Ways to Redefine Tradition to Fit Your Nuptials

How to throw a wedding your way.

Grooms together

Photo by Kate Headley

Brian Manning and Alex Binder didn't stick to tradition when it came to their nuptials. First, the couple proposed to each other. And, when they walked down the aisle towards their officiant on the big day, Brian and Alex walked side-by-side holding hands. “Since there are no rules for wedding proposals between two men, we did what felt right for us,” says Manning. After a few years of dating, they “said yes” to getting engaged and planned how they’d do it. The surprise element would be telling their families. 

“The weekend we chose for our proposal, we were staying at Alex's parents' house in Maine and my parents were visiting," shares Manning. "We got up and snuck out of the house before sunrise, drove down to our favorite trail along the ocean with our dog Roscoe and found a bench. As the sun was rising, Alex got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. And, then I did the same. We gave each other claddagh engagement rings, which we still wear on our right hands. Then we went back and surprised our parents with the good news and—most importantly—popped some bubbly."

Creating moments tailored to their specific life and love story is something that came pretty naturally to Manning and Binder as they planned their nuptials. “We made the decision early on that we each wanted to feel like we were on equal footing,” said Manning. “And, for any norms or expectations specifically for brides or for grooms, we mostly abandoned them. Neither of us wore white, for example. We wore gray and blue suits and matched our ties to each other's jackets.”

But, wedding planners share that couples today, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are kind of split between those who adhere strongly to “old school” wedding tradition and those who don’t. And, both ways are perfectly fine as long as it’s what you truly want. For Krystal Gardenia of Gardenia Weddings, questions she won’t answer from clients are, “Well what is usually done” and “What do most people do?” “It shouldn't matter,” she says. She avoids giving any idea of what “most people do” because she finds that if it’s different from what the clients had in mind, they might default to thinking their idea is “weird” and shy away from doing it. 

For example, traditionally, the groom stands on the right in the ceremony. But, she tells brides that if their hair is swooped to one side or they have one sleeve, to stand so that whatever they want to highlight is facing the guests and the photographer. And, if there are two grooms or no groom, that rule just goes right out the window. “Don’t worry about what usually happens. It should all speak to you,” she advises. 

But, this can be easier said than done, especially when family gets involved and chimes in with comments like, “What do you mean no wedding cake?” Darryl Moore of D’Concierge Weddings says this generation of couples has more freedom as more people pay for their own weddings, but they “still have mom and aunties giving them the pressure of, ‘This is what I did in my wedding.’ They’re still stuck in the 1980s of what tradition is supposed to be. Stand firm in your tradition. This is your party and your celebration.”  

He suggests family members can plan other aspects the way they want them like the rehearsal dinner or shower. Gardenia mitigates this by limiting the number of planning meetings family members are allowed to attend. 

What Does ‘Redefining’ Wedding Tradition Mean?

“If I could go back in time, I’d have a [chicken] wing bar,” says Moore about his own wedding to his husband. Even though he’s a huge proponent of not following traditions simply for the sake of it, he does acknowledge that there is a sort of normality that’s easy to fall into…and, chicken wings are not generally part of it.

There’s no roadmap for how to “redefine tradition,” and that’s because it would defeat the purpose if there was. The point is to make your wedding the way you want it. “It’s your love story—and your money!” says Moore. “I sit down with all my couples and they all get the same spiel: ‘This is your moment. You can do whatever you want to do and people will enjoy it if you're being your authentic self. There's a lot of guides out there to assist, but use those as a blueprint and then add your own style.’”

“We skipped anything that didn't feel ‘us,’” shares Manning, adding that they ditched the bouquet toss, the cake cutting, and the first look. Instead, they got ready together. “[We] have some great photos of us straightening each other's ties!”

They did keep some “traditional” elements, though like exchanging handwritten vows, the first kiss, the first dance, and a flower girl. “It would have been a disservice to all of our guests to deprive them of that cuteness,” says Binder. “As wedding guests, we enjoy the suspense and the drama that the big moments create. So, we did want to include those traditional moments in our own ceremony. Throughout the planning, we also learned and came to appreciate that a lot of traditional elements of a wedding create a recognizable structure and can help to ease the flow of the evening's events for the guests.” 

Queer Inclusion in the Wedding Industry 

“There was never a blueprint out there for us,” Moore says about being gay. “There have always been spaces to give inspiration to little girls and boys marrying the opposite sex. So, we followed the tradition that was already set.” But some elements just don’t fit, like the bouquet toss, and, sadly, sometimes a parent-child dance if families are still not accepting of their gay children. For Manning and Binder, this luckily wasn’t the case, and both sets of parents even gave speeches. Binder also says, “All of our vendors were so thoughtful and respectful in acknowledging and specifically addressing any of these heteronormative traditions, and asking how we'd like to address those elements.” 

But, both Moore and Gardenia say this isn’t always how it goes, and that the wedding industry has work to do. They both believe the verbiage on wedding guides and questionnaires is still very heteronormative as are visuals online and in print. But, Moore cites Zola as a registry site that he praises for having taken steps to be inclusive and cater not only to queer couples, but to couples of color as well. 

Gardenia echoes that the wedding industry still has some exclusive language and internalized heteronormative practices. For example, for lesbian weddings, she says she will still hear the question, “Who’s wearing the tux and who’s wearing the dress?” She also works with DJs to adjust their generic scripts that often include gendered language like “Mr. and Mrs.,” “father/daughter dance," and “single ladies” for the bouquet toss. For her clients, Gardenia says she makes sure to use gender-neutral language when asking them questions. “Do you want a family dance?” versus “Do you want a father/daughter dance?” is one example she gives. If the client has a bad relationship with a parent, the latter could open up an uncomfortable conversation for them, whereas “family dance” opens it up for them to say they will be dancing with their brother, sister, mother, or whoever it may be. 

Moore also talks about how the honeymoon industry may cater towards heterosexual couples, even if inadvertanly. For example, Jamaica and Maldives made Forbes’ 2021 list of the most dangerous countries for LGBTQ+ travelers, and Barbados and Saint Lucia were included on the 2019 list. Yet, these destinations are often touted as great for honeymooners. Honeymoon guides should “include places that cater to love,” he says.

For their wedding, Manning said it was “really important to us to acknowledge that when we were kids, we couldn't have dreamed of getting married, since it wasn't legal. It honestly feels a little mind-boggling now, and I think it can be easy to lose sight of that. So, when we grabbed the mic at our reception to thank all of our guests for coming, we also wanted to make sure to acknowledge and thank the queer couples who had fought for the freedom to marry and paved the way for us.” 

“Old School” Wedding Traditions That Are Being Ditched or Redefined

These days, certain traditional parts of weddings are being adapted more than ever. See a few of those old school traditions below and how to make them modern.

Bridal Parties

“The heteronormativity of the bridesmaids and groomsmen is a concept that feels most outdated and what we were most opposed to, particularly after having served as some hybrid version of a 'brides-man' in so many of my girlfriends’ weddings. [We had to deal] with all the awkward conversations about which side I should stand on, who I should spend the day with etc.,” shares Binder. “Instead, we ditched the wedding party altogether, and just had our three siblings serve as the best man, maid of honor, and officiant.”

This is something both Gardenia and Moore are seeing a lot. “After my wedding, I think I ‘divorced’ three of my friends,” says Moore about bridal party members who caused him stress. “If I could do it over, I would not have had a wedding party.” Manning and Binder took it a step further and also opted out of the traditional wedding party activities like bachelor parties, showers, rehearsal dinner, and post-wedding brunch. 

For those who do decide to have a wedding party, Gardenia says she’s seeing more mixed-gender parties, less matchy-matchy outfits, and sometimes suits for bridesmaids rather than dresses.

Name Changes

Gardenia is seeing more and more couples opting to each keep their own last name. Or, as she did, some even create a whole new last name. She and her husband had a conversation and realized neither one of them wanted to keep their given last names. “We don't have good relationships with our biological fathers…[the last name] doesn't have any meaning. So, we picked a new one.” She also knows a couple that is combining last names to create a hybrid (not just hyphenated).  

Structure of Receptions

“A lot of people are foregoing all the traditional things like the bouquet toss, garter toss, or cake cutting. If it doesn't sound fun to you, don't do it. It leaves more time to mingle and dance and have fun instead of going from one activity to another,” says Gardenia. Moore adds that he is not a fan of cocktail hour and that he prefers a welcome reception with champagne and light bites. Then, let guests go straight into the party after the ceremony. Plus, he says, weddings have become predictable in their scheduled parts. “Break up the stereotype of what weddings look like,” he says. “Change it up.”

Wedding Cake

Speaking of cake cutting, this is one both Moore and Gardenia agree is going by the wayside. In fact, Moore is actually seeing a move towards not having a cake at all, or having a “mock” cake for decoration and just serving a sheet cake from the back. “It’s more cost efficient, and at the end of the day, there’s such a waste of wedding cake. You spend thousands of dollars on cake and it goes in the trash because people don’t eat it.”

Bridal Salon Visits

Moore says he is seeing brides ditching the traditional bridal salon visit with friends and shop in alternative ways. Some go overseas to find something unique or have custom gowns made, while others are shopping vintage, second hand, or off-the-rack. 

Forced Guest Count

Moore encourages couples to not feel like they have to invite everyone they know. And, in fact, the pandemic has created a shifttowards more intimate weddings. “If you haven't talked to them in a year they should not be invited,” is Moore’s rule of thumb. He suggests investing in a good wedding videographer and photographer so you can share the day with those people virtually.  

"New School" Wedding Traditions Planners and Couples Love

Of course, there are plenty of new wedding traditions coming in and taking place to fit the modern day couple. We share a few ahead.

Couples Toast

Gardenia is a fan of couples taking the mic and giving a toast, as Manning and Binder did, to thank their guests for coming and saying a few words about their love story and their appreciation for friends and family. 

Anniversary Dances

Gardenia has seen a new dance floor trend. The DJ will call married couples out to the floor and begin eliminating them based on how long they have been married (5 years, 10 years, 20 years etc.). Eventually the couple who has been married the longest will remain and then gets on the mic and gives the new couple a piece of marriage advice. 

First Look

It used to be that couples saw each other for the first time on the aisle, but now, a first look has become increasingly popular as it frees couples up from taking photos during the cocktail hour. Moore is a big fan. “Intimate first looks when the couple sees each other for the first time all dolled up are so emotional. When I see the tears and the laughter—it's just so special and I pray that more and more people embrace the first look,” he says. 

Walking Down the Aisle Together

You no longer need a parent to walk you down the aisle and can take stride to your altar together. This is something Manning and Binder decided themselves to do, and it ended up being one of the most memorable moments of the whole day for them. Shares Manning, “As we walked down the path to the ceremony site where all of our friends and family were waiting, the sunlight was shining through the trees. It felt truly magical.”


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