11 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Marriage Ceremonies In America
I love a good wedding. I love watching people tear up at the ceremony, I love the (often goofy) toasts, and I love dancing like an idiot to cheesy music with all of the other guests. But I also know from having had one of my own that weddings are stressful, expensive, and, in many ways, really, really strange. Is there any other time in our lives when it’s considered totally normal to spend a stupid amount of money on a single party and invite everyone you know to attend it, so they can give speeches in your honor? (Actually, I’ve just realized that there is one other time, and that is a funeral. I’m not sure what that says about weddings). Only you can say whether a traditional wedding ceremony is right for you. I totally loved my wedding, white dress and all, but I completely sympathize with people whose idea of the perfect ceremony involves only a few witnesses, a courthouse, and a judge.
Weddings in the U.S. are as diverse as the U.S. population itself. Because the historical and cultural dynamics of the U.S., you’ll find weddings here that follow the traditions of cultures and religions from all over the world, so it’s hard to identify a single ideal of an “American wedding.” The usual stereotype of an American wedding involves a white dress, a church, a certain type of ceremony ("Dearly beloved..."), and a multi-tier cake, but of course lots of brides mix up this formula or reject it entirely. Keep reading for eleven facts you may not have known about tying the knot in the U.S.
1. You can thank Queen Victoria for the white dress.
White wedding gowns are a surprisingly recent tradition. Prior to the early Victorian era, it was not standard for women to wear white to their weddings. Most simply wore their very best dresses, regardless of color (In fact, red was quite popular). When the young Queen Victorian married Prince Albert in 1840, she surprised onlookers by wearing a white silk-satin gown. She set off a trend in Britain, and it was only in the years following that the white wedding dress came to be seen as a symbol of innocence. White is now traditional in the U.S., though plenty of brides are also choosing to rock colorful gowns.
2. U.S. weddings are … not cheap.
The average wedding in the U.S. costs $31,213.
3. Unsurprisingly, Manhattan is the most expensive place to get married in the country.
A 2014 survey by The Knot found that the average cost of a wedding in Manhattan is $76,328, almost two and a half times that of the average wedding. Which leads me to ask, how much did Carrie’s almost-wedding in Sex and the City cost? And who the hell paid for it?? I mean, she's a freelance writer, right? And Big's a... what? Do we even know?
4. On a budget? Head to Utah.
The least expensive place to get married in the U.S. is Utah, with the average wedding costing a relatively affordable (compared to Manhattan) $15,257.
5. Wedding bands use a hell of a lot of gold.
6. The demographics of people getting married are changing.
The number of people getting married in the U.S. has dropped — these days, only about half of Americans get married. BUT the people who do get married are significantly less likely to get divorced than in the past; in recent years, the divorce rate has actually been dropping, due in part, perhaps, to the fact that people are waiting until later in life to tie the knot. Interracial, intercultural, and same sex marriages are also on the rise.
7. Being a bridesmaid is CRAZY expensive.
A 2010 study found that the average cost of being a bridesmaid in the U.S. is $1695 (!!). That means that, if Katherine Heigl’s character in 27 Dresses paid the average amount for each wedding, then she spent $45,765 on other people’s weddings. I know that the movie was all about her being underappreciated and needing to stand up for herself and yadda yadda, but I would have liked the film to address where exactly she came up with a cool fifty grand of disposable income.
8. Old, new, borrowed, and blue.
The “wear something old, new, borrowed, and blue” tradition comes from an English saying that goes, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” According to Martha Stewart Weddings, the “something old” represents a bride’s connection to her ancestors and history. The “something new” is a symbol of hope for the future. The “something borrowed” is often lent by a family member or friend who is happily married, the idea being that the item will carry a bit of that person’s luck. Blue has been long associated with weddings. In fact, before Victoria ushered in popularity of the white dress, blue was often favored as a color for wedding dresses. In ancient Rome, blue was a symbol of “love, modesty, and fidelity,” while, in the Christian tradition, blue is associated with the Virgin Mary and purity. The “sixpence in her shoe” was supposed to promote good financial fortune, but the tradition of keeping a coin in a bride’s shoe doesn't seem to have taken as much hold in the U.S. as the other elements of the poem.
9. Jumping the broom.
There is some debate about where and how the tradition of “jumping the broom” originated, with some arguing that the tradition has its roots in African culture and others maintaining that it began in the U.K. and Europe. Either way, there is ample evidence to show that jumping the broom was a common marriage ritual among slaves in the pre-Civil War South. Today, jumping the broom feature in many African American wedding ceremonies, as a way of honoring the traditions of African American ancestors.
10. Third finger on the left.
In the U.S., the wedding ring is usually worn on the third finger of the left hand. There are a few possible reasons for this positioning: According to The Bride’s Book of Etiquette, some ancient people thought that there is a vein that runs directly between that finger and the heart. In a less romantic vein, a 1910 book called The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs, by T. Sharper Knowlson theorizes that the third finger on the left hand may be used because the left hand is simply used less than the right, and the third finger is used all that much in general; thus, putting the ring on that finger would help to keep it protected and out of the way. The Bride’s Book of Etiquette also suggests that in the medieval period, the ring finger was associated with the Holy Trinity; the groom would count the thumb (the Father), the index finger (the Son), and the middle finger (the Holy Ghost), and then put the ring on the next finger.
11. The white lace veil was first worn by George Washington’s step-daughter.
Veils have been part of marriage ceremonies in different cultures for centuries, often as symbols of virginity or as signs to ward off evil spirits. Brides in ancient Greece and Rome, for example, often wore yellow or red veils to repel demons. According to The Bride’s Book of Etiquette, the first American woman to wear a white veil at her wedding was Martha Washington’s daughter, Nellie Custis, who donned a white lace veil at her wedding in 1799, supposedly because her husband-to-be had once spied her through the lace curtains of a window. Prior to that, most brides in Pennsylvania at the time got married wearing black silk hoods, lined with white silk.