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Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

Have you ever wondered what the meaning and the origin behind the famous bridal poem ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ was? Well as a wedding photographer, I too was intrigued, as I am with any aspect of the wedding tradition and I did a little research. It’s a poem that’s synonymous with modern weddings, it’s a tradition that is still fiercely followed to this day, despite it’s meaning mostly being lost upon many of the brides I’ve talked to about it. If I see a bride getting these items ready, I generally try to take a photo of the set before they are worn for posterity’s sake, so I figured it might be interesting to find out why the tradition exists in the first place.  Turns out the poem is actually simply a rhyming list of varying other traditions that were in place prior to the poem for various different ways to grant good luck to the bride and her marriage.

‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’

The poem dates back to Victorian times, and as I wrote earlier, links a number of older traditions that brides adhere to for good luck. All 4 traditions of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue are purely superstitious in nature with the minor exception that the ‘something blue’ part could relate to the religious colours of the Virgin Mary. However in Victorian times, brides would choose the colour blue to symbolise faithfulness and loyalty, and was actually the preferred colour of wedding dresses at the time, but that’s another story.

Something old

Incorporating something old into a bride’s attire was meant to symbolise her connection to her roots, her family and where she grew up. Carrying this with her into her future so that she may draw from her family’s strength in whatever the future has in store for her. Many brides choose to wear a piece of antique family jewelry or a piece of clothing handed down through the generations. In modern times this idea that the ‘something old’ has some connection to family is often forgotten in lieu of some old possession, often shoes or even underwear.

Something new

Just as the ‘something old’ was supposed to link her with her past, the ‘something new’ part of the poem was supposed to symbolise the new life she will have wedded to her new husband. One marketing technique bridal boutiques use when selling their customers wedding gowns is that the ‘something new’ should represent good fortune and success in the bride’s new life, and therefore should be the most expensive thing she’s wearing. Quite often though, aside from the wedding dress the ‘new’ item is the engagement ring, or her shoes.

Something borrowed

Getting ‘something borrowed’ in modern times is often misunderstood as simply ‘borrowing’ something from anyone, be it perfume or some earrings. Often brides accidentally get it right however by borrowing something from their mother or Matron of honour as traditionally the ‘borrowed’ item should be something borrowed from an already happily wedded wife so as to bring a little bit of the good luck she has had in her life into this new marriage. The borrowed item is also there to remind the bride that friends and family are there to support her.

Something blue

Having something blue in the Victorian era symbolised faithfulness, loyalty and purity. All the things the white wedding dress these days represents. The colour blue however relates to the colour of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Christian faith, thereby being the only tradition in the list directly related to organised religion, the rest being a secular tradition. That said however, the colour blue represents these things purely by the nature of its hue, just as red represents danger and gold, wealth.

And a silver sixpence in my shoe

An often forgotten part of the poem ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in my shoe’ is the last of the five traditions which was to place a silver sixpence in the bride’s shoe to ensure wealth in the future. Obviously we no longer use sixpences anywhere outside of the UK, and therefore have largely forgotten this part of the rhyme, but it was there and it may be something you brides out there might like to consider if you’re following the rhyme 🙂

In addition to the bride carrying Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a sixpence in her shoe; nestled all over her body would be bunches of herbs to ward off bad spirits. This tradition has been almost completely replaced by the carrying of a bridal bouquet, which has it’s own sets of traditions associated with it.

Why are wedding gowns white?

It is perhaps the most iconic scene from any wedding day, the white wedding gown adorning the beaming bride. But why are wedding gowns white? There is a huge number reasons, not in the least the fact that white is the brightest of colours, further enhancing the bride’s visibility on her big day, but it’s a tradition that has evolved over hundreds of years for a variety of reasons.

Why are wedding gowns white?

To be perfectly pedantic, the traditional colour of a modern wedding gown isn’t actually white, it’s more “Candlelight,” “Ivory,” “Ecru” or “Frost” when putting my graphic designer hat on.. But to the common layman, they all look pretty white, right? Anyway, the answer to the question of why are wedding gowns white all has to do with the popularity of some people who happened to wear white on their wedding day, and as a species who like to copy our idols, the fashion caught on and became tradition.

Queen Victoria of England who reigned from 1837-1901 was the first to make white wedding gowns fashionable by wearing a pale gown trimmed in orange blossoms for her 1840 wedding to her first cousin, Prince Albert. Naturally, because she was the queen and the center of all things high society at the time, whatever she wore, everyone tried to copy. Kind of like how it is now with everything Kate Middleton, or any red carpet celebrity wears being reported on. As a bit of a side note here, Anne of Brittany also made white wedding gowns popular all the way back in 1499, believing that white was a symbol of virginity – despite being married once before.

Before modern wedding gowns were made to be white by Queen Victoria, it was quite common for wedding gowns to be any colour. In biblical times, blue (not white) represented purity, and the bride and groom would wear a blue band around the bottom of their wedding attire, contributing to the poem of ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something BLUE’.

Generally though, before Queen Victoria made it a tradition to wear a white wedding gown as a bride, the most common item of clothing a bride would wear was simply what her favourite, or best garment she had available to her and could be any color, even black. To convince her groom that she came from a wealthy family, brides would also pile on layers of fur, silk and velvet. This was partly due to the fact that the more layers of clothing one wore meant the less body odor people were able to smell, being that bathing was not something people did often in those days.

Today though, the answer to the question of ‘why are wedding gowns white?’ seems to be primarily because in modern society the colour symbolises innocence, purity and certainly makes the bride stand out in a crowd, like the princess she’s made out to be on her wedding day. It may also be just ‘because’, as that’s what everyone else does right? It’s tradition! 🙂

‘Tying the Knot’ – History

‘Tying the Knot’ or to ‘tie the knot’ is a saying synonymous with getting married to day, but where does it come from? It’s funny thinking about these types of saying we use on a daily basis, not really knowing where they originate from, but gleefully use them without thinking about what they really mean. In the case of ‘Tying the Knot’ however it’s no where near as dark as the origin of the tradition of having a Best Man, it’s actually quite nice 🙂 I was thinking about the origin of the saying as I have just become engaged myself, and we announced it on Facebook using an image we produced together of a tied knot in between our hands.

Origin of the saying ‘Tying the knot’

In the US, the saying ‘let’s get hitched’ refers to the practice of ‘hitching’ up your horse as you go to town, or tying a knot in a rope to keep your horse from trotting away. In the same vein the idea was that ‘getting hitched’ was tying a knot between the two newly weds, or in some people’s minds, tying a lady down like a horse so she wouldn’t get away. Because of this, the saying ‘Tying the knot’ is commonly, incorrectly attributed to this practice.

The term ‘Tie the Knot’ came from an earlier time, during the Renaissance in a ceremony called “Handfasting”. ‘Handfast’ and its variations are defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “to make a contract (of marriage) between parties by joining of hands.” Kind of like a handshake. This could also be interpreted today as a proposal of marriage for a specific period of time, traditionally a year and a day. the notion of marriage by the way has not always been an eternal one, with marriages in the past being made for  “a year and a day,” “a lifetime”, “for all of eternity” or “for as long as love shall last” depending on your vows.

The old way in Great Britain for couples to pledge their betrothal was for them to join hands, his right to her right, his left to her left, so from above they looked like an infinity symbol. ‘Handfastings’, which is an ancient word for ‘wedding’ were traditional before weddings became a legal function of governments or formal religions in the early 1500’s. The very word ‘Handfasting’ derived its origin from the custom of tying the the bride and groom’s hands and wrists together. In this period of time, it’s actually quite interesting to note that during the traditional period of time for a wedding of ‘a year and a day’ or 13 moon cycles, the bride was referred to as a Virgin, or ‘a woman not owned by a man’. It was after this period of time that, if the marriage survived that long, longer vows could be taken.

So there you go! Another wedding history tidbit from my research of the history of the modern wedding!

History of the bridesmaid

Following along from my recent post pertaining to the Best Man origin story which outlined the historic significance of having a best man at your wedding, I thought I might do a bit of research behind the history of the bridesmaid, and what they used to do in a historic context. Everything that we do at a wedding has been handed down over many generations as traditional events that happen on a wedding day, and the bridal party is no exception. In modern weddings, much like the best man’s role in helping the groom arrive on time at a wedding, the bridal party is in attendance for the same reasons, to help the bride to be prepare for her wedding day. In modern society it’s most common for the bridal party to help out in wedding planning than that of the men, but that’s only because women typically know much much more in regards to what works at a wedding and what doesn’t. On the day itself, the bridesmaids are there to calm nerves, help the bride get dressed and have a ball all day.

History of the bridesmaid

Bridesmaids run right back to ancient Roman times when Roman law required 10 witnesses to be present at a wedding. These 10 witnesses were usually friends of the bride and groom and hence the ‘bridal party’ was born. Bridesmaids and grooms men had to dress just like the bride and groom to confuse vengeful spirits (or real-life jealous suitors) who might try to harm the couple. In fact, much of what the ancient Romans did are seen today as many of the marriage traditions we partake in today. Exchanging of rings, having a wedding party (reception) after, and a written contract sealed with a kiss are all customs we are used to seeing in modern weddings, but are all accredited to what the ancient Romans did also. The Roman matron of honour was supposed to be an upstanding role model for the new bride, they were supposed to be a moral role model, known for fidelity and obedience. (She had to have been married no more than once, and to have a living husband.)

Another origin story for the history of the bridesmaid is Biblical: When Jacob married Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29, each brought her own “maid”, but they were personal servants rather than your typical bouquet-holding bridesmaids. When considering times after the Romans, bridesmaids became less common due to the nature of society, including kidnapping of brides and overall sexist mentality not affording much freedom for the bride. However, bridesmaids and maids of honour became more common when weddings were planned. For several days before the marriage, a senior maid attended to the bride-to-be. This maid or matron of honour, as we know her today, ensured that the bridal wreath was made and helped the bride get dressed. All bridesmaids (which all had to be younger than the bride by the way) helped the bride decorate for the wedding feast. The matron of honour would also be in charge of the dow purse, holding the dowry to give to the groom in exchange for marrying her. In modern weddings this is demonstrated by holding the bridal bouquet during the wedding ceremony. Also a fun fact is that it was quite common for less well off families to hold a bit of a ‘hen’s night’ for the bridesmaids and well wishers in order to collect gifts given to the bride, which in turn would be given to the groom as a dowry.

There are a lot of superstitions regarding bridesmaids, for instance, if a bridesmaid stumbled on the way to the altar, the superstition was that she would never marry, which is kind of sad isn’t it? A more famous superstition is of course being the bridesmaid that catches a bouquet is the next to be married, however did you know that in the 16th century, if you had served as bridesmaid three times without getting married yourself, it was believed that evil spirits had cursed you. To break the curse, you’d have to be a bridesmaid four more times, for a total of seven rounds on the wedding circuit, hence the lucky number 7. History can be interesting can’t it?!

While the history of the bridesmaid doesn’t really resonate with the modern romantic vision of marriage, I thought this little research of mine has given you a little bit of insight into why and how we do these things at weddings. 🙂

Best Man origin story

As a wedding photographer, I have a bit of interest and knowledge of the historical traditions that come with he whole wedding scene the Best Man origin story is one of the least politically correct origin story of many of the different wedding traditions around, but this is the case with many things that have their roots many hundreds of years ago. In modern times, being asked to be the ‘Best Man’ at a wedding is seen as a great honour and a sign of friendship and trust between the groom and the Best Man. The Best Man is supposed to make sure the day runs smoothly by organising things like seating, helping the groom get over nerves and ensuring he doesn’t party too hard the night before. All this of course before delivering a comical speech designed to embarrass the groom in front of their wedding guests. The history of being the Best Man is actually quite different.

The Best Man origin story

Back in the 16th century Britain, the practice of abducting brides from neighbouring towns was quite commonplace. It was the role of the Best Man to join the groom  and his entourage in their quest to kidnap the Bride from the comfort of her own home. This was of course all before the women’s rights movement, so men who had decided upon a wife often had to forcefully take her with him (or kidnap her) if her family did not approve of their marriage. Our custom of the best man is a throwback to this kidnapping custom.

This however was not the historic Best Man origin story, as the practice of having to kidnap the bride goes way back to Gothic Germany (0-200AD) where it was customary for a man to marry a woman from within his own community. When women came into short supply “locally,” bachelors would have to seek out and capture a bride from a neighbouring community. This was of course not a one man job, so the ‘Best Man’ for the  job of helping the groom in this task was chosen to help. Unlike in Britain however, where this was a somewhat accepted practice, in Germany there was a real threat of the woman’s family taking up arms to retrieve her. As such it was then the Best Man’s duty to help fend off any attackers. The Best Man and his entourage were often heavily armed and stayed by the groom’s side throughout the marriage ceremony. This is why it’s tradition, especially in the UK to have swords being worn by the men involved at a wedding.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (August 24, 1572), depicted below, was a bloody day in the history of France. The murderous events following the marriage of the Catholic princess Marguerite (Margot) and the Protestant ruler Henry of Navarre. History states that the wedding was not one that princess Marguerite really wanted and when the priest asked the equivalent of ‘Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband’ she did not say ‘I do’, then all hell broke loose. This may have been an over dramatisation of actual events, embellished for later plays and books, but the massacre did actually happen.

Something that  is related to all this, but not really to the Best Man origin story is that traditionally the bride usually stands to the left of the groom. This is again due to the unfortunate truth that she may actually be there due to being kidnapped, so the groom needs to have his sword hand at the ready to defend against any family members disapproving of the marriage. Also originating from this practice, which literally swept a bride off her feet, sprang the later symbolic act of carrying the bride across the threshold of her new home. The honeymoon is also related to this event, as presumably the bride’s family would still be quite upset about all of this that the newly weds would have to ‘disappear’ for a time so that to give the bride’s family time to come to terms of what has happened.

Thankfully modern society has no need for sword wielding best men and entourage to protect a bride and groom from ill-wishing relatives! However, the role of the best man in a general sense really hasn’t changed all that much, they are still supposed to make sure the day runs smoothly, be it from rampaging in-laws to negotiating with the reception venue over the price of the drink package. The Best Man is still about mateship, only in the old days this often meant putting your life on the line for your mate, where as today its more about poking fun at each other in your speeches 🙂