Wedding Traditions

WHEN OUR TRAIL End brides married, each no doubt pictured herself as the epitome of the modern young bride, with no idea that most of what she wore, carried, said and did was part of an ancient ritual handed down through time. From veils and flowers to bridesmaids and best men, everything related to marriage once had specific and significant meaning.


Giving Away The Bride  In olden times, when a woman had few personal rights, she was considered the property of her father. When the father of the bride gave his daughter’s hand in marriage, he was literally transferring ownership of the woman from himself to the bridegroom.

Bridesmaids  In the days of feudal warfare and “captured” brides, female friends wore dresses similar to the bride’s so that they would all look alike. This was to confuse people who might try to curse or even steal the bride; anyone wishing bad luck to the couple would hopefully curse the bridesmaid instead.

The Best Man  Another holdover from feudal days, the best man’s job was to protect the groom-to-be as he went to a neighboring village to capture his bride. Of course, the groom would choose the strongest or “best” man he knew for such a task. After the marriage, the best man would also serve as a sentry outside the newlyweds’ home.

Veils  Ancient Greeks and Romans thought a veil protected the bride from evil spirits. In the days of arranged marriages, it hid the face of the bride until after the marriage ceremony. Later, the veil was seen as a symbol of the bride’s purity.

Bouquets  The bride's bouquet was originally made of strong herbs (thyme and garlic) rather than flowers in order to, once again, ward off those pesky evil spirits. 

Boutonniere  The groom’s lapel flower was another nod to medieval times when a knight proudly wore his lady's “colors” for all to see. 


Once flowers replaced herbs in the bridal bouquet, flower lore began to assert itself. Each flower had a symbolic meaning, and bouquets were often constructed based on those meanings. Some popular wedding flowers include:

  • Rose representing love
  • Lily-of-the-valley for happiness
  • Carnation representing devotion
  • Calla lily for beauty 
  • Tulip representing passion
  • Chrysanthemum for wealth 
  • Gardenia representing grace

Incorporating orange blossoms into the bride’s costume originated in ancient China where they were emblems of purity, chastity and innocence. Because the orange is one of the rare plants that blooms and bears fruit at the same time, it is symbolic of fruitfulness. When real orange blossoms were unavailable, wax replicas were used instead. These artificial blooms were often passed down from one generation to the next. When she married in 1896, Lucy Booth wore wax orange blossoms in her hair. These same flowers decorated her daughter Diana’s veil at her 1929 marriage.


Something old, something new,

something borrowed, something blue,

and a silver sixpence in her shoe

This little rhyme has ruled over British and American weddings since it first appeared in the 19th century. Who knows why it is so popular, but here’s what it all means:

  • Something Old  Symbolizes the link between the past and present. For many brides it is a piece of family jewelry or lace.

  • Something New Represents the bride’s hope for a bright future in her new life. The wedding gown is usually the new item.

  • Something Borrowed  This item should come from a happily married woman who “lends” the new bride some of her own marital bliss.

  • Something Blue  Represents purity, faithfulness and loyalty. Often the item is a blue garter, reminiscent of the blue trim worn by ancient Israeli brides.

  • Silver Sixpence  Represents wealth and the hope that the new bride will have a comfortable marriage free from financial woes. It America, it was sometimes replaced by a silver or gold coin in the shoe (the gold coin resting in Rosa-Maye Kendrick's shoe was a gift from First Lady Grace Coolidge).

According to another bit of Victorian verse, the day of the week upon which one got married would determine the success (or failure) of the marriage:

Monday for Wealth, Tuesday for Health,

Wednesday the Best Day of All;

Thursday for Losses, Friday for Crosses,

and Saturday, No Luck at All.

Especially in the 1800s, some couples chose to marry on Sunday, a day when many of their friends and relations would already be at the church for weekly services. It was also a day when work would not prevent guests from attending.

Yet another old verse weighed the benefits of marrying in one particular month or another:

Married when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind and true;
When February birds do mate, you wed nor dread your fate;
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know;
Marry in April when you can, joy for Maiden and for Man;
Marry in the month of May, and you'll surely rue the day;
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you will go;
Those who in July do wed, must labor for their daily bread;
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see;
Marry in September's shrine, your living will be rich and fine;
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry;
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember;
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.


Over the Threshold  If a bride tripped or stumbled as she entered her new home, it was considered very bad luck; therefore, it became a duty for the groom to carry his bride over the threshold.

Good Luck for the Bride  If a bride married on the same day of the week that the groom was born, she would have good luck.

The Bride’s Bad Luck  Unfortunate was the bride who cooked any of her own wedding supper or looked into a mirror while wearing her complete wedding outfit before her wedding day.

More Good Luck Omens  Rain; tears; ivy and/or myrtle in a wedding bouquet; seeing a rainbow; having the sun shine on the bride; meeting a black cat; meeting a chimney sweep on the wedding day; a spider found in a wedding dress.

Back Luck Omens  Rain; shopping for wedding rings on a Friday; May weddings; tears; seeing a pig, rabbit or lizard running across the road on the wedding day; dropping the ring during the ceremony (whoever dropped it would die first).

Luck for the Guests  In ancient times, guests would sometimes tear off a piece of the bride’s dress as a good luck souvenir.


The Bride  “Bride” is an old English word meaning “cook.”

The Wedding  The word “wedding” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “wed,” referring to the financial settlement provided by the groom’s family to the bride’s family upon a betrothal.

Hair Rings  Early Celtic wedding rings were made of hair (their own) woven together by the bride and groom.

The Kiss  In ancient Rome, a kiss was seen as a legal bond that sealed all contracts, not just the marital sort.

Train Length  In the Middle Ages, the length of a bride’s train indicated her rank in court; the longer her train, the closer she was to the King and Queen and the greater her influence.

Evil Spirits  A Danish bride and groom could confound the evil spirits by cross-dressing.

Invitations  Before the invention of the printing press in 1447, weddings were typically announced by means of a town crier; anyone within earshot became part of the celebration.

Sock Tossing  In long-ago England, friends of the groom would take off their socks and throw them; the first to hit the groom’s nose would be the next to be married.

Cutting the Cake  Whoever had their hand on top during the cutting of the cake would rule the household.

Falling Asleep  The newlywed who fell asleep first on the wedding night would be the first of the pair to die.

1896 wax orange blossoms (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)

A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2009 - December 2009

Wedding Belles & Beaux

Sixty Years of Wedding Costumes & Customs, 1869-1929

Kooi-Reynolds wedding, circa 1926 (Moeller-Edwards Collection, TESHS)

Trail End

 State Historic Site