home. Whatever you come up with, give the act a shout-out in your ceremony program to let guests in on the unique meaning behind it (hey, you could even invite them to take those tequila shots with you).

Old-School Rule: Flower Girls and Ring Bearers Are Always Little Kids

flower grandmas at wedding ceremony

Make It Yours

There's no denying it—kids are cute. And if you have a few little ones you want to involve in your walk down the aisle, we say go for it. But just because you're sans a niece or nephew doesn't mean you have to go without that coveted "aw" moment at the ceremony. Couples are now having anyone and everyone precede them down the aisle, from a beloved dog ring bearer to flower grannies (so sweet!). Think of it as the perfect opportunity to incorporate friends or family that may not otherwise be included in your wedding party.

Old-School Rule: An Altar Is an Altar

Make It Yours

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? 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. But who says you even need a literal altar—why not let nature be your stage? Say "I do" in front of that beautiful old oak tree in your backyard, a forest of redwoods or by the coolest rock formation you've ever seen.

Old-School Rule: You Should Exchange Traditional Vows

Personalized wedding vows
The Nichols

Make It Yours

There's nothing wrong with sticking with the same vows many couples have said before you—a lot of couples love the "bigger-than-us" feeling of saying traditional vows. But adding your own language can make the ceremony that much more meaningful. 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.

Old-School Rule: Bridesmaids Should Carry Matching Bouquets

Mismatched bridesmaid bouquets

Make It Yours

Your wedding party doesn'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 everyone stand out.

Old-School Rules: Simple, Understated and Round Bouquets Are the Norm

unique bridal bouquet floral wreath with gold frame
Nicole Colwell Photography

Believe it or not, flowers at a wedding have less-than-romantic beginnings. (They were initially incorporated to ward off evil and mask odor. Yep, sorry.) Since then, however, pretty stems have become a main style point for many couples looking to decorate their day. For a fresh twist, take inspiration from Victorian-era couples and ask your florist to use buds with special meanings (like gardenias for joy or hydrangeas for gratitude) or focus on drama with oversize bouquets and hanging installations. Non-floral bouquet alternatives or additions are big now too, so feel free to trade petals for plants, greenery and even tropical leaves painted in pastels.

Old-School Rule: Wedding Ceremonies Can Only Take Place in Religious Institutions

modern neon-light filled wedding ceremony

Make It Yours

If you grew up attending worship services and have always dreamed of walking down that aisle—definitely do it. Otherwise, pick a ceremony venue that's meaningful to the both of you—wherever that may be. It can be anywhere—a rooftop, park, backyard, old theater or scenic cliffside—that speaks to you as a couple. Just check with your officiant ahead of time to make sure they're comfortable with marrying you outside of a religious space.

Old-School Rule: You Can Only Register for Home Goods Like China and Silverware

Wedding registry
Kang Kim Photography

Make It Yours

You can register for anything—yes, anything—from five-star honeymoon dinners to skiing equipment, and even cash. Lots of couples live together before they get married and may have all 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 so-called "nontraditional" registry. These are your wedding gifts and you should be happy with them.

Old-School Rule: Your Engagement Ring Should Be a Diamond

Blue engagement ring
Blenda Montoro Photography

Make It Yours

Diamond engagement rings aren't going anywhere anytime soon—but if a more classic ring, like a round solitaire or cushion-cut diamond, isn't your style, you're as free as a bird to branch out to other types of stones and settings. Antique jewelry is one way to go, and ask your jeweler about alternative stones, like citrines, sapphires, emeralds, rubies or morganite.

Old-School Rule: You Have to Do a Bouquet and Garter Toss

Bouquet toss tradition at wedding reception
Tifani Lyn Photography

Make It Yours

Not a fan of reception activities like the garter and bouquet toss? Skip them. Instead 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 band or 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.

Old-School Rule: You Must Cut Into a Classic Wedding Cake at the Reception

stacked wheels of cheese instead of wedding cake
Anne Marie Photography

Make It Yours

Tiered confections may have been a wedding mainstay since, oh, ancient Rome—but that doesn't mean one has to appear at your bash. If you're a pair that prefers savory to sweet or Swiss cheese to Swiss buttercream, then you do you. Cut into a stack of cheese wheels or feed each other from a tower of whipped-cream-covered waffles. As long as there are a few sweet moments to end the night (guests love a sugar rush) no one will miss the cake—promise.

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