The Stylist wedding blog: wedding superstition (and its sexist undertones)

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Natasha Tomalin
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Wedding superstitions are so commonplace that we don’t even think to question them – mainly because they are disguised as 'tradition', but no-one’s fooling me.

I’m a fairly superstitious person. No walking under ladders, saluting a solitary magpie when I see one, freaking out when a black cat crosses my path – you know, all those totally rational things. However, wedding superstitions have never been on my radar… until now.

During a recent wedding-related conversation with my mum, we were discussing the guest list and she casually dropped in that she might know a chimney sweep who could be at the wedding. “I’m sorry… WHAT?” I replied.

It transpires that it’s good luck to have a chimney sweep at a wedding. “Don’t you remember Mary Poppins? You watched it enough times when you were small!” So, yes, I will be having a chimney sweep at my wedding – the American guests are thrilled.

I’ve now opened a can of worms however, by looking up all the different British wedding superstitions. Here are the ones I’ve stumbled across and their (mainly sexist) origins.

The chimney sweep

Exactly where the legend of the lucky chimney sweep originates is unclear, but it could be attributed to the rumour that a chimney sweep saved the life of King George II by stopping his runaway horse and carriage. The King then decreed that all chimney sweeps were the bringers of great luck and were to be treated with utmost respect. Works for me!

Carrying the bride across the threshold

The groom carrying the bride across the threshold holds many meanings: to bravely protect her from evil spirits lurking below, to stop the bride from looking too eager to lose her virginity (yes, really) and to avoid the bride tripping over the threshold, which is bad luck. I’ll take the last one, never having been too steady on my feet.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

We’ve all heard this Victorian rhyme time and again, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. Something old represents the family connection; something new offers optimism for the future; something borrowed symbolises borrowed happiness (often the mother of the bride’s garter from her own wedding) and something blue is a symbol of fidelity and constancy. The rhyme actually ends with “… and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” Legend states that placing a penny in the bride’s shoe will ensure the couple a life of wealth and happiness – makes sense really.

Lucky horseshoe (and a grey horse)

The origin of the lucky horseshoe is unclear, but they were originally made of iron, a material that was believed to ward off evil spirits, and were traditionally held in place with seven nails, seven being the luckiest number. It is also said to be very good luck to see a grey horse on the way to the church on your wedding day. Fingers crossed!

The groom seeing the bride before the wedding

This ‘tradition’ actually dates back to when weddings were essentially a business deal between two families. The bride and groom wouldn’t have ever seen each other before, so in order to stop the groom from backing out if she wasn’t to his liking, the father of the bride kept her a secret for as long as possible. Wow.

Saving the top tier of the wedding cake

Back in the days when couples got married and had children straight away, the top tier of the cake was saved for the christening of the birth of the first child. Nowadays couples save it for their first wedding anniversary, as a reminder of the day. I won’t be doing this, I don’t fancy eating year-old mouldy cake ‘as a reminder’, thank you.  

The throwing of the bouquet (and garter)

Back in medieval times, after the couple were married, the guests would try and tear off a piece of the bride’s dress to keep for themselves in order to acquire some of her good luck. To escape this awful ritual the bride would throw the bouquet to keep them quiet, and then run away. Today, tradition states that the female guest who catches it will be the next to marry. There is also a tradition where the bride toss her garter to the groomsmen and, in the same vein, whoever catches it will be the next to marry. The latter is creepy. I most certainly won’t be doing this.  

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these wedding traditions, so please post your comments below, or on Twitter @stylistmagazine and @natashatomalin, using the hashtag #Stylistweddingblog.