The Bride Wore Black – Breaking with Tradition

I write often about reimagining traditions, and switching things up. There are almost no rules regarding weddings. What few rules there are, I’ll explain in a minute. But as to breaking the rules – here’s a great example: brides – you do know you don’t have to wear white, right?

So many of our wedding traditions seem etched in stone, but are really nothing more than customs, habits, conventions and even folklore. Sometimes it’s fun to break the rules, but which ones?

I would not encourage anyone to break with the tradition of saying their vows or exchanging rings, although, technically speaking, this is not required, at least under Pennsylvania law. Remember, marriage is controlled by the states, and each state does it a little differently.  It is, however, ‘generally accepted wisdom’ that the couple should agree (the “I do” part) and exchange words of promise to finalize the marriage. The other element, again, not required in PA, but feels essential, is the pronouncement. I feel pretty strongly everyone should include vows and that I pronounce the couple as married.

When you say yes, and put it in words, you put out into the universe, and this is powerful. Saying something out loud, rather than just thinking it, truly is different for most everything. You may think something nasty about someone you dislike, but saying it – that’s a whole different story. With vows, it helps create change inside you, and that is exactly what a ceremony is meant to do. If a couple has some kind of problem with this, I’ll explore it with them and see what we can come up with, while still having them publically acknowledge their intent. One groom I worked with stuttered and was nervous about speaking his part out loud, so they decided to speak the vows together, in unison. That worked beautifully. I loved it and more importantly, so did they.

Think about this: vows often say something like ‘for as long as we both shall live,’ yet the legal system does not forbid you from divorcing just because you said that. In the same way, in civil marriage, meaning under the law (not in a religious sense) you are not required to make that promise. You sign papers; it is a legal agreement, and it can be legally un-done. But since almost all couples marry because they are in love, they really do want to make that promise to each other, and that is a beautiful, wonderful, joyous and amazing thing. Love is the best!

The law simple defines who is legal in each state to officiate, and that the legal person be present to witness the couple declare their intent, and then sign and return the marriage license. In Pennsylvania, there are no other witnesses required. People are very surprised by this, but it’s true. This makes PA a great place to elope!

Another tradition for vows, is that the groom goes first; but why? I’m guessing there is no reason other than men being given preference. There really is no compelling reason what-so-ever, and as I’ve often noted, same-sex marriages are teaching us a lot of about our gender assumptions.

Speaking of gender roles, the bridesmaids/groomsmen thing is getting an overhaul as well, with many couples having both men and women stand by them. Choosing your attendants (as I prefer to call them) based on your relationship with them, not their gender, is great! Many a bride wants her brother or other man to stand by her, and conversely, the same is true for a groom.

Back to that white dress…. Most women do want one, but those I’ve seen who broke with that tradition were beautiful brides, too, and still, in the end, they were married!



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