“I now pronounce you man and wife.” Those words are so ingrained in our culture, each of us could probably recite an entire traditional wedding ceremony—ending with that antiquated phrase—in our sleep. Yet, more and more couples are choosing to leave the outdated language of previous generations behind, along with many of the wedding conventions that don’t mesh with today’s relationships rooted in equality.
“It’s hard, because weddings are so steeped in traditions,” says Jennifer Domenick, who owns the photography company Love Life Images. “It’s one area that’s been slow to change, but there are signs that things are starting to change a little bit.”
Domenick says that over the 17 years she’s been in the wedding business, even the most established tradition of a bride’s father walking her down the aisle and giving her away to the groom is falling out of favor.
“Things that were unique or unusual or different have really become part of the fabric of most weddings now,” she says. “They’ve become more normal. Things like mixed-gender wedding parties—when I first started, that was something new, but now it’s pretty commonplace.”
The most woke wedding
Senior wedding planner Rebecca O’Donnell of The Plannery is thrilled to see all the changes happening in the local wedding industry, and she prides herself on helping clients embrace a new way of doing things that honors who they are as a couple. She recently worked with one duo who completely scrapped the usual procession by creating two aisles that started separately but met at the altar. (Imagine an inverted V with the pointy end meeting at the officiant.) The bride walked toward the officiant with her father while the groom entered with his mother—at the same time.
“That last part was probably my favorite,” O’Donnell says. “Most brides would insist on that ‘everyone turn and look at me’ moment, but she thought it was important that they were going into the marriage together. I absolutely adored it.”
The couple, Alicia Cagnoli and Matt O’Grady, say they attended seven weddings in 2019, the same year they got married, and got a pretty good idea of what they did and didn’t want to carry over to their celebration.
“One thing we saw that we liked was having the parents up there as well, and not just Alicia’s parents,” O’Grady says. So the wedding party sat in the front rows along with the grandparents as a sort of cheerleading squad, and the couple’s parents stood up with them throughout the ceremony.
“We wanted to symbolize our families joining together instead of just us,” says Cagnoli, who referred to her wedding party as “best women” instead of “bridesmaids.” “We wanted to feel that support and love from them—instead of one of us being transferred to the other.”
Weddings are trending away from being dictated by religious customs, paving the way for more freedom of expression when it comes to planning the big day.
O’Donnell has noticed an uptick in equality-focused readings, such as the couple that read an opinion from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on the issue of same-sex marriage that states, in part: “The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.” Other modern touches she places squarely in the “woke” column include different-gendered wedding parties; spending the night together before the wedding day; non-white wedding dresses; invitations that make it clear that the couple is hosting the wedding; and ditching the garter and bouquet tosses.
“In my 13 years of wedding planning, I’ve probably had 10 bouquet tosses and, thank God, only two or three garter tosses,” she notes. “Who even wears a garter anymore? And now that couples are getting married older and older, no one feels the need to put the spotlight on their single friends.”
Corinne Thompson, who runs Love to the Core Photography, notes that the bouquet toss is still going strong with her clients, but that the silly superstition attached to it has gone the way of the puffy-sleeved satin wedding gown. Without the garter rigmarole, it’s really just a bouquet toss, she says.
“I think it’s just to [get] all those gals out and have the bridesmaids on the dance floor,” Thompson adds. “That element of, ‘Oh, you’re going to be the one who gets married next,’ has gone by the wayside, but the act of doing it is really fun. And it makes for great photos.”
A recipe for change
Because these changes have happened incrementally and somewhat slowly, it’s tough to decipher what the primary catalyst might have been. However, part of it surely stems from the fact that many couples are getting married older—making for a more “woke” union, and with less input from parents as couples increasingly pay for their own weddings.
“I don’t know if maybe I just have older couples or what, but I think that the vast majority of my couples either pay for the wedding themselves or pay for most of it, with the parents contributing toward specific things,” O’Donnell says. “In fact, the idea of the bride’s parents ‘hosting’ the wedding is pretty nonexistent anymore, at least in this area.”
Some might say the legalization of same-sex marriages has contributed to modernizing wedding language and the timely shunning of patriarchal norms. But Thompson says sometimes gay couples want to experience the traditions that were denied to them for so long—such as the cake cutting, which has generally been on the decline in favor of dessert bars, pies, and cupcakes.
She worked with a gay couple last summer that went with the cake-cutting component but found other ways of personalizing their special day. “Their ceremony was really cool and had them sitting in the middle of all their guests,” she recalls. “The chairs were in a circle around them, which was amazing.”
Weddings are also trending away from being dictated by religious customs, paving the way for more freedom of expression when it comes to planning the big day. If nondenominational couples want to include religion, they sometimes borrow traditions they like from Judaism and Quakerism. In addition, there has been a major shift in who conducts the actual ceremony.
“What I have seen more is friends of the couple getting their license to marry online,” says Domenick. “More people are asking friends or family to marry them, and that I see all the time.”
Thompson has seen how this can be the ultimate personalization, plus a huge benefit to couples who might already be nervous about standing in front of a crowd with all eyes on them—perhaps for the first time ever.
It all adds up to a recipe for change. Take the general movement toward personalization, which is something we’re seeing more of across pretty much all aspects of modern life, add a generous sprinkle of feminism, #metoo, and a steady movement toward equality in society—and especially in marriage—and you’ve got the makings of a whole new paradigm in how a wedding should look, feel, and what it has to say about the couple.
“I really advocate for my couples to focus on those personal touches to make for a more meaningful day,” says Thompson. “Every couple is different—how they met is different, how they fell in love is different. Each couple is trying to personalize their ceremony in general.”
Change is hard, though, and not everyone feels ecstatic about bucking tradition when it comes to weddings. Some parents have a tough time when their offspring want to toss out everything that’s comfortable and routinely done because, well, that’s just how it’s done. O’Donnell points to dress choice as a common bone of contention between brides and their mothers.
“I recently had a bride who really wanted to wear a jumpsuit, but her mother insisted on a white dress, so they compromised,” she says. “The bride wore the dress for the ceremony and photos but changed into a jumpsuit for dancing.”
Weddings are already pretty emotionally charged, and Lauren Corrigan of LC Events says she sometimes encounters couples who are afraid to talk to parents about how they want to do things differently—which can be extra tough if the parents are paying. She points to a recent situation where the bride and groom both wanted to hyphenate their last names.
“His family was not okay with that, and her family was just confused,” she says, adding that she often counsels couples to write down their feelings before discussing them with family. “So I had them sit down with both families, and they explained their reasoning behind their choice, that she wasn’t giving up her identity to be with him.”
She says she regularly hears parents and grandparents making pointed comments about couples not getting married in a church or other decisions during their meetings with wedding vendors.
“A lot of the job for me is helping couples navigate these things,” says Corrigan, who leans on her background in psychology and counseling when the situation gets uncomfortable. “If the couple feels overwhelmed and truly don’t know how to handle it, they’ll come out and ask me. But most times I see it brewing, and I’ll step in if I have that kind of relationship with the clients.”
It’s not just parents exerting pressure on brides and grooms, though. Cagnoli and O’Grady are lucky enough to have very supportive parents but met with several wedding planners and venues that couldn’t—or wouldn’t—honor their vision of how they wanted to walk down the aisle at the same time. When they finally met with O’Donnell, Cagnoli says it was a relief that the wedding planner expressed “zero hesitation” and sent over a workable map of how to achieve their wishes.
“I think she would have told us if anything was very off-base, if it would make things weird for our guests or with the timing,” Cagnoli says. “She helped us with the physical aspect of walking in at the same time while still leaving room for the guests.”
Here to stay
No matter which side of the aisle you’re standing on—modern or traditional—we have news for you: The equality genie likely will never go back into the patriarchal bottle. For that reason alone, more and more wedding professionals are making it clear from the get-go that they welcome any and all couples.
“At The Plannery, we’re very careful with all of our wording,” says O’Donnell. “Our homework refers to ‘Partner 1 and Partner 2’ rather than ‘bride and groom.’”
Thompson’s website goes even further, proclaiming in bold, all caps: “HELL YES, WE ARE LGBTQ+ FRIENDLY.”
As for wedding guests who think they aren’t ready for these changes, there’s plenty of evidence that nobody will actually miss the days of cookie-cutter weddings. According to O’Grady and Cagnoli, people seemed to really appreciate their style of having a short, sweet yet heartfelt ceremony followed by the celebratory dance party they really wanted.
“We got a lot of compliments about our ceremony,” says O’Grady. “I think it was refreshing for people. A lot [of guests] said they had never really seen anything like it. It wasn’t the same old ‘richer and poorer’ kind of deal.”
Says Thompson. “The fact that marriage is accessible to everyone is making for great change that was so desperately needed in this industry, for sure. And bringing that change has brought the traditions to a different time.”