Wedding traditions around the world are as diverse and beautiful as the places they’re practiced. Across the globe, there are a thousand different ways to say “I do.” While you might think that weddings in Britain and the United States all look rather alike with white dresses, speeches and a line of beaming bridesmaids. Nevertheless, there are some curious differences between English and American wedding traditions that you might notice if you attend a wedding on the other side of the pond. While British and American wedding traditions do indeed have the same roots, here are some of the surprising differences to keep an eye out for. Hopefully, with our help, you won’t be caught off-guard or make any faux pas at your next wedding.
- The Brits are less formal
- Fancy hats
- Facing the bride
- Writing your own vows
- Bridesmaids in white?
- Don’t expect an open bar in Britain
- A toast or a roast
1. The Brits are less formal
Although the British have more of a reputation for formality than Americans, you might be surprised to find that an English wedding is generally less formal than the American equivalent. Whereas Americans tend to be quite strict on what “black tie” attire means, somewhat more relaxed formal wear is perfectly acceptable at an English wedding, especially if you are not part of the inner circle of the wedding party.
2. Fancy hats
Despite the general attire being more relaxed in modern English weddings, wearing a fancy hat is one of those old British wedding traditions that they love to hold on to. If you have ever watched a royal wedding you will be familiar with the sea of feathered, plumed and veiled headwear they are so fond of in the UK. While most events won’t go quite so big and brash as the royal ones, don’t be surprised to spot a few hats at an English wedding.
3. Facing the bride
We all know the scene in a Hollywood romance where the groom turns to watch the bride as she makes her way up the aisle, maybe with a few tears of happiness. That’s not how it always plays out at a British wedding, we’re afraid. While it might be less cinematic, British grooms will traditionally face the altar with their back to the bride as she walks down the aisle and only looks at her in awe when she arrives beside him.
4. Writing your own vows
American couples often take the opportunity to put their own twist and personality on their wedding vows, inserting details and promises that make their own relationship unique. In contrast, British couples do not typically write their own vows. This is because the Church of England uses more or less the same script for every wedding.
5. Bridesmaids in white?
If you’re American, you’ll know there’s nothing more scandalous than wearing white at a wedding.. But this isn’t the case over the Atlantic! In Britain, it’s not terribly uncommon to see the beaming bride flanked by bridesmaids also wearing snowy white gowns, of a simpler design and material than hers, of course.
6. Don’t expect an open bar in Britain
At an American wedding, it is typical for the hosts to provide an open bar. However, if you rock up to the wedding bar in England, you may have to pay for your drinks. So, are your British hosts being cheap? No, actually. It’s not considered rude to have a cash bar at an English wedding, and it likely keeps the guests’ behaviour from getting too unruly. So don’t forget to stash a few Pounds in your purse when you’re getting ready for the big day.
7. A toast or a roast
If you’re expecting the heartfelt, sentimental speeches that make up a traditional American wedding toast, you may be surprised by how different an English toast will be. The wedding toast is a great opportunity to roast the newlyweds, often without pulling any punches. It’s all in good humor though and can be as heartwarming in its own way as a sentimental speech.
In the end, it depends on the couple
Beyond these big ones, you will surely find many other small differences between traditional American and English weddings. Every wedding is unique in its own right, varying in formality, style and speech. Every pair puts their own individual twist into the ceremony afterall. Yet these subtle contrasts in tradition say a lot about the cultures the happy couple comes from, whether they are from the States, the British Isles, or further afield.
Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.