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Wedding Traditions: Then & Now

Posted August 07, 2018

 Wedding Then Now
Image by Kivalo Photography.


Wedding Traditions: Then & Now

What is a wedding besides a group of traditions and customs that are passed on from one generation to the next? Weddings used to be essentially cookie-cutter affairs. If you'd been to one wedding, you'd seen it all. But with new freedoms and the rise of social media, weddings are becoming much more customized and experiential. Wedding couples are going all out on details to plan a celebration that stands out. Ceremonies and receptions are tailored to express the personalities of the happy couple, and to create an unique and unforgettable event for guests. While the old traditions may never disappear, they are being tweaked and modernized for the Instagram era.

Read on to find out how 10 wedding traditions have changed. 

1) The Definition of Marriage

BS Two Brides crop
Wedding gowns from Blush Bridal & Formal. Image by Rachel Buckley Weddings


For a long time, only a man and a woman of the same race could legally marry each other in the U.S.  Interracial marriage became lawful throughout the U.S. in 1967. The next major expansion of the laws came nearly 50 years later in 2015, when same-sex marriage was legalized at the federal level.   


The freedom to marry is celebrated by happy couples around the country—and many wedding traditions are being reinvented to suit the needs of same-sex couples. Our favorite new tradition is any wedding with more than one wedding dress—whether because there are two brides wearing dresses or one with a "second look" at the reception

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2) Proposals


A marriage proposal used to be a simple thing: The man got down on one knee and presented the woman with an engagement ring. It was usually a private affair, followed by excited phone calls to tell family and friends. Along came social media...


Marriage proposals are elaborate, choreographed, and orchestrated to outdo every other proposal that came before. There are even proposal idea generators to help you craft the perfect scenario to pop the question!  

3) Wedding Dresses 



Wedding gown fashions have evolved over the ages, and have always been culturally-based. For example, Indian brides traditionally wear red, and colored dresses were common in Western societies until the wedding of Queen Victoria in 1840. After that, white dominated bridal fashion.


White is losing its hold on the bridal market. From subtle hues like blush and barely-there-blue to striking ombrés and florals, colored wedding dresses are back in a big way. Women want dresses that express who they are, and are finding new ways to incorporate personalized details into their wedding dresses.  

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Grooms Aisle sm

4)  Groom Attire



Men used to marry in tuxedos—with or without tails and a top hat. The color was usually black, although a powder-blue trend evolved in the 1950s, peaked in the 1970s, and then disappeared. But the colored-tux trend was replaced by cummerbunds and bowties to match the wedding colors. 


Black tie weddings are less common. Groom style has trended to the classic three-piece or casual suit. Depending on the season, you might see relaxed linens and light colors, with or without a tie, as well as blues, grays, and even green tones. Whether from a brick-and-mortar or online shop, grooms finally have as many options as brides. 

Grooms' suits by Brooks Brothers. Image by Amanda Noel Photography.


BS Bridesmaids sm5)  Bridesmaids' Dresses


Bridesmaids wore dresses of the same color and cut. Because of the uniform-like nature, bridesmaids' dresses had a reputation for being embarrassing and impractical—nothing you would ever wear again. 


Mix-and-match colors and cuts to flatter different body types are common. Floral patterns and sparkles are also en vogue. More brides and grooms are hoping their attendants feel comfortable and confident in their dresses. There's even a trend for bridesmaids to have a "second look" at the reception

Bridesmaids' dresses from Blush Bridal & FormalImage by Kivalo Photography.


6)  Food

BS Mobile Bar
Bar by The Roaming Speakeasy Co. Image by Rachel Buckley Weddings


Weddings used to feature sit-down dinners at assigned tables, with a formal seating hierarchy. Commonly, guests were asked to choose their meal (e.g., "chicken or beef") when they RSVP'd for the event—often a year in advance! 


Wedding couples want a customized experience for their guests, and they want fun, sociable receptions. From food trucks to food stations, such as taco bars, meat-carving stations, and dessert tables, there's more variety and spontaneity on the menu. 

7) Cake

BS Cake Kivalo Black Dinah
Cake by Black Dinah Chocolatiers. Image by Kivalo Photography.


You used to expect a large, formal, three-tiered wedding cake, with plastic columns, white frosting, colorful rosettes, and a cake topper that resembled the happy couple. 


Wedding cakes are crafted to match the theme of the wedding. At a wedding that uses crystals and minerals as decorative accent, you might see a cake that resembles a cracked geode. Many cakes feature local ingredients. Or there might not be a cake at all, but rather a cupcake tower or donut pyramid! 

8)  Officiants

sweet start
Maria from A Sweet Start - A Maine Wedding Officiant. Image by Emily Delameter Photography.


The majority of weddings were church weddings, presided over by the minister or priest of the church's congregation. Non-religious or more casual couples opted for the local justice of the peace. 


Couples shop for a wedding officiant who will help them express themselves and honor their vision for exchanging vows. Lots of couples even choose a friend or family member, who can be ordained online (though there are plenty of reasons to choose a professional, including legality). 

9) Seating

Props Fam Affair
Props and furniture from A Family Affair of Maine. Image by Amanda Noel Photography.



The primary option for seating used to be renting folding chairs from the venue or a party provider, and then maybe adding a seat cover to match the wedding colors. 


Specialty rental companies provide seating and other props to coordinate with your wedding theme. From shabby chic antiques to stark modern furnishings, wedding couples can customize everything from chairs to table settings. 


10) Photos

RMW Church Exit
2017 Real Maine Wedding of the Year winning couple. Image by Russell Caron.


Wedding photography used to be all film-based, leaving less room for spontaneity. Think stiff wedding portraits and set shots. 


Using digital photography, wedding photographers can snap thousands of images and don't need to worry about wasting film. As a result, wedding photography is more photojournalistic, casual, and styled to match the couple's preferences. Many couples also rely on crowdsourced images and create a hashtag to categorize pics on social media. 

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For more on wedding traditions then & now, we love this infographic:


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