Weddings Traditions Through the Ages

Ever wonder where some of these wedding traditions came from?
by Brooke Showell
  1. Ancient Times

    photo by Shutterstock / The Knot

    Three major wedding traditions can be traced back thousands of years, starting with that symbol of eternity and everlasting love: the wedding ring. In ancient Egypt, a band of hemp or rush (a leafless, grasslike plant) was worn on the third finger of the left hand, as it was believed that the vein in this finger led directly to the heart. And you can thank the Romans for both your bridal party and your veil. Bridesmaids and groomsmen originally served as protection against jealous demons that were out to get the to-be-weds, while it was thought that a veil protected the bride from evil spirits. (The tradition of the veil has other possible origins, but this is one of the earliest mentions of it.)

  2. The Middle Ages

    photo by Shutterstock / The Knot

    It was considered good luck for guests at medieval weddings to tear off and take a piece of the bride’s dress. To distract them from grabbing, brides began throwing their flowers, launching (literally!) the bouquet toss. The custom of wearing a boutonniere caught on around the same time, when a knight would proudly display his bride’s “colors” on his chest as a statement of his love.

  3. The Renaissance

    photo by The Knot

    The Renaissance ushered in diamond rings, which became synonymous with engagements when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave one to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Today’s traditional wedding vows were first widely used by the Anglican Church in the 16th century, and European nobility of the 17th century brought favors -- which originally were a box of sugared confections called bonbonnieres -- into fashion.

  4. Victorian Days

    photo by Shutterstock / The Knot

    Trendsetting Queen Victoria inspired several modern-day traditions, including the white wedding dress. After her nuptials to Prince Albert, wearing white became de rigueur (before that, donning color was the thing to do), and a million couture fantasies were born as fashion became accessible to the average gal. Queen Victoria also introduced the idea of carrying fresh flowers in the bouquet -- prior to that, brides followed the Greco-Roman tradition of holding herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits. The queen’s offspring had a great influence on society too. After daughter Princess Victoria played Richard Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” at her wedding to Friedrich III of Germany, the song became the go-to tune for walking down the aisle. And though a French chef in the 16th century is often credited for the towering tiers we now know as wedding cake, son Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, served the first entirely edible cake at his nuptials (before then, many layers were made of pure sugar).

  5. Art Deco Era

    photo by Getty Images / The Knot

    With new innovations in art and design, brides of the 1920s and 1930s were becoming more savvy. Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago originated the bridal registry to help stylish newlyweds select their chosen china, silver and crystal patterns, and alert their family and friends. A postwar wedding boom, along with the birth of more portable cameras, made professional photography (and, of course, albums) a key part of weddings.

  6. Postwar

    photo by Corbis Images / The Knot

    In the 1940s and 1950s, classic style took center stage. Actress Grace Kelly’s elaborate fairy-tale wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco launched a million princess-bride fantasies, and formal white weddings became the pinnacle of chic. Meanwhile, having taken control of most of the world’s diamond mines, De Beers used a postwar marketing campaign to turn a diamond solitaire into the quintessential symbol of love.

  7. The Disco-to-Decadence Decades

    photo by AP Images / The Knot

    As times and fashions rapidly changed, rebellious couples of the 1970s rejected the cookie-cutter weddings of the ’50s. Looking for alternative ways to exchange their vows, free-spirited brides and grooms headed off to far-flung locales (either alone or with just a small group of guests) and -- poof! -- the destination wedding was born. When the 1980s rolled around, the interest in all things foreign reached its peak as royal wedding fever swept the States. In the wee hours of the morning on July 29, 1981, all eyes turned to watch Princess Diana walk down the aisle toward Prince Charles. Taking a fashion cue from across the pond, designers quickly made puffy sleeves, big bows and other over-the-top dress details the height of bridal chic.

  8. The Digital Age

    photo by Shutterstock / The Knot

    In keeping with the ’90s technology boom, the dot-com bride was born. Wedding planning went online, The Knot was founded as a must-have resource for brides everywhere (yay!), and Target became one of the first retailers to introduce electronic self-service registries. On the fashion front, style chameleon Sarah Jessica Parker bucked tradition by marrying Matthew Broderick in a little black (wedding) dress, Carolyn Bessette ushered in a modern bridal look wearing a Narciso Rodriguez sheath and a simple chignon to wed John F. Kennedy Jr., and JLo made planners look glam in The Wedding Planner.

  9. The Regin of Reality

    photo by Erik Ekroth / The Knot

    With the dawn of the new millennium, weddings invaded pop culture, and the bridal-obsessed happily filled their TiVos. To start it off, The Bachelorette’s Trista and Ryan starred in a $4 million TV wedding, sparking the bridal reality show craze that made Randy Fenoli a household name. On the big screen, Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson went at it in Bride Wars, and Bridesmaids proved that grooms aren’t the only ones having fun! In April 2011, more than 2 billion people around the world flocked to TVs, laptops and iPhones to watch the world’s ultimate reality show -- the long-awaited royal wedding of Will and Kate. Lace sleeves immediately ruled the runways, not to mention slinky white bridesmaid gowns (thanks, Pippa!).

  10. photo by Jen Huang Photography / The Knot
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