First looks are becoming more popular. Whether it's because couples are bucking tradition or trying to streamline their photography timelines, the tradition of not seeing your partner before you walk down the aisle still holds strong. And as you consider integrating the tradition into your big day, some questions might come up, like, well, where does the tradition come from?
The tradition of not seeing your spouse before the wedding is exactly what it sounds like: avoiding your partner before the ceremony starts. This dates back to when marriages were arranged, and the bride and groom weren't allowed to see or meet each other until they were at the altar.
We talked to Devin Wilson and Skylar Stetten, the owners and wedding photographers behind Stetten Wilson photography, about the tradition of the couple not seeing each other before the wedding and got their answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions.
Meet the Expert
Devin Wilson and Skylar Stetten are wedding photographers and the founders of Stetten Wilson.
Read on to learn more about how the custom has evolved.
History and Meaning of the Tradition
Call it bad luck or superstition, but not seeing one another before the ceremony can make that first moment as you walk down the aisle even more special. But the tradition has less-than-romantic origins. Arranged marriages used to be the norm, serving more as a business deal between families than a love match. In fact, the couple didn't just spend the morning of the wedding apart: There was a time when it was totally normal (and even expected) for the couple to have never seen one another before the wedding at all.
The deal was usually made by the bride's father, who wanted his daughter to marry rich to help his own family. However, he might worry that if the groom saw the bride before the ceremony, he might not find her attractive and could call off the wedding—leading to serious shame for the bride and her family. So to avoid risking the family's reputation, the tradition that the couple didn't see each other until the ceremony was born.
The veil comes into play here, too. By having a veil over the bride's face, the groom wouldn't see her until the very last moment (at the end of the ceremony when they're meant to kiss) when it was too late to back out. The superstition about a bride and groom seeing one another before the ceremony has evolved into the (much more romantic) idea that the couple shouldn't see each other until they're at the altar or dressed in their ceremony attire. Today, it can symbolize the pair coming together to start their lives in front of the people who have supported and loved them along the way.
What happens if we do see each other?
Technically nothing. If you're superstitious, you might believe that seeing each other will bring bad luck to your marriage, but we're not sure we believe that. If anything, it will take away from the surprise.
How long are we meant to stay away from each other?
This depends. Some couples will spend the entire day apart (choosing to sleep separately the night before to make the first night they spend married a little more special) while others might wake up and have breakfast together and go their separate ways when it's time to get ready.
Do we have to observe the tradition?
Absolutely not. Traditions don't always age well, so incorporating them into your wedding is completely up to you.
Instead of waiting to see their spouse while walking down the aisle, a lot of contemporary couples have opted to incorporate a first look into their big day. As Wilson and Stetten explain, the first look is "the moment you first see each other on your wedding day. It is evolving into simply being a moment for the couple to appreciate each other." You still get the emotions that might come up during the ceremony (including the genuine surprise of how great the other person looks) but without an entire audience looking on. Usually, there's a photographer and/or videographer there to capture the moment. Afterward, the bridal party will gather for some pre-ceremony pictures.
Wilson and Stetten say they often receive questions from couples about whether or not they should do a first look. Their advice is this: "Some couples are concerned that a first look might spoil the feeling they’re anticipating of seeing each other walking down the aisle. To this, we always say, 'Your first look should not be defined by spending the previous night apart, walking down an aisle, or staging a big reveal, it should simply be the look you give each other knowing that this is the beginning of your life together.'"
If you still want to stick to the tradition of not seeing your soon-to-be spouse until the ceremony but like the idea of a first look, some brides opt to have a father-daughter first look moment instead. As you can see from the pictures, it can be just as (if not more) emotional.