We all know that nuptials have become a big business—a $300 billion market, in fact. Today, every age-old custom has been reimagined by wedding planners all over the world who glean inspiration from the Pinterest pages of hopeful women everywhere. But we wanted to know more about the simple origins of these now-elaborate rituals, so we did a little digging into their matrimonial backstories. Here, the humble—and sometimes unsavory—beginnings of our favorite wedding traditions.
The Diamond Engagement Ring
According to The Atlantic, our obsession with diamond engagement rings is the result of perhaps one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time. In the late 1930s, De Beers Consolidated Mines hired an ad agency to create new demand for its diamonds. At the time, only a small number of Americans included diamond rings in the betrothal process, and the ones who did tended to choose low-quality gems. N.W. Ayer, the ad agency DeBeers brought on, came up with an ingenious plan for changing that. It seeded large diamond rings to Hollywood icons and society's elite, then had them filmed and photographed in ways that linked the jewels to the idea of romance, love and commitment in order to create desire and thus demand for them among middle class and low income demographics. It worked. The DeBeers slogan, “A Diamond Is Forever," was further meant to encourage people to pass down their gems rather than sell them, as resale would cause the price of diamonds to fluctuate in ways that were not beneficial to the company. DeBeers duplicated its success in Japan in the 1960s. When it first entered that market in 1967, fewer than 5% of women wore diamond engagement rings. Just 14 years later, that number was 60%.
The Ring Finger
If the commercial origins of your favorite accessory depress you, fear not, as the tradition of placing said gem on the ring finger of your left hand has a far more romantic genesis. According to some sources, wedding rings were originally worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because ancient Greeks and Romans believed that a vein in the ring finger, the so-called "vena amoris," led directly to the heart. Awwwwwww.
The White Dress
One of our editors once sent photos of a red Vera Wang wedding dress to her best friend, excited that she had finally found a gown she actually loved. Her e-mail was met with disgust and disbelief and insistence that she wear white. When Queen Victoria—the woman largely credited for setting this trend—donned the demure hue to be married 176 years ago, however, she was breaking with the traditions of the day (which somewhat ironically favored red for brides). Many of the era were surprised by Queen Victoria's choice—especially given that white was, at the time, a color of mourning and therefore not really appropriate for a celebration—but it didn't take long for it to catch on. We can only imagine what would have happened had the Duchess of Cambridge chosen an unorthodox color for her iconic bridal gown.
In ancient Rome, bridesmaids dressed like the bride in order to confuse potential kidnappers or evil spirits. By the 20th century, brides had apparently decided they were safe to stand out, but their comfort level apparently hasn't yet extended to their besties.
The idea that every bride needs "something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue" comes from an old English rhyme that ended with "and a sixpence in her shoe." Blue was historically associated with the Virgin Mary and therefore signified purity and fidelity—it was, at one point, even a popular color in which to get married. As the Irish used to say, "Marry in blue, lover be true."
Ancient Romans believed veils protected brides from evil spirits. They also purportedly protected the husband from seeing his wife's face for the first time until after he had said "I do." Yikes.
The Wedding Cake
Apparently, in medieval times, loaves of bread were thrown at brides to ensure their fertility. (This feels somewhat ironic, as now many women deprive themselves of the same in order to prep for their big day—fertility be damned!) There was also a much more palatable ritual that involved the piling of baked goods into a stack, over which the couple would have to kiss in order to secure future prosperity (tiered cakes were allegedly born of this tradition). We don't know about you, but we're considering bringing this one into our everyday lives—a pile of donuts + making out with your significant other = money? Sold.
There are many origin stories for the honeymoon, some of them sweet, while others not so much. Some claim that the honeymoon came from German, Welsh, or Scandinavian traditions in which mead (fermented honey) was drunk in heavy quantities at wedding ceremonies, after which a month's supply would be gifted to the bride to help ensure her fertility. (Nowadays, women are told not to drink alcoholic beverages if they want to conceive. So lame!) Another explanation of the term's origin comes from Richard Huloet's Abecedarium Anglico Latinum, which was written in 1552. He wrote, "Hony mone, a term proverbially applied to such as be newly married, which will not fall out at the first, but th'one loveth the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceading love appearing to aswage, ye which time the vulgar people call the hony mone." This loosely translates to mean that love will eventually wane. Today, we know this as "the honeymoon phase" of a relationship, which now tends to take place before people are even married. So romantic!