Four Wedding Traditions, From the Garter Toss to the Color of Your Gown, Explained

Bridesmaids, Ceremony & Vows, Wedding Dresses
origin of white wedding dresses explained wedding traditions

Photo: Getty Images

From wearing a wedding veil and a white wedding gown, to asking your best friends to be your bridesmaids and tossing your garter, your wedding day is steeped in tradition. But sometimes the origins of those traditions are absolutely bananas (demons! witches! unruly wedding guests!). Check out a few of our favorites—and never look at a wedding ceremony the same way again!

Tradition: Wearing a White Wedding Dress

Modern brides might describe their wedding dress as "cream" or "ivory," but in most cases, it's some variation on white. While colorful wedding gowns—blush, pink, ombre and even black—have definitely been called out as en emerging trend, traditional brides have stayed true to the color white ever since Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in 1840. Before that, according to Hanne Blank, author of Virgin, the Untouched History, most brides wore whatever was nicest piece of clothing in their closet, while nobility wore luxurious gowns embroidered with metallic thread. Victoria ditched the nobility's traditional silver gown for a white satin one, and "unintentionally kick-started the tradition of the white wedding dress: how better to feel like a queen [...] on one's wedding day, than to dress like one?"

origin of bridal wedding traditions explained

Photo: Getty Images

Tradition: Having Bridesmaids

While they're invaluable for moral support, throwing awesome bachelorette parties, and helping you get in and out of your dress, bridesmaids used to have a far more serious role in the wedding: protecting the bride from evil spirits. Bridesmaids were originally directed to dress just like the bride, and this, says Blank, was "intended to confuse evil spirits or those who wished to harm the bride." (No matter how much you love them, or how many demons they saved you from, could you imagine taking your bridesmaids along on your very private, very intimate honeymoon? Nineteenth century couples did just that, according to historian Ginger Strand, taking along their whole wedding party on a "bridal tour"!)

Tradition: Donning a Wedding Veil

Similarly, wedding veils were supposed to help guard the bride against demons and witches—if they couldn't see her, they couldn't curse her.

Tradition: Tossing the Garter

If the idea of showing some leg in front of your extended family is embarrassing, think about how tough brides from from more conservative times had it. In Marriage Customs of the World, George Monger explains how "bridal garters were prized as love tokens with magical properties," and because of this, male wedding guests would try to pull them off and then pin to their hats for good luck. for good luck! In Wedding Customs Then and Now, published in 1919, Carl Holliday advises women to "fasten it loosely to the bottom of her dress [or] find her clothes in rags after the struggle." Somehow, having your husband take it off doesn't seem so bad anymore!

—Caitlin Van Horn

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