Wedding Wednesday: Wedding Traditions to Keep or Toss

Today we’re going to be talking about Wedding Traditions: things we can keep, things we can adjust, and things that need to stay in the past where they belong. We’re going to chat a little about how some traditions relate to photography specifically and we’re definitely going to be focusing on how some of these traditions can feel awkward or out of date, especially for queer couples.

Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

This tradition is assumed to be one for brides, but the reality is that it’s a sweet custom that anyone can take part in. The idea behind it is to gather something old to represent continuity in leaving your old life behind, something new to signify optimism and fortune in your new married life, something borrowed from someone who is already married to give you good luck, and something blue to represent loyalty, love, and faithfulness. As you can see, all of those things can be done with no connection to gender or sexuality. A blue tie, an old handkerchief for the tears, a borrowed beer bong for continued prosperity; whatever strikes your fancy, you can tweak this tradition to hold meaning for you.

The Bride’s Family Pays

Traditionally, the bride’s family would pay for the wedding because women were chattel (a legal term for moveable property, like a chair or a cow) and a woman was given to her husband. A woman would have had to have a dowry before a man would have been tempted to marry her, and paying for the wedding was part of it because once married, the bride would be a burden on her husband and in-laws for the rest of her life. So…. I don’t think I need to explain how ridiculously out-of-date this tradition is, but it still begs the question: who pays for everything, especially when there’s no bride?

This really goes back to Wedding Wednesday 2 where I talked about setting a budget and figuring out where the money comes from. You need to ask your parents or relatives, assess your own finances, and go from there. No need to hand over the family donkey and a bag full of coins to secure a spot in your partner’s family.

A Registry

Traditionally a wedding signified the start of a couple’s life together. They most likely hadn’t lived together before, hadn’t even left their parents’ homes yet, so the registry was meant as a way to get all of the home essentials required to… you know… LIVE. Nowadays couples are, more often than not, already living together or, at the very least, living outside their parental homes. Sometimes couples are moving into a home together, but getting married and buying a house at the same time is a FUCKLOAD of money, especially in California, so most couples opt to do one first and then the other.

Now, if you’re a couple that’s been together for a while, you may have a list of wants that you just haven’t gotten around to purchasing for yourselves, so you can set up a traditional registry and have people buy them for you. But one of my favorite new traditions is registries like Honeyfund. A honeyfund registry allows you to create a dream honeymoon and then ask for specific dollar amounts to cover expenses for the trip! This could range from money for flights to a fancy dinner to adventures like snorkeling or bungee jumping. It’s really fun to then send thank you notes with photos of you guys enjoying the experiences that people gave you money for. It’s a great way to fund your perfect honeymoon experience and still give your family and friends a way to support you without simply cluttering up your space unnecessarily.

Invitation Suites

Speaking of clutter, there’s a lot of talk these days about Paper Invites, Wedding Programs, and Menus. A lot of people are looking for ways to be more eco-conscious when printing and sending their wedding stationery. Not to mention, the cost of invites, response cards, envelopes, and postage can run a wedding of 125 people for around $500 to get everything sent out. Most people would rather spend that money on incredible floral or epic accessories, so I’m seeing more and more people opt for digital invites and wedding websites. This is a great way to get all the info out to your guests and save a few trees in the process. Of course, I begrudge no one who wants to design and save a beautiful custom invitation suite, I’m just saying there are money-saving options that might work better for some people.

Wedding Party

You notice I don’t say “Bridal Party” because, again, what if there’s no bride? A wedding party consists of friends and family that you want standing by you on your big day to support your choice of partner and your relationship together. Traditionally wedding parties have run on a gender line, but if you know me, you know I say FUCK gender roles, your people are your people and you should never limit your wedding party to just one type of person. You should also try not to get too hooked on specific outfit norms and requirements. Mismatching dress patterns, lengths, and styles look really modern and can keep everyone comfy and happy throughout the day. Perhaps you want to forgo dresses altogether and throw your ladies in rompers of fitted suits. Maybe your entire bridal party is going to wear Hawaiian print and cargo shorts. Who knows! Options are limitless when it comes to your possey. Also, if you’re looking for gender-neutral terms for your wedding party, I very much prefer Brides-Theys and Grooms-Thems respectively. Calling them your wedding folks, wedding homies, or pack of salty sea dogs is also equally gender-neutral.

Flower Girls and Ring Bearers

A cute little kiddo in a nice outfit screaming as they’re shoved down the aisle by their embarrassed parent is sure to set the mood for a deeply romantic ceremony. When you have multiple kiddos, they can carry flowers, lanterns, rings, and signage just to add some cuteness factor to your processional. If you don’t have kids in your family, don’t feel like you have to forgo this tradition. I’ve seen grandmas play flower girls, friends blow bubbles or do ribbon dances, even some fur babies sprinting down the aisle to their parent. This one is totally up to your style and family makeup and anyone can choose to include them.

Inviting Children

There’s a LOT of controversy about inviting children your weddings. Some people are fine with it and some people would NEVER in a million years mention the word ‘kid’ at their wedding. And both of those things are fine! It goes back to my favorite phrase, YOU DO YOU. If you want to throw a full-on rager and don’t want you or your parent friends to worry about kids, be honest in your invite and try not to make exceptions. On the other hand, if you love kids, let everyone know they’re welcome! Maybe put together a little coloring book and crayon set where they’ll be sitting as an extra bonus. It’s fine, whichever way you choose, you just have to make a decision and be honest from the get-go. 

Seeing Your Partner for the First Time at the Altar

On your actual wedding day, there are plenty of traditions I’m sure you’re aware of. One of the big ones it not seeing each other before the wedding, but I call BS on this one, and here’s why; your wedding day is one of the biggest and best days of your life. It can also be one of the most stressful. Why would you purposefully remove the ONE person you want to share the rest of your life with from that equation? Now, I’m not saying you have to get ready together or there shouldn’t be any suspense or mystique, but don’t be afraid to throw this entire tradition in the bin and create your own version of a perfect day if that’s what suits you.


Next up is seating according to which side of the couple you know, this is obviously ridiculous, this is not a contest to see who invited more people, you’re getting married and you’re all BFF’s now, MOVING ON.

Walking Down the Aisle/Being Given Away

This is probably one of the most complex or mishmoshy traditions of the day. On one side, it symbolizes one family giving someone to another in a clear representation of union and agreed-upon love and trust. On the other hand, nobody can give me away besides myself and feminism dictates that I point out how old-school and dated the tradition actually is. But this is one of those things that can for sure be adjusted to fit your comfort level. You’ve got to get down the aisle somehow! Are you closer with your sibling or only have your mom to give you away? Have you maybe always loved the idea of your dad handing you off? Maybe you want to walk down as a couple or both come in from either side of the altar. Perhaps you can be flown in on a giant floating unicorn and drift weightlessly onto the path. There are a million different ways to make it to the head of the aisle and, as long as it holds meaning for you, you don’t have to adhere to any weird sexist ritual for the sake of “doing it right”. Again, you do you boo boo. 

Something I see tons of people do now is to have fun with the music they choose when walking down the aisle! Once the crew of the Office showed us how much fun it can be to dance your way into your wedding, things really started to open up. I’ve had couples walk to the Darth Vader theme, Jurassic Park, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Prince, and everything in between. No need to stick to the traditional wedding dirge, it’s your day so whatever floats your boat and brings you joy will do just fine.

Religious vs. Secular Ceremonies

In a lot of deeply religious church ceremonies, there’s very little room for improv from the couple and some of the required religious texts can be super triggering and harmful to both women and the LGBT community. But, as with everything else on this list, I think there are ways to still include religion alongside new-age practices in your ceremony and get exactly what you want if that’s your vibe! You can recite specific verses, maybe have traditional repeated vows, and pray together while still making it your own. Sand ceremonies, unity candles, handwritten declarations of love, poems, anything you feel reflects your union is perfectly acceptable when showing the strength of your relationship to your closest friends and family. Having a friend or two officiate, having live music, and reciting your own vows is a great way to bring your personality into the mix!

Reception Traditions

Toasts and Speeches

There are a good handful of traditions that happen even after the ceremony, one of which is all the toasts and speeches. I think the standard is a welcome speech made by the parents of the groom, a toast by the maid of honor, best man, and father of the bride but OBVIOUSLY, this will not work for everyone. I think the idea of having a welcome speech and toasts is fun, but tradition doesn’t have to dictate who gives them. You may be close to your siblings or grandparents, your wedding party might decide to do something altogether, or a friend who couldn’t make it might conference in to say some words. It’s also NOT required that you have ANYONE say something, so that’s also an option. The only person I would absolutely insist on giving a toast is you guys. Your guests are there for you and it’s only right to honor their attendance with a toast, a thank you, and an invitation to party all night long.

First Dance

First dances are another super sweet tradition that everyone loves to see. If your family is in attendance and is supportive of your union, you may want to dance with your parents, but you can also dance with grandparents, siblings, or just one another. You can also take part in culturally relevant dances like the money dance, the haka, or sangeet-style group dances. Anniversary dances are a great way to end the traditional dances and get everyone on the dance floor shaking their booty. You can follow it up with an absolute BANGER of a song to start the late-night party off right!

Cutting the Cake

As the night goes on you’re going to want to think about cutting a cake, but more often lately I’ve seen people forgot that tradition for a pie, dessert table, doughnut wall, flambe, or, in my case, an ice cream truck and a s’mores station. Cutting food in front of my friends wasn’t high on my list of priorities and wedding cakes can get expensive, but it’s definitely a tradition that a lot of guests seem to love so, perhaps consider cutting a doughnut or sharing bites of a churro so people can join in the fun.

Bouquet and Garter Toss

Alright gang, we’ve made it all the way to my least favorite wedding tradition, the Bouquet and the Garter Toss. Historically, the garter is meant to symbolize the bride’s virginity. No, I’m not kidding. The bouquet is meant to be good luck and replaces the need for guests to literally tear pieces of the bride’s dress or veil to take home as souvenirs. As you can see, these traditions are problematic at best. It also calls out all your friends and family who are single and somehow infers that they should all fight each other to get the honor of being the next to be married. It’s all just… a lot to deal with. I don’t think the concept of my virginity needs to be anywhere near my wedding or my family and there is generally more substance to all your guests than being single or being married, so no need to fight over a sweaty garter or a bunch of flowers. Of course, as always, you do you, but just know that these are two traditions I immediately write off.

Grand Exit

Some people want to go out in a blaze of glory and someone people are fine silently slipping away into the night, either is fine. Tradition dictates you go out to a car decorated in streamers and tin cans and drive off to your new home where your macho husband carries you across the threshold and into your marriage bed to consummate. You most likely should NOT be driving though. You may not be anywhere near your home and, full disclosure, you’ll most likely be too drunk or too tired (or both) for consummation upon arrival. If you’re neither of those things, then you’ll be the first. On the note of grand exits, sparklers are quite popular right now but I’ve got to say, they’re a whole other kind of dangerous at the end of the night. Tell me, why anyone would want to put literal FIRE in the hands of sweaty, drunk adults in the dark? Someone explain this to me PLEASE. If you’re set on having sparklers, try and do a sparkler entrance or maybe a glow stick exit earlier in the evening so you don’t accidentally get set alight. 

*WHEW!* I think I covered a bunch of wedding traditions, but if I missed something let me know in the comments! All in all, your day should reflect you and your partner’s love for one another. However, what that looks like for you is exactly the way it should be. 🙂

About Kate

Kate Cohen (she/her) is an International LGBTQIA+ wedding photographer based in Northern California who is focused on storytelling, candid captures, and iconic portraits of couples all over the globe.

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