Published January 20th, 2012

Some say marriage is one of our last popular traditions. But that tradition is hardly static. Today, couples often update classic elements of the wedding to fit modern sensibilities. Here’s a brief list of some of our most common marriage traditions and how they have been updated:

Tradition: The Proposal
Past: The proposal began the formal agreement between families which often meant the exchange of the bride for her dowry. The groom would send a group of friends or servants to state his intentions to the family. Along the way, the proposal party was on the look-out for bad omens that meant the marriage would be doomed. Bad omens included seeing a monk, a nun, or a blind man, while spotting a nanny goat, a pigeon, or wolves meant good fortune for the union.

Present: Today, the proposal may be as low-key as a private conversation between the bride-to-be and groom-to-be. Some couples honor the tradition’s pomp and circumstance by having the groom announce the engagement to the families after the bride-to-be has accepted the proposal.

Tradition: The Bridal Shower
Past: The bridal shower was created to improve the bond between the bride and her female friends. In the 1890s, bridal shower guests began putting gifts in a parasol and opening the parasol over the bride’s head to “shower” gifts down upon her.

Present: The bridal shower today is tailored to the bride’s tastes and can be rowdy or tame, traditional or unconventional, depending on her preference. Some showers even include the groom and his friends.

Tradition: Bridal Party
Past: The bridal party was made up of “bride’s knights” that guarded the bride en route to and from the wedding to make sure she was not attacked and her dowry was not stolen.

Present: Today’s bridal party is usually made up of close friends and family and includes both men and women. It’s now common for a bride to offer gifts to thank members of her bridal party for participating in the ceremony.

Tradition: Wedding Dress
Past: Wedding dresses were usually blue until the 1840s when Queen Victoria married in white. According to biblical aesthetics, blue symbolizes purity and fidelity.

Present: Wedding gowns today come in all colors, though the most common colors are white or ivory.

Tradition: Something Old, Something New
Past: This tradition stems from a Victorian rhyme that honors old friends, new beginnings, happiness, fidelity, and prosperity. “Old” stands for old friends; “new” represents the beginning of a new family; carrying something “borrowed” from a happily married friend symbolizes borrowed happiness, the carrying of something “blue” represents purity and modesty. The sixpence in the shoe was believed to bring prosperity to the couple.

Present: Many modern brides use family heirlooms in their ceremony or incorporate them into their dress, use the wedding ring as something new, and include blue in the garter. A penny is sometimes put in the shoe.