Choosing Wedding Colors As a Theme Dates Back to This Time Period

Think knights in shining armor!

Updated 12/21/17

Joel Eckman Maus

In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong’s weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.

There’s nothing that can throw your green heart chakra out of balance faster than receiving a two inch swatch of green fabric and being asked to find a bridesmaid dress in that exact shade. I’m personally trying to start a conspiracy theory that every bridesmaid dress company patents their own shade of never-before-seen green...Meanwhile your friend is like no, seriously, buy any dress at all, as long as it is in never-before-seen green; no exceptions.

I know the exact thought process because I was that open-minded bride. I generously instructed my friends to “buy any dress at all—doesn’t matter to me one bit—as long as it’s mustard yellow.” Mustard yellow had gone out of style two years prior; every dress I pinned was out of stock. My friends did their damnedest to keep my dreams alive by volunteering years off their own to find an above-the-knee, lacy, mustard yellow dress in the winter months leading up to my wedding. I owe them everything.

We also had a DIY wedding, so we made every craft ever known to mustard yellow. Our guests gifted us mustard blankets, teapots, and towels. Five years later, guess what color our living room is accented with? Our bedroom? Our kitchen? You guessed it: mustard yellow. Mustard inadvertently became our marital brand, along with our wedding hashtag of course. Good thing it’s a damn good color.

So I had a full-circle moment when I learned that personal branding is exactly where wedding colors are derived from! Wedding historian, Susan Waggoner, writes, “During the feudal era, it was common for wealthy families to commemorate their children’s nuptials with a special show of largesses—gifts to the church and the poor, favors to the wedding guests, and gifts and dispensations to the peasants who toiled on their land.” But, you guessed it: “The favors were decorated with the colors of both family’s liveries to ensure that even the illiterate knew their source. Some favors were marked with the bride’s family colors, and an equal number were decorated with the hues of the groom’s family.”

Wedding colors are all about branding! Thank god those Medieval lords and ladies didn’t have Instagram; can you even imagine the stylized lifestyle photos? They’d be advertising the best jewels and armor to us and “going live” all day long! When the middle class emerged, they didn’t have family colors, so they mimicked the noble families by choosing their own. Once the white wedding dress started dominating, colors became more for aesthetic purposes and are “used primarily to provide a pleasing counterpoint for the ethereal bride.”

And now wedding colors are basically, well, the most important part of a wedding. An unmarried friend of mine says, “Whenever someone I know is getting married, I’m like ‘what are your colors?’ It’s the only question I know to ask.” I inform her this question is now passé because our generation (supposedly) cares more about “just having everyone in one place” than finding a baker who can color match fondant to your invitation suite.

Erica, a wedding planner and designer in North Carolina, says, “I personally feel like wedding colors are the wrong way to approach a wedding design and theme. The idea that you should just pick a palette of two or three colors is so limiting.” Instead she suggests, “approaching wedding themes and design from a more conceptual place. Identify the vibe you want, the personality traits and interests you want to share through the event, and then see what color story develops!” Cindy, a planner in St. Louis, agrees. When she got married, she and her wife “decided early on that our colors were ‘colors are pretty’ and basically gave no further thought to it.” Their friends really did wear whatever they wanted, and they gave their florist freedom to choose whatever she wanted.

But not everyone thinks this way. Johannah from Ohio says, “I’m not a designer. So if I know I have to pick two colors and make all the decor decisions based on those, it’s a relief.” Lucy from Pennsylvania still reflects fondly on her color palette, which she picked with her friends in mind: “chocolate brown and champagne. I didn’t really care about anything besides making all of us look and feel great.” To which I responded: did you consider mustard yellow?

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