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One of the most memorable moments of any wedding day is when the bride walks down the aisle. It’s the first time guests—and usually even the soon-to-be spouse—will see the wedding dress, and it marks the start of the marriage journey. Traditionally, fathers walks daughters down the aisle. Once the pair reach the altar, she's then presented to her partner to be wed.
Meet the Expert
Susan Waggoner is a wedding historian and author.
As you consider integrating the father-bride walk down the aisle into your wedding, questions will likely arise: Do I have to select my father to walk me down the aisle? Can I have both parents? What about a friend or a parent figure? Today, brides are observing this tradition in new and modernized ways, which we'll go into a bit later.
Until then, read on to learn more about this storied tradition. We talk to wedding historian Susan Waggoner and get answers to every walk-down-the-aisle question you can think of.
The History and Meaning of the Walk Down the Aisle
While today the wedding tradition of walking down the aisle with your dad can be a super-special moment, “this custom stems from the days of arranged marriages when a father’s looming presence was a good way to prevent the groom from backing out,” explains wedding historian Susan Waggoner. And why exactly might he back out? Well, in Waggoner’s words, a bride was a “financial liability” who was essentially transferred from the household of her father to that of the groom and, sometimes, that led to hesitation that got the best of grooms at the last minute.
Today, the act of the father walking their daughter down the aisle is seen as a way to show support for this next chapter in life. It's looked at as less of a "giving away" and more of a "letting go."
Walk Down the Aisle FAQs
What if my father is no longer in my life?
Then you can select someone else who you're close to. This could be a mother, another family member, or just someone who's been important to you.
Should I stand on the left side or the right side?
In a Christian or non-denominational wedding, the bride typically stands on the left side while in a Jewish wedding the bride typically stands on the right. You can choose depending on your religious affiliation or your personal preference.
What do I do when I get to the end of the aisle?
The father usually passes the bride off to the groom and both join together at the altar.
Does he have to "give me away"?
Of course not. If the history behind the tradition turns you off, you can have the officiant skip the part when he asks the question "who gives this woman to be married to this man" and, instead, have the groom simply thank your father when he reaches the altar.
Can I choose an untraditional song to walk down the aisle to?
Absolutely. The go-to song is typically the "here comes the bride" one (or more formally known as "Canon D" by Johann Pachelbel), but there are plenty of modern tracks to choose from.
While it's perfectly normal to choose to go the traditional route, there are plenty of other options if you'd like to switch things up. Some women are uncomfortable with the symbolism behind their dad walking them down the aisle, so they seek alternative ways to honor their relationships with their parents. In the Jewish tradition, both the bride and groom are accompanied down the aisle by both parents, a custom that many couples have adopted in the spirit of equality.
Other people in this situation have selected meaningful people in their lives to walk with them, like stepparents, college advisers, or even their ring bearers or children. Some have carried memorabilia that reminds them of their late parents. Some walk hand-in-hand with their partner down the aisle while others choose to walk solo. Some have dealt with this discomfort by eliminating the aisle altogether. This is a good option for folks with tense family situations or LGBTQ couples who feel put off by the heteronormativity of the processional.
So, this long walk down the aisle isn’t just another wedding tradition to be accepted or cast aside; it actually carries a lot of weight for the individuals involved. How someone chooses to approach it can symbolize her core values at that moment: independence, support, identity, equality—deeply personal feelings that are tied to this life change. If you are ever asked to accompany someone down the aisle, you should feel deeply honored and privileged to play that part.