Understand Wedding Customs Before You Spend Your Money On Them

The summer months represent the peak of wedding season in the United States.

Every year approximately 2 million Americans get married (CDC), and they spend an average of $27,800 on their wedding (The Knot).

While Americans routinely decide to create their own customs such as the recent craze of choreographing a dance for the wedding party at the reception, we also follow customs that have been handed down through generations.  However, a closer look at how these customs came to be may free you to not follow tradition and save yourself some money.

Many of today’s wedding customs are rooted in the fact that weddings used to be less about love and more about business.  Simply put, weddings were a business arrangement, and this can be seen through a variety of customs we still embrace.

Consider the following wedding customs:

The groom did not see the bride before she walked down the aisle…

…because the families feared he may not want to go through with the arrangement once he saw her.  Weddings were often simply for an agreeable transfer of land, and the groom likely never met the bride until the wedding day.

Likewise, the bride wears a veil…

…to further mask her appearance from the groom she has never met.  He would only be able to lift her veil and see her face after the marriage was official.

The father walks his daughter down the aisle…

…in reference to the custom hundreds of years ago of the groom paying to transfer the bride to his possession.

The role of the best man…

…was to assist the groom should someone try to steal the bride before the marriage was official.  The best man had to be ready to keep the bride from others who may steal her from the groom with his life.

The wedding cake was often not eaten by the bride and groom…

…but thrown at the bride as a symbol of fertility.

Likewise, the tradition of brides carrying flowers down the aisle…

…is another symbol of fertility.

Perhaps one of the most interesting (and expensive) customs revolves around the engagement ring.

engagement ring

Did you know the history of the engagement ring?

When women were considered property to be transferred, the groom paid to “own” her.  Part of his payment was often in precious stones, which eventually came to be the engagement ring.

Up until the early 1900s, a woman was expected to be a virgin when she became engaged, though she often lost her virginity before the wedding.  If the groom broke off the engagement before the wedding but had taken the woman’s virginity, she could sue and get some money from him.

As this custom faded, the tradition of the engagement ring took its place.

Again, if the man broke off the engagement, the woman would have some financial security in the form of the engagement ring because she would be less marriage worthy without her virginity intact.

In the 1930s, the DeBeers diamond company fought back against a two decade long slump in the diamond jewelry industry with a campaign to convince Americans of a “new trend” of wearing diamond rings.   They enlisted Hollywood actresses, and by 1945, many American women looked forward to a diamond engagement ring.

DeBeers is also responsible for the notion that men should spend a portion of their salary on the diamond ring.  (They initially said one month’s salary, but now popular wisdom is two to three month’s salary.)


As a former English teacher, one of my favorite short stories is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” which is about a small village that maintains an annual sacrificial stoning of one of their residents without really knowing why they do it except that it is tradition.  (The tradition is rooted in ancient times when a sacrifice was made to ensure the success of the year’s crops, and it is clearly not needed in the modern time in which “The Lottery” is set.)

Young girls dream of their weddings—the gorgeous white wedding dress, the engagement ring, the flowers, the reception—for most of their lives until their weddings actually happen.  As marketers have become more savvy and people’s expectations rise, our weddings have become more and more expensive.

If you want an expensive wedding, that is your prerogative, but don’t be like the villagers in Shirley Jackson’s story, blindly (expensively) following tradition without knowing exactly why you are doing it.

Once you know the history behind our most prevalent wedding traditions, a carefree wedding on the beach doesn’t sound so bad.

Catholic Bride
Bride and Groom

Free Newsletter to Keep you Free From Broke!Name: Email: We respect your email privacyPowered by AWeber email marketing
Published or updated July 26, 2014.


  1. Along these lines: One of the best scrapbook projects I’ve ever worked on was a family heritage wedding album. In this book, I documented every family wedding from myself and my siblings back to great-grandparents, and a couple of generations back for couples where the family historians had been able to pin down some details.

    The pages feature photos from the wedding or of the couple in later years, newspaper announcements, wedding invitations, cake designs, dinner menus, Scripture readings, and stories that were handed down as to why certain things were done the way they were. In regards to two couples from the older generations, I was able to find a description of a typical wedding of that time and place, even though I did not have specifics for that wedding.

    If you are at all into genealogy and family history, or would like family history and cultural inspiration for an upcoming wedding, I highly recommend working on such a project. As you talk to the elders, you will learn where some of the celebrations commonly seen in your family came from instead of “Um, it’s tradition?” You’ll also pick up on details rarely seen today such as a photo of a couple opening their gifts while still dressed in wedding attire or why someone’s ceremony may have been recorded as “married in the rectory.”

    The frugal spin, by the way, is that you’ll learn how couples created a nice wedding for their day on a budget. Only a couple of the weddings recorded in my book met the definition of “society” or “high style” weddings of their day. I also detailed church weddings where the couple wore “Sunday best,” a garden wedding, and one courthouse wedding.

  2. Although we had an outdoor wedding many years ago, it was hardly simple. A beach wedding would be very desirable and I love the casualness.

  3. Ooo! Can I add one? Queen Victoria brought white wedding dresses into fashion, this time around.

  4. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I liked this one from TheKnot.com: If you want to follow a seriously old-school tradition, breathe as little as possible, since brides and bridesmaids carry bouquets of weeds that stink to high heaven in order to ward off trolls (don’t knock it — trolls haven’t crashed anyone’s wedding so far).

    Read more: Wedding Customs: Wedding Traditions From Around the Globe – Wedding Planning – Wedding Customs http://wedding.theknot.com/wedding-planning/wedding-customs/articles/wedding-customs-and-traditions-from-around-the-globe.aspx#ixzz1wratrJ00

  5. The traditions that you featured are very exciting to read. I love the part about the history of engagement ring. Nowadays, you can only sue for damages when one of the marrying partners do not push through with a fully planned marriage.

  6. I think the ring is one tradition that is her to stay. The power of DeBeers marketing. Although, I’d love to see someone explain the ring in the middle of a proposal.

    “This ring is to cover your income for three months should you lose your virginity and I run for the hills.”

  7. Well Heeled Blog says:

    To be fair, the whole concept of marriage itself is based on a tradition (economic partnership for lower classes and money + familial consolidation of power for upper classes) that for most people have evolved into an arrangement of more equity and love. It’s OK to not have every action make a statement. Sometimes you just want things to look nice or wear something that sparkles.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Our $4k budget wedding made us realize what was truly important…and most stuff in weddings now a days didn’t apply to us. We weren’t gung ho about a parent to child dance because well, our respective parents have passed on, so we weren’t adamant about forcing the son-in-law and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and father-in-law combos. What happened happened and what didn’t, didn’t, and we didn’t lose any sleep about it 🙂

    We even spent the night together before the wedding and saw each other AGAIN getting ready…then the formal “first look”. Sometimes, these traditions just adds more unnecessary cost, like the cost of 2 hotel suites the night before. In the end, it really adds up. I would say things like a limo seem to be “tradition” now, but they aren’t necessary. Our cars worked just fine even with my poofy dress 🙂

What Do You Think?