How dowry traditions relate to modern brides

Guest post by acbombshell

Vintage vibes at this 1970s-inspired NY waterfall vow renewal
Photos by Michelle Montgomery from this 1970s-inspired NY waterfall vow renewal

Weddings (and the institution of marriage) have almost always been wrapped in tradition, so much so that people often become upset when a couple wants to deviate from those usual wedding customs. The fact though is that many people would probably be appalled if they knew the roots of some of these traditions. Even if they are aware where these traditions come from, maybe they choose to forget it come wedding time. However, as an offbeat bride, I think it is especally important to muse on old wedding customs. At least when you tell people why you've made these decisions, you can explain the historical significance.

For example, the responsibility of a bride's parents to pay for a wedding. I've never been especially fond of this tradition, because I think in some circumstances all it does is foster an attitude of entitlement in those brides who would condemn their parents for choosing not to finance their extravagant tastes. That, or parents end up killing themselves (figuratively!) trying to earn the money for their child's wedding out of a sense of obligation, whether it's practical or not.

In the end, why?…

Because hundreds of years ago, women were considered chattel and the bride's family used to have to pay off the groom's family in the form of a dowry to take their daughters off their hands. After dowries went out of style, there was still the trousseau (the bride's dress and accouterments for the wedding, in addition to stuff like cake, etc.), usually hand prepared by the bride's family. Now that we have wedding vendors to make cakes and dresses for us, the trousseau has also gone out of style for the most part, and instead the bride's family just ponies up the cash.

I don't know about you, but the idea of my parents bribing someone to marry me makes me feel kind of sick. The idea of them bankrupting themselves for one day is also kind of disheartening. I'd say it's wonderful we've moved past those times, but obviously we haven't if the expectation still stands that a couple's parents are responsible for paying for their wedding, especially the parents of the bride.

We no longer live in the times where marriage was essentially a way to ensure that women were taken care of.

Love wasn't always a factor (and still isn't, in some cultures). Teenage brides weren't uncommon, because people just didn't live as long. Girls who were practically still children themselves got married and started having children right away, because culture and religion dictated it be so.

The dowry and trousseau were a necessity of those times, because they ensured that a groom would have the things he needed to support his new wife and their children to come. This is no longer the case, for the most part, as most couples who get married had acquired quite a lot of crap of their own-they don't need the “starter kits” that couples used to need.

My general feeling is that if you want to get married, you ought to be adult enough to do so without expecting your family to foot the bill.

I'm not saying that it's abhorrent to allow your family to pay for your wedding — if they really want to do it, let them. What I am saying though is not all brides should expect their parents to foot the bill for your champagne tastes when you really ought to be working on a beer budget. If your dad works sixty hours a week just to pay their bills and you expect him to buy your wedding dress, maybe you need to shop at David's Bridal instead of Kleinfeld's.

It's one thing to accept offers of financial help from family. It's another thing entirely to guilt them into it or solicit donations, or expect them to go over their own budget to satisfy your desires for the opulent. If you want that crazy chocolate fondue fountain, start saving your pennies!

You aren't entitled to a fancy, extravagant wedding.

You may be entitled to get married, but no one owes you a TLC fancy-schmancy wedding if you can't afford to do it without exploiting your loved ones. Yeah, it's nice if your family wants to help, but it's not exactly reasonable to expect them to pay for your life choice (read: getting married).

If cost is such an issue, get thee to a courthouse and a justice of the peace, friend. Otherwise, learn to budget what you can actually afford. Sometimes, that might mean selecting an in-season flower instead of the exotic orange blossoms you wanted, or getting married on a Friday night instead of a Saturday afternoon. This kind of sacrifice is really an important lesson, one that will serve you well as you enter into married life.

In the end though, if you're marrying your true love, it won't matter if you spent $1,000 or $100,000 on your wedding because either way, you're committing to the person you cherish the most and that is priceless.

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Comments on How dowry traditions relate to modern brides

    • I’m having a traditional Native American ceremony and it’s custom for the groom and his close male relatives to gift my mother at the beginning of the wedding if she is not satisfied she can refuse to let him marry me he has to keep going until he has her permission
      i found this to be a great alternative to the father giving away the bride which goes back to the concept of women as property of the father then husband.
      A sweet nod to the old matriarchal ways one mother i know wouldn’t let the groom marry nothing was good enough until he played her a song on his flute to melt her heart and show his love for her daughter she wept and conceded

  1. I agree with what you say about dowries, and feeling kinda squeamish about one’s parents paying to get rid of their daughter. However let’s remember that in the original days of dowries, things were much different. Females started being considered “women” much much earlier because life spans were so much shorter – about 40 or so in the 1400-1500s (granted, this was due to poor/no medical care, diet, repeated pregnancies and their inherent dangers, disease etc). As much as we dislike the idea now, a woman’s job was to help create heirs and run the household. She didn’t bring in her own food or money, so her parents’ dowry contribution eased the financial burden on the husband and family (not that the woman got a whole lot of credit for being the reason those extra cattle or piece of land came along). That said, things are much different now and it does often feel like the practicality of the dowry tradition of yore has morphed into “you had a girl, mom and dad, so now it’s time to sign here and pay up!”, which is unfortunate.

  2. I need to give this to my mother. If I hear one more time about how my Dad “really should be contributing” to MY wedding because he is the father of the bride, I’m going to scream. Amazingly enough my Dad raised me to be an independent woman who worked hard to save up money with her fiance for HER wedding.

    Not that I would turn down free money, but I don’t expect a handout from anyone.

    I’m done venting now, thank you for listening. 🙂

  3. I think the bride’s parents also end up footing the bill in this day and age because, let’s face it, there’s a LOT of moms out there who want to turn their daughter’s wedding into a bigger, fancier, 2.0 version of their OWN wedding. I’ve also seen a few poisonous cases of Mom (and sometimes Dad) saying “you’ll do it my way or I’ll cut off the money”.

    Our parents weren’t like that, but still, paying for our own wedding was one of the best decisions we made.

    • I totally agree and its soooo sad! Its not their wedding!!! I know when my daughter’s get married if they want to pick a dress that I think os totally dreadful and ugly, im gonna smile and tell them they are gorgeous and that I am so happy for them!

    • These are often moms who had their own weddings commandeered by their own mothers and think it’s finally their turn to do it their way. What they really need is to do a big vows renewal.

  4. I’m just about to run out and I’ll try to follow up but as a history person (MA in Early Modern European History) there appear to be some slightly wrong assumptions regarding family financials and marriage. Well at least regarding what is now the UK, and France.

    • I’m re-reading a book on marriage in England from the late 17th century to the early 19th and so far the word ‘dowry’ is rare and family money is a class thing. Depending on the groom’s situation and the bride’s family situation a bride could come in with nothing if her family was broke. Think daughters of broke clergymen.
      Anyway, we’re separated from the world of Jane Austin by years and (in my case) space and anything directly resembling dowries has been formed by other needs and situations of the intervening years. Yes, there are non-Western cultures that have dowries or bride prices and I’m sure those cultures have their own histories and reasons of why they do what they do.
      Regarding, modern & post-industrial UK, Canadian, NZ, American and like cultures I wonder how much of this brie’s family paying for the wedding expectations is wrapped up in class? For the poor in 17th-19th centuries, what mention of weddings seem to be simple affairs, and factory girls brought their own earnings and savings to the marriage. Think Irish immigrants in Canada & US who marry after leaving Ireland in the 19th C.

      • Agreed that fancy weddings have more to do with class status than dowry.
        I’m pretty sure modern fancy ass weddings have their roots in middle class people emulating the weddings of wealthy socialites.

      • I took a look in my personal library and grabbed “A History of Private Life, volume IV” edited by Michelle Perrot, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. In France, in the 19th Century, among the wealthy and the bourgeois the purpose of the dowry was to allow the couple to live “in a style appropriate to [their] rank rather than [their] income.” In other words it let the couple skip that young and broke and in love stage, well the broke part. Also according to the book the trousseau accounted for 5% of the dowry, and it was mainly clothing and household linens, and from the description of these things it seems to be a middle class and upper class thing.

  5. I’ve heard that bridal showers are another off-shoot of the dowery tradition. They originated as a way for the friends and family of a bride to collect together a dowery for her when her father did not support the marriage or could not afford one. Although I’m not sure about this because showers do not exist in a lot of cultures where the dowery tradition does/did.

    I’ve always wondered how a dowery tradition worked alongside the opposite tradition of a bride price (where the groom would pay the brides family as compensation for the loss of the womans labour). On the one hand yay for families who found themselves getting paid when they expected to pay but it must have caused some issues if for example a woman from a culture/region which practiced bride prices wanted to marry a man from a culture with a dowery tradition.

    Back to modern times and my own wedding maybe I should show this to my parents as I’m actually having the opposite problem. They not only want to pay, they want to pay almost everything and want to spend more than we had intended. I have nothing against them contributing, our policy has always been we’ll have whatever kind of wedding we can with whatever money is avaliable, but it’s kind of rediculous when I’m having an argument with mum one day because she wants to hire a florist and I want to DIY arrangements with market bought flowers and the next day I catch my parents wondering if they should take out a loan to help fund the wedding!

  6. I’m the eldest of 4 girls and my parents told all of us that they would help us pay for colllege -OR- a wedding, but not both. Of the 3 of us who are college-aged or older, we’ve all chosen college, and honestly, I’m glad they did it. I am not yet engaged, but if/when the time comes, I think we’ll be happy to have the freedom of monetary control (at least on my side of the family. His side jokes about a “surprise shotgun wedding”, so who knows, lol.)

  7. This is one of the best posts I’ve read. You are totally honest about this stuff, where I’ve seen people tiptoe around it in other places. My parents did pay, but man we tried to cut down prices wherever we could and made most everything and potlucked it and you know what? It was f***ing AWESOME.

    Whoo. Rock on.

  8. In victorian England, the dowry paid by the brides family formed part of her inheritance (upper classes only) and meant she inherited less (or nothing at all) compared to her unmarried sisters when her parents died.

    My opinion is this, The average age of marriage in the uk is now 25, 100 years ago it was 18. 100 years before that you were considered an old maid if not married by 25 (see pride and prejudice!). Getting married that young would require a parental contrabution, because you wouldn’t be able to work yourself, and you’d be barely more than a child, still living at home with your parents. These days, if you’re 25 you’re an adult in your own right. You probably don’t live at home, and if you do, you probably don’t live off mother and fathers money. If that’s the case, why should your parents pay for your wedding? you’ve left home! you’re an adult!

  9. “You aren’t entitled to a fancy, extravagant wedding. You may be entitled to get married, but no one owes you a TLC fancy schmancy wedding if you can’t afford to do it without exploiting your loved ones. Yeah, it’s nice if your family wants to help, but it’s not exactly reasonable to expect them to pay for your life choice (read: getting married).”

    I love this! Thank you for being so honest. I attended a huge wedding a couple of years ago that was absolutely dripping in money. I complemented the bride on her dress and her response was ” thank you! It cost £6000!” This is fine if you have £6000 to spend on your dress but the couple were asking for money in lieu of gifts! We were so uncomfortable with all the extravagance and money that had obviously been spent when the couple claimed to be so broke they needed money from guests. I had to question where the money had come from for the wedding and which poor soul was footing the bill.

  10. “If your dad works sixty hours a week just to pay their bills and you expect him to buy your wedding dress, maybe you need to shop at David’s Bridal instead of Kleinfeld’s.” <— Or maybe that person should just not expect Dad to pay for anything. It is the attitude of entitlement that bugs me, the "My parents SHOULD pay for this". If your parents gift you money for the wedding, that is awesome, but no one should expect money from them.

  11. Thanks for pointing this out. The fact that dowries functioned not as a bribe but as a way to settle property on the next generation is particularly important, I think, because it highlights the connection between the social arrangements that gave rise to practices (like dowries) that we now find strange and objectionable and more modern issues like workplace inequality and pay gaps.

    I’d also note that a lot of the traditions discussed above were more honored in the breach than in the observance– there is ample evidence of women (at least in late medieval England, my own area of specialty) who had children before marriage, who eloped, who married partners of their choosing, who in custom if not in title controlled their own property. And when women, mostly of the upper classes, were forced to marry against their will, they often went down swinging, fighting tooth and nail (at times successfully) to be masters of their own fate.

    In short: while there’s a host of problematic issues surrounding the institution of marriage and its practice in Western European and USAmerican society, today’s offbeat brides should take heart in the fact that there’s a whole history of offbeat brides who come before them, ready and eager to throw wrenches into the cogs of patriarchy.

    (Also, re the life expectancy thing: that figure is a mean not a median. If you made it out of childhood and past about 35–past childbearing/war fighting/agricultural-accident having age– you were likely to see 65 or so. /nerd)

    • Thanks for distinguishing between mean and median. Everyone always talks about “average life expectancy” in periods when childhood deaths skewed the averages a lot, which I think confuses a lot of people.

      • But wheres the fun of statistics if you can’t skew them in favour of the result you want? If you’re gonna be honest about it you may as well use boring old facts!

  12. Also, please remember that not all dowries were created equal. For instance, in the Jewish tradition, the dowry for the female was to make sure that if anything happened (divorce, death) she could be independent and not have to rely on say, a cheating husband. A bride price was also paid by the groom (WHICH SHE GOT TO KEEP)which served a similar purpose and was usually given as a form of jewelery (to ensure she kept it).

    In a weird way, it was kind of like marriage insurance.

  13. I think this is a very important post. The author clearly shares my exasperation with the entitlement and “ITS MY DAY” attitude that surrounds wedding culture. The situation does not always play out as above where the princess bride makes unreasonable demands on her poor parents, however.

    I think it is important to note also that many times parents can use money as a source of control over the wedding. As my parents are fond of saying “The person who controls the money has the power.” This was meant as a caution to my sister and I to make our own way and support ourselves. That being said, they are eager to pay for our weddings. Neither of us are actually engaged yet and they are already telling us where we can and cannot get married.

    My dad has gone as far as to say he does not want future in-laws contributing to the wedding cost because he does not want them to have say in important wedding decisions. He has also said that weddings are the parents party and that they will allocate a certain number of guests we will be able to invite to our own weddings.

    My mom’s parents paid for my parents’ wedding and planned the whole thing. When I finally decide to get married I plan to do my best to pay for it myself. I absolutely love my parents and I want my relationship with them to be based on that, not on financial control.

    • It may not seem very reassuring now but I think you’re lucky you’ve heard all this in advance.

      I’ve seen many people on this site and others who’s parents had exactly the same attitude but didn’t think to mention it until after the money had been offered (apparently with no strings attatched), accepted and spent.

      I think you’re making absolutely the right decision in wanting to pay for it yourself!

  14. Some may disagree but something in this rubs me the wrong way. I am bothered by a generation of people who had their educations and weddings paid for who now pass on this $100,000 burden to their young-adult children and then justify their actions using words like entitled, spoiled, lavish, wasteful or irresponsible. They (and the groom’s family) are the established parties in the picture, and while there is no reason to throw down a princess wedding at your daughters whim, it seems selfish to not contribute at all when means are present.

    • I agree to some extent, but I think it really depends on the people involve and their situation. There are so many variables these days that having any overall rules doesn’t really work.

      Just like not all weddings are paid for by the parents not all engaged couples are broke and just starting out. Many people are getting married later in life when they already have a good career and earn as much as, sometimes more than, their parents. There is no reason someone in that situation would need their parents to pay for the wedding.

      It also depends on who wants what. Just like it isn’t fair for a bride to demand her parents pony up money they don’t have for her extravagant dream wedding it’s also not fair for family to put pressure on a couple to have a bigger, grander wedding than they would have chosen and then leave them to pay for it.

    • I, too, am rubbed the wrong way.
      Most women don’t throw $100,000 weddings to have a special princess day no matter what mommy and daddy can afford. In fact, I sort of doubt that there are any women that do that.
      Most women work as well within their budget constraints as they can, which is extremely difficult when up against the WIC image of an acceptable wedding and familial pressure.

    • I’m confused by ” I am bothered by a generation of people who had their educations and weddings paid for who now pass on this $100,000 burden to their young-adult children and then justify their actions using words like entitled, spoiled, lavish, wasteful or irresponsible.”
      $100K is that a typo? Heck my weddings, and two graduate degrees combined don’t cost that much.
      The burden is one conceived in one’s mind. A wedding to be valid just needs a license and a JoP. I know where you can get that for under $100 bucks. It is sad that we’ve bought into this idea that we’ve got to put on a small Hollywood production, even more sad when we say parent are obligated to fund these elaborate shows, when they should be funding retirements and long term care.

    • I could be wronf but I think the article is saying just that. That its ok to have help but if your parents are struggling to get by you shouldn’t be throwing a tantrum from the bling bling you want

  15. Very true! Sadly my parents and I got into a HUGE argument about how they believed that my FH (now husband) was obligated to pay for an expensive engagement ring to “prove how much he loves me. Marriage is an investment.”
    The whole thing was absolutely appalling to me.

    • I agree! My husband spent $400 on a lovely engagement band for me, studded with tiny diamonds and sapphires. And it was EXACTLY what I wanted—no huge stone sticking up that would catch on things. And sapphires. My parents thought he was cheap. I thought he was amazing and thoughtful for getting me what I wanted instead of something to “impress” everyone. In fact, I picked out the band myself.

      • I know exactly how you feel! I picked out a $60 ring from walmart that I loved! I also felt ot didnt matter what it cost it was about the significance! My fella actually spent more on a much bigger and beautiful ring that I also love but I would have been just as happy with the Walmart ring.

  16. Enjoyed reading this–good to get info on traditions in the post & comments!

  17. I’m glad this discussion is opening up – my situation is such that, to afford the wedding that I and my huge, loving, extended family both want, my parents will contribute. They have generously offered to pay a certain amount. A wedding may be legally sufficient if it is before a Justice of the Peace, but if we just had a JOP wedding or eloped, we would deny our families the chance to see us married, which would hurt them and us.
    I understand that this is not true of everyone, and respect differences, but implying that all women who don’t pay for their own weddings are spoiled is very hurtful to future brides and grooms who are working hard but still won’t be able to afford the wedding that they and their families dream of. I’m not saying that those who desire a small wedding should be forced into a big production because of their families, but the reverse is also true – if it is important to the family and it is what the couple wants, and there is clear communication between the parents and the couple regarding control and style, and mindfulness instead of blind acceptance of tradition, it seems to me that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with accepting help. If the contribution would damage the relationship between parents and daughter because of control issues on either side, that’s another situation altogether.

  18. I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever met a bride like ones described in this post. I’ve met a lot more whose parents insist that they have the “right kind” of wedding (see also, in a church, with a white dress, for $10,000 or more) and refuse to foot the bill for any of it, or will pay for something, but only if they get total control over how the money is spent.

    I think a lot of social pressure (in America, anyway) has been put on the parents to provide a huge, overblown, fairytale wedding. It’s not just a hyperbolic gesture of success and good wishes for the newlyweds, it’s a very real sign of affluence and disposable income. Being able to feed 200 people, rent a mansion, pay for a Vera Wang dress, and import a thousand free-range doves to release in glorious flight as the couple takes their first walk down the aisle is a heck of a way to spend $10,000… and a lot more visible than just giving the new couple a check for a new house, or setting up a trust for future offspring to spend on college tuition.

    The pressure parents feel to provide a perfect WIC-style wedding isn’t just because they want to relive their own, but better. They also feel pressure to display their love and approval of the couple tangibly to the social group. Where I come from, it’s a bit crass to say “I gave my daughter a check for 10 grand for her wedding present!” It’s much more polite to host a huge wedding, visibly displaying your wealth, and not mention the pricetag at all. After all, you don’t need to.

    I think, as future newlyweds, it’s our responsibility not only to limit our expectations, but to learn how to show appreciation, make suggestions, find middle grounds, and even flat-out say “Thank you, but NO.” to well-intentioned parents.

  19. My mother got this in the worst way; Her Mother-in-law was demanding a HUGE fancy affair, but wasn’t paying a dime because “it’s the bride’s family who has to pay” she even invited 285 more people to the wedding, who in turn brought their friends and kids (it was adults only). My mother spent her wedding night crying and barfing as the vendor scolded her relentlessly and my maternal grandparents debated on whether or not to take out another mortgage.
    Stories like this scared me completely shitless when I first got engaged, but luckily I have amazing future in-laws who immediately asked “What can we do? How can we help? Can I please come to a dress fitting?” They are so cool.
    Just in case, grandma on dad’s side isn’t being told a thing until it’s way too late for her to interfere.

  20. Real interesting article. Made me second think the fact that my Mother will be paying for most of this wedding. I didn’t ask for it or expect it, but when she heard we were considering eloping, she couldn’t stand the thought. Hopefully there’s not too many strings attached!

  21. Also, there seems to be this mentality among academics that dowries were purely given to “rid” the family of an unwanted female child, while this may have been the case for some, I find it highly unlikely it was the case for all, and in my peoples tradition, it was always a parting gift for the father to throw a bridal party, a way of showing his pride and appreciation for his daughter and his hopes for her future happiness.

    I find it hard to be offended when it is looked at in this sort of light.

  22. My husband is one of 3 children and has both a brother and a sister. When we got married, my mother paid for the majority of the wedding expenses and his parents gave us what amounted to about 25%. We didn’t ask for any help but we’re flat broke so all the parents knew that if they wanted anything approximating a traditional wedding they’d have to pitch in. One of the interesting issues the financing of the wedding brought up was the question of fairness between siblings. My husband’s parents feel that their children should be financially independent and have generally discouraged their kids from asking them for money. They also strive to treat all of their children equally. As it is, my husband is already the most financially independent of the 3 siblings because at least he can afford his living expenses and does not have a boatload of debt. We wonder whether his parents will offer his sister the same amount they offered us if she gets married. Honestly, if they offer her more, I think it would be very difficult for my husband, or anyone else for that matter, not to feel slighted. Most of the discussion here has revolved around the historical mistreatment of women, but from my standpoint, I am seeing how the current norm of the bride’s parents being primarily responsible for wedding expenses can also be a big middle finger to men, as though a son’s marriage is not as important.

  23. This is very close to my heart. As far as I was concerned if my partner and I were mature enough to get married, we were mature enough to pay for it ourselves – why should our decision have such massive ramifications for others? In the end, we eloped. Problem was his parents decided afterwards they wanted to give us money as a gift. Then when they learned that my parents didn’t (um, she’s a single mum and he’s a neglectful father why should/would they?) his parents become quite indignant. To this day, it is still an issue.

  24. I completely agree with this, however I have my own story. When my hubs and I started planning, we asked both sets of parents if they’d like to contribute and they both agreed to the same amount. (1/4 of the budget for each). Later however, it became like pulling teeth to get the money out of his parents, and we didn’t end up getting the entire amount anyway, causing us to have to take out a loan for the final balance. We couldn’t necessarily drop parts of the wedding at the point, deposits had been put down, things had been ordered, etc. So NOW, 2 months later I hear that his parents are paying for his sister’s ENTIRE Long Island wedding, with will be double the size of ours. WTF!!!!!! Did their son not deserve the same? It makes me so angry and yet my hubs acts like it’s no big deal.

  25. I really didn’t see anything in this post heading in the direction of what happened in my family, but I agree with Crystal in regards to the groom’s side. (Though, like I said, I’m going off on another tangent.) When my sister got married, my parents were able to pay for half, and asked her fiance’s parents to pay the other half. I was stunned at their medieval attitude; they were offended to be asked to pay anything for their son’s wedding, thinking the bride’s family should pick up the whole tab. I understand the history and tradition, but really? Is it really *only* the bride’s day? I could have sworn there were two people saying vows. What’s so awful about a 50/50 split(whether it’s parents, the betrothed, or a combination of the like)? Seems like the right way to start a marriage to me.

  26. That was probably the best article I’ve ever read about the epistomology of weddings.

  27. I’m Australian and getting married in Russia. Interestingly enough, while the tradition is for the brides family to be a majority contributor initially, The wedding celebration is filled with games in which guests,.. read ALL guests, are to contribute money to participate. The more guests you invite, the more money your likely to get. You usually spend about half of the money your expecting to get. So, your wedding gets paid for AND your ‘dowry’ covered by all your friends and relatives.

    Better each guest hand over $500+ in game event money than your parents pay $50,000+ for a single.

    Stops the concept of wedding crashers.. unless they feel ok paying $500 each for some strangers wedding.

    Different culture, different rules.. but interesting.

    • That IS interesting and reminds me of the weddings where they pin money on the bride’s gown. Can’t remember if it is a Greek or Italian tradition. My fiance’s family are Lithuanian American and I’m already incorporating some of the Lithuanian “dowry” type traditions into our ceremony including the giving of gifts of cloth.

      With regard the dowry tradition in general I just think it’s nobody’s business who pays for our wedding OR what traditions we follow or why. I figure most engaged couples have enough to contend from the WIC and their family and friends, work colleagues and random strangers…ALL of whom seem to spend a good deal of time offering unsolicited advice and dire warnings and judgements. WHO knew there was going to be so many freakin’ opinions on something that ultimately isn’t anybody else’s business? If someone out there has Daddy pay $200,000 for their wedding and he’s prepared to do it and the couple are prepared to go along with it, well good for them! It’s none of my business. For all I know the bride may very well be entitled to a slap up wedding from her parents. Who knows what kind of dynamic has gone on in the relationship up to this point? AND who cares? I know I’ve got enough on my plate as it is just trying to negotiate this 3 ringed circus side show of freaks we got going on ourselves. If I’ve managed to wrap my feminist brain around the idea of agreeing to marry in the first place then the dowry and all the previous chattel type traditions that applied to women are the least of my worries. I’m just grateful to be marrying my person in a place that recognizes marriage equality and where I don’t have to hear about God. Having to rely on him and be more of a house frau for the foreseable future is going to be much harder to wrap my head around than Mum & Dad forking out cash for the Aussie party.

  28. I just would like to point out that the idea of a dowry was not in all cultures seen as a bribe just as women in some cultures where not seen as chattel . Though a lot of cultures did treat women as second class citizens there were also some that viewed women as cherished and provided a dowry as a way of ensuring that the woman that they were giving to another household would be looked after properly.

    That being said I do see how the cultures that used bride price as a way to get rid of the burden of taking care of their daughters could be seemingly still present as the ideal that a woman needs a man to car for her is still prevalent but again I think it is a matter of culture.

  29. Catholic church NOT very accomodating with when they will marry young couples. Just another reason to stay away.

  30. I think a lot of it comes down to communication. Initially my fiancé and I thought we’d be paying for it all ourselves but my mother expressed an interest in wanting to help pay for it. I told her that she was under no obligation and that we were grateful for whatever she was willing to contribute. To her, it’s one final gift she can give me before I start a new life.

    This also means my mother is having opinions about the wedding. Luckily, I am doing a bulk of the planning myself so I get to make a lot of the decisions. However, I find that inviting her to venue tours and the like helps her feel like she’s part of the process because she can share her thoughts with me.

    A huge part of being at peace with parental-contributions stem from being grateful and appreciative. My mother offered, unsolicited, and that means so much more than if I were to ever ask her.

  31. Funny, I may be wrong but I don’t have the feeling that this is a tradition in Portugal. It’s rather a tradition that the parents of both bride and groom pay for the wedding. So much so, that traditional invitations in Portugal are “names of groom’s parents + names of bride’s parents invite you to their children’s wedding”
    We always hated this because in cases where the parents have different life conditions or are not willing to contribute, it becomes very noticeable who has the most money, and that’s kind of sad. The most exaggerated case we had was a couple of friends where the bride’s parents were loaded while the groom’s parents had less money, more children and less willingness in general to participate in their son’s life. The groom payed for his side, but he didn’t have a lot. So the bride had 400 guests and the groom had 30!
    There have been so many cases of “I’m paying so you’re doing it my way” that I believe what is becoming traditional now in Portugal is to have smaller weddings payed by the bride and groom. If the parents want to offer a money gift to help with the expense they do (mine did, thank the Lord…).

  32. There’s a type of modern financial exchange associated with marriage that wasn’t mentioned here: the mahr. (A price paid as part of nikah, a marriage in accordance with Islam.) It’s a sum paid either before the marriage or at some delayed point by the husband, to the wife. It remains her personal property, to do with as she likes. It’s non-negotiable, too: the agreement on mahr amount is actually part of the marriage contract.

    Personally, I actually think the mahr is a wonderful tradition: it acknowledges that marriage can be a risky proposition for women, financially, and thus has the purpose of taking care of her financially, should the marriage end in death or divorce.

    • Personally I don’t like the idea of preparing for failure via. a mahr any more than the assumed presumption that bride’s family pays all. Archaic all. We paid for everything, even split and live happily ever after.

  33. The tradition of having the bride’s family pay for the wedding is rooted in some truly distasteful notions. Basically, back in the day = which isnt the too distant past actually, women weren’t allowed to live on their own, work outside the home, or own property. So, an unmarried daughter was essentially considered a serious burden, especially on families living at or near the subsistence level. To remove this burden, her family would essentially pay a man to marry her, to get this burden off of the parents’ hands while at the same time offering the man his own private maid whom he could beget to produce children and who would cook and clean for him while he was out there making money and doing all the things women werent allowed to.

    That said I am against the idea of anyone’s parents being obliged or asked to pay for their children’s wedding. Now some people have obscene amounts of money and throwing lavish weddings just goes hand in hand with their lifestyles. I mean why else have all that money if you arent going to spend it on such things? But in cases where the parents arent wealthy, I dont think they should feel obligated to shell out even a penny to finance the wedding. In fact, I dont even think the bride and groom should be wasting tens of thousands of dollars on one day of party and celebration. I am always amazed at how much money, right at the beginning of their lives together, a couple waste on a wedding. Imagine all that can be done with 10,000 or 20,000 or maybe even 50,000 dollars that some people spend on their weddings. Some of this money is a down payment for the house or could buy you a trip around the globe or furniture for your new home. Why blow it on a wedding?
    The reason we are even having this discussion is because the cost – and with it expectations of – weddings have gone up so much, it’s becoming a major expense that people need to “deal with” now. Remember back in the day the money was paid not so much for the festivities but as a cash sum to the groom. Now it is all going into festivities and for what? Essentially a party. Is that really worth tens of thousands of dollars? is it worth to burden your parents who are likely retirement age? Or yourselves at the beginning of your lives where such a big chunk of money could come in very handy when you are building your lives together? Big weddings are a waste of money and no matter how many Hollywood romance movies you have seen and how much that has sucked you in, think about whether you really want to go down that route and burden yourself and your loved ones with such ridiculous expenses.

  34. Nice article.
    >> The dowry and trousseau were a necessity of those times, because they ensured that a groom would have the things he needed to support his new wife and their children to come.

    Why were only the bride’s parents forced to “ensure that a groom would have the things he needed..”? Why weren’t the groom’s parents asked to contribute?
    And while the groom may work outside & the bride is not allowed to earn, do you think that all the hard work that the bride did at home is of no value? And wasn’t giving birth to children (almost like one child in a year.. after getting used by the groom whenever he itches, without any consideration about her state of health) a high risk, extremely painful part of the “family life” that is shouldered solely by the bride? On top of all this, someone has the heart to demand money from her. Revolting.

  35. This was a fantastic post. Did you know the veil being lifted represents the hymen being broken for the first time as the brides virginity is taken? I love a good veil every now and then but I certainly am not a fan of the origins!

    I’m a wedding photographer and one of my brides was Moroccan. On their honeymoon in Morocco some men offered the groom 13 camels for his wife! Needless to say he didn’t sell her, but she was glad to know exactly how many camels she was worth!

    xoxo Sky Simone

  36. I feel that it is important to also acknowledge that dowries weren’t just for grooms and their families to take a bride off their parent’s hands it was also a way for the bride to be more financially secure for if the husband was neglectful, dead or they got divorced. Often the husband was not allowed to sell or use any of the wife’s dowry for himself and it was one of the few times that a woman could be in control of some of her finances. This is an interesting report on the historical economics of the dowry and also the brideprice:

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