A white wedding is a traditional formal or semi-formal Western wedding. The term refers to the white color of the wedding dress, which became popular in the Victorian era, after Queen Victoria wore a white lace dress at her wedding. Various theories for the meaning of this color choice have been put forward, from an appreciation of color symbolism, to represent purity of heart and the innocence of childhood, to an effort by the monarch to promote lace sales, to conspicuous consumption by status-conscious families, because a white dress could be easily damaged and was therefore common only among wealthy families. Later, it was believed that the color white symbolized virginity and should be worn only by a virgin bride.
Until the mid-twentieth century, many brides in the United Kingdom did not wear a traditional wedding dress, merely a specially bought dress that could later be worn as an evening gown. This was also the case in pre-20th century America, where working and frontier brides often opted for a formal look that was practical and could be used again on special occasions. In fact, before the white wedding dress became standardized an old poem sang the praises or woes of various color choices.
“Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead. Married in blue, you will always be true. Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl. Married in green, ashamed to be seen, Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow. Married in brown, you’ll live out of town. Married in pink, your spirits will sink.”
After World War I, as full-scale formal weddings began to be desired by the mothers of brides who did not have a permanent social secretary, the position of the "wedding planner" who could coordinate the printer, florist, caterer, seamstress, began to assume importance. Bride's Magazine began to be published in 1934 as a newspaper advertising insert called So You're Going to Get Married! in a column entitled To the Bride, and its rival Modern Bride began publishing in 1949. Now a whole industry surrounds the provision of such weddings. The groom may be a mere detail: the new editor of Modern Bride began her inaugural column, without irony: "I really did have the wedding of my dreams, the wedding that had been floating around my head for years before I met my husband."
Emily Post's Etiquette was first published in 1922, as a guide to the "new" people of the post-war boom, who meant to get the unfamiliar details right, and the conservatively evolving nature of a formal wedding can be traced in its various editions. A 4th edition of Peggy Post's Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette: Cherished Traditions and Contemporary Ideas for a Joyous Celebration is still in print, along with a wide range of wedding planners and guides to second weddings bearing the Post name. A subtle shift in the requirements for a wedding can be detected in the modern blurb for Emily Post's Weddings "creating a wedding experience that demonstrates the bride and groom's commitment and uniqueness." "Uniqueness" is a modern addition to a wedding's requirements. Judith Martin has published Miss Manners on Weddings.
The full white wedding experience means that an organist, a choir, flower arrangements, flowers for lapels and commemorative wedding leaflets with the Order of Service need to be arranged and purchased.
In many cultures, the "wedding party" may also include:
Typically, these positions are filled by close friends of the bride and groom; being asked to serve in these capacities is seen as a great honor.
Wedding guests are generally sent invitations to which they are expected to reply. The guests are generally invited to both the wedding and the wedding reception afterwards, although sometimes ceremony or reception places may be limited. Often certain people are invited due to perceived obligations, since to not receive an invitation can be considered an insult.
The groom and his best man wait inside the church for the arrival of the bride and her "entourage".
This entourage generally arrives in elegant cars or in horse-drawn coaches, specially hired for the occasion. The bride's entourage normally consists of the bride, the bride's father and all the various bridesmaids, maids of honour, flower girls and page boys that are intended to attend her.
The following is a typical processional order for weddings that follow American Customs:
The bride then proceeds down the aisle, escorted by her father, to the accompaniment of music, and the ceremony starts.
In the UK and other Commonwealth countries, the Bride and her father go down the asle first followed by the Bride's attendants. The Best Man and any other Groomesmen, as well as the parents and grandparents of the Bride and Groom; with the execption of the Bride's father, watch the bridal procession from the Alter.
After the wedding ceremony itself ends, the bride, groom, officiant, and two witnesses generally go off to a side room to sign the wedding register in the United Kingdom or the state-issued marriage license in the United States. Without the signing of the register or the marriage license no legally valid marriage exists.
Finally, a photographic session ensues of the couple leaving the church.
After this the events shift to a reception at which the married couple, the couple's parents, the best man and the wedding entourage greet each of the guests. At such events it is traditional to eat and drink. The cutting of the wedding cake would also take place at the reception.
During the reception a number of speeches and/or toasts are given in honor of the couple.
An arranged dance between the bride and her father is also traditional. Sometimes the groom will cut in halfway through the dance, symbolizing the bride leaving her father and joining her new husband. Though not traditional, dances between the groom and his mother are also becoming popular in America.
At some point the married couple may become the object of a charivari, a good-natured hazing of the newly-married couple. While this is most familiar in the form of tying tin cans to the bumper of the couple's car, or spraying shaving cream on the windows, some of the pranks can be far more malicious.
The final tradition is the newly married couple to set off for their honeymoon.