The bizarre origins of Western wedding traditions

White gowns, flying bouquets and other customs decoded within

White gowns, flying bouquets and other customs decoded within

(Getty Images)

Ever wonder why brides throw their bouquets? Why wedding cakes are so tall? Why white is the dress colour of choice?

For many Western couples, their "white weddings" incorporate traditions followed by generations of brides and grooms before them. But as weddings become choose-your-own-adventure affairs, more about celebration, less about religious ceremony, does anyone even know why they're doing what they're doing?

"People know the traditions but they don't necessarily understand the meaning behind the tradition," said Crystal Adair-Benning, owner of Distinct Occasions wedding planning in Toronto. "They do the tradition because it's the expected thing. And especially, older generations are still expecting it. I think that's why a lot of it still exists."

To be fair, it's tricky to pinpoint where these traditions come from. Many have British, Greek and Roman origins and are a mash-up of Protestant, Catholic and pagan traditions. The meanings behind them have morphed over time too.

In an effort to get to the bottom of why Western weddings traditions exist, we enlist the help of wedding experts and consult the most reliable online resources.

Wedding Cake

The wedding cake has evolved dramatically since inception in medieval times in Britain, when it was thrown at the bride to encourage fertility, according to The Telegraph. Back then, there wasn't just one cake, there were other treats piled high, which the bride and groom were meant to kiss over. Eventually, that pile became the tiered cakes we're familiar with today. As for the cake's traditionally white colour, we can thank Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's 1840 nuptials and their 300-pound white cake for setting that trend.

White dress

Again, we can thank Queen Victoria for this one. Whereas English women used to wear wedding dresses of all different colours, Victoria set the standard for brides when she wed in a white gown in 1840.


Ring placement

Wedding rings are typically worn on the fourth finger on the left hand today because the Greeks and Romans believed this finger held a vein, called the Vena Amoris, or Vein of Love, that went straight to the heart, said Adair-Benning. Today, we know all veins are in some way connected to the heart. Sorry to burst that romantic bubble.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe

This saying comes from an English rhyme. Each part has a symbolic meaning, with the "old" representing a part of the bride's past, the "new" representing a fresh start for the life she's about to begin, the "borrowed" serving as a reminder that her friends and family will still be there for her, the "blue" representing purity and a "sixpence in your shoe" symbolizing future wealth, said Adair-Benning. However, other interpretations of this rhyme exist.

Bouquet toss

In England, it used to be considered good luck to tear off part of the bride's wedding dress or veil at the wedding, said Adair-Benning. In an effort to preserve her dress – and dignity – brides started throwing flowers instead, she said.

Floral bouquets

Today, bouquets are largely ornamental, though some brides choose flowers with symbolic meaning, said Alexandra McNamara, owner of Blush and Bowties wedding planning in Toronto. But a few hundred years back, the bouquets were made from garlic and other pungent herbs, meant to ward off evil spirits, she said. There are other theories for why bouquets exist, including that floral scents were meant to mask body odour. Heavenly!