From engagement rings and white dresses to the old, new, borrowed and blue, learn how historical wedding traditions have made their way into modern wedding traditions.
While the history of the engagement ring ties back to pre-history days when cavemen would tie handmade grass rings around the finger of their betrothed in an effort to guide her spirits toward him, the first documented use of a diamond engagement ring was for the proposal of Archduke Maximilian of Austria’s to Mary of Burgundy. He had a diamond “M” ring made to present as an engagement gift. The full history of the engagement ring is highlighted in Reader’s Digest’s The History of Engagement Rings.
White Wedding Dresses
Interestingly, the history of a white wedding gown did not start until 1840 when Queen Victoria of England married Albert of Saxe-Coburg in a white wedding gown. Prior to that, many colors were used for wedding dresses including red, signifying fertility; blue, resenting purity and truth; and even black for widowed women. Since 1840, wedding dresses have evolved dramatically, but the traditional white dress, often rumored to only be worn by virgins on their wedding night and never to be worn again, remains a crucial part of American wedding culture today.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Most modern brides still carry on this historical tradition of showing up on their wedding day with something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. According to the popular wedding website, The Knot, the tradition stems from the Old English rhyme (“Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe”). The items represent continuity (old), optimism (new), happiness (borrowed) and purity and love (blue).
The Bridal Bouquet
There are a few different reports behind why brides carry bouquets. The first is to ward off evil spirits. Instead of carrying the pleasant aroma of lilies, roses or perhaps hydrangeas, brides would carry bouquets of garlic to ward off evil spirits. However, this led to a not so pleasantly smelling bride. Enter the second report. Brides, who often only showered a few times a month as did most people in the time, wanted a way to smell nice on their wedding day. They would carry bouquets of pleasantly smelling floral arrangements to help mask their odor.
The history of the garter has transformed significantly over the years. Originally, the garter was a sign that the couple had consummated the marriage, and family members and friends of the newly betrothed couple would enter their wedding night room for signs of the garter being removed. They would bring the garter back out of the room to prove consummation. The garter then was considered good luck for a future marriage for the individual who left the room with it. In an effort to bring some modesty to the wedding night, the tradition has transformed to a post-ceremony celebration item before the bride and groom leave for their honeymoon.