The surprising, bizarre and terrifying origins of our biggest wedding traditions.

Kidnapping, incest-prevention, rape, the origins of our wedding traditions are a lot less pretty than the ceremonies themselves.

Fathers handing over daughters in white dresses, unmarried women vying for flowers as an insurance policy against spinsterhood, that thing with the garter, it all seems like something out of another era – which, of course, it is.

While marriage may no longer be a life-long sentence of servitude for women (cheers, feminism), quite bizarre rituals persist.

Of course, everyone should be allowed to celebrate their relationships however they darn well like (and we do mean everyone), but it’s still funny to think about why, in 2016, weddings have barely changed.

From buck’s nights to bridal wear, we decided to find out where the conventions come from…

So let’s start there. With the Bachelor Party.

From Sparta to The Hangover, bachelor parties have always been fairly raucous affairs. Spartan soldiers were the first to toast their betrothed comrades with special dinner parties, but it was the Romans who’d follow the meals by going to, er, kidnap the bride. Traditionally, the groomsmen’s job was to help with kidnapping and the best man? The best kidnapper.

What about hen’s nights?

Hen’s nights, on the other had, originated in Holland. Born as bridal showers, friends and family of the bride would gather to shower her in gifts to help to pay her dowry  if she was too poor or her father didn’t approve of her hubby-to-be and refused to pay up. Eventually they became the phallus-worshiping booze-festivals they are today.


Progress. Image: iStock

Why do all the bridesmaids wear the same thing?

These days bridesmaids play the dual role of helping the bride prepare for her big day and provide hilarious fodder for comedy films. Once upon a time though, their job was to protect the bride from spurned suitors at the ceremony. That's why there's so many of them and why they all have to were the same thing -- they're decoy-brides. Similarly, in Roman times they were there to confuse evil spirits.

The white dress. The veil. The something blue.

We can thank Queen Victoria for the white dress. Before her big white wedding in 1840, bride's would wear blue, the colour representing purity. That's where the 'something blue' comes from too. Veils however are Roman and they represent modesty, virginity and other such absurd business

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Separating the bride and groom.

This one is becoming less common, mostly because of practicality, but basically it's thought to stem from the days of arranged marriage when fathers would literally sell their daughters to prospective partners (that's also why they "give them away" during the ceremony). They were kept separate in case the groom decided his fiancée wasn't good-looking enough and bolted.

The bouquet.

Once upon a time brides would carry bouquets of dill and garlic. Not to keep unwanted husbands at bay, rather it's thought the practice originated in the time of the Plague when people would hold strong smelling herbs over their mouths to avoid getting sick. Herbs traditionally ward off evil spirits too. Thankfully the tradition evolved to include more pleasant smelling flora.


Romance. Image: iStock

"You may now kiss the bride."

Obviously if you've never met your future wife, you've never kissed her. Also, kissing was a way of signifying legal contracts in Roman times. Romantic, I know.

The garter toss.

This one is just plain creepy and developed as a way of protecting the bride from her wedding guests. Originally called "fingering the stocking", in England guests would examine the new bride's stockings to check if she'd consummated her nuptials. While in France guests would rush up and tear off bits of her clothing for good luck, often leaving her semi-naked and battered for the reception. Tossing the garter was a way to placate the mob, as it were. That's also why bride's started throwing away their bouquets.

Throwing rice.

Guests used to smash cake on the bride's head for luck, fertility and prosperity. So rice, confetti, what-have-you is a mess-free alternative to ganache all over your face.

And finally: Carrying your new bride across the threshold. 

There's a few theories behind this one, but again, the most likely reason is the kidnapping-thing. Basically men used to have to bring their new wives home against their will. Ah, romance.