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.
Today, we treat weddings like a science. The second that sparkly diamond comes in for a landing on the ring finger, we pull the wedding guides off the shelf, dust off our Pinterest inspiration-boards-in-waiting, and create a series of Russian nesting doll-esque Excel spreadsheets and to-do lists. And while some of those checklist items are practical and necessary (like answering the question: "Will there be food, and if so, what?"), other elements of wedding planning are not based on the scientific method, but are rather deeply rooted in superstitious, mythical, and sometimes offensive historical customs.
One such tradition that we take for granted today is the superstition that it is bad luck to see the bride on the wedding day. Now, we must ask ourselves: but why would it be bad luck to see the bride? Picture this: You're an Elizabethan-era father who scraped together enough goats and cows to make a compelling dowry for your teenage daughter, and you're this close to getting her married to the fella down the street. You've been negotiating with his family for months, and you've nearly got it in the bag. The last thing you would want is for the groom-to-be to catch a glimpse of your daughter the morning of the wedding and realize that—bless her heart—she's a homely thing. Why, if he saw her before the very second she arrived at the altar, he might run, and now wouldn't that be bad luck? Better to be safe than sorry—you have your daughter don a veil, too. Now there's no way he can make a quick getaway as she treks down the aisle. Phew!
Western weddings used to be business transactions between two families; now, most of us would be hard-pressed not to marry for that one, most sacred, enigmatic, inexplicable reason: love. We trust that our beloved won't balk on the wedding day, so deciding whether or not to see each other before the wedding is truly a matter of personal choice based on the mood-scape you hope to orchestrate.
For many modern couples who perhaps already live together and argue on the reg about picking up dirty socks off the bedroom floor, choosing not to see each other before the wedding can make the day feel more special. Mandy of Florida agrees: "My husband and I did not see each other until the ceremony," she says. "It was probably the most (maybe the only) 'traditional' aspect of our wedding. We already lived together, so we spent our last unmarried night away from each other to make our first married night together a little more special. We got ready in two different areas, and he didn't even know what my dress looked like, so that was still a surprise."
Ashley of Ohio finds a deeper symbolism in waiting to see each other until that moment when she walks down the aisle: "Since our first four years of dating were long distance, the whole walking to meet him during the ceremony is a symbolic coming together in front of all our loved ones who always supported our relationship (and often helped make the visits to one another possible)."
Jessica of Texas found the silliness of dodging each other in the church that morning to be playful and fun: "We had both been at the church for an hour or so before the wedding, and I have to say that it was super fun to make sure we didn't see each other," she muses. "We wouldn't have been disappointed or felt like anything was ruined if we did, but it was like a game. And it was an awesome moment, seeing him for the first time down the aisle. I honestly just didn't even look at anyone else."
Other couples take the exact opposite approach, soaking up the morning together. Jess of Ireland says, "There is almost a ritual to the bathing, preening, and primping, and then dressing to eventually make a promise that will last a lifetime. It made sense for Karolyn and I to spend the morning getting ready together because we are a calming influence for each other." Kinzie of Missouri agrees: "Donnie is my best person! With the nerves and hugeness of a wedding day, there's no one else I'd want to spend that morning with."
In fact, spending the morning preparing together can be just as, if not more, romantic than meeting one another at the altar. Vanessa of California says, "I'm a total romantic and love the idea of the first look for other people, but it just didn't fit with how we envisioned our day. I thought, 'How romantic would it be to get ready together? To wake up together, to have breakfast together, and to walk into city hall together?' We wanted the day to be about us—the full day."
But not everyone is invested in setting a calming, or even romantic, tone for the morning. Some of us are party people. The math works out such that more hours together in the morning means more time for fun.
Jillian of Minnesota says, "My wife and I chose to get ready together primarily because many of our bridal party members are close mutual friends, and because they live out of town we rarely get to see them in person, much less all together. We turned the first part of the day into more of an intimate hang-out session than anything else. After a group run and obstacle course at a local park, we had both bridal parties (including the male members) come together in our hotel suite for hair, makeup, adult coloring books, and mimosas. We had SO much fun—I kept forgetting that there was more to the day than just that!"
Some folks just aren't interested in all the wedding hullabaloo, so keeping things low-key means low-stress. Jeni of Connecticut says, "We got married on the beach with just our families, so we spent the day together with family just doing normal vacation stuff and running last-minute errands. We were in the pool together about an hour beforehand and said 'I guess we should start getting ready now?' and then split up to get dressed and saw each other again on the beach. The meaningful part of the day was the actual ceremony. We know what we look like, so that wasn't really a big deal for us."
Other couples choose to have breakfast together in the morning before going their separate ways to get ready for the wedding, and some coordinate a "first look," or a private moment briefly before the ceremony when a couple can have the surprise of seeing each other all dolled up without the pressure of an audience. Dawn Mauberret, a New York wedding planner, says, "I'm a huge supporter of first looks before the ceremony. It's a bit more personal, and you don't have 100+ sets of eyes staring you down during what can be a really emotional moment. I find that the reactions are much more sincere and tender when done in private beforehand. Plus, it helps get all the nerves out of the way and gives the couple a bit of alone time before being mobbed the rest of the night."
Whatever you choose, you can't go wrong. Because when your partner sees you on your wedding day, the only direction they'll be running is to the altar, baby.