Let’s re-write our notions about what defines a wedding!

Guest post by Alexandra Haller
alexandra in her blue dress alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Alexandra with her husband Jason and their dog Quixote on the wedding day. Awwww. Picture by Jill Kulchinksy

One of my favorite authors is an evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He wrote a letter to his young daughter on exactly how people should challenge the notions of what is true and untrue. For the sake of this post, I want to recall what he says about tradition not being a great reason to do something. He writes:

The trouble with tradition is that, no matter how long ago a story was made up, it is still exactly as true or untrue as the original story was. If you make up a story that isn't true, handing it down over a number of centuries doesn't make it any truer!

A perfect example of this is the white wedding dress. People had been getting married for a century, even a millennia, without wearing white. Suddenly Queen Victoria sashayed down the aisle in dazzling white to prove her worth in wealth, and the white-dress-as-tradition took hold. If you ask most brides why they'd wear white, it's typically because this is what's done. It's rarely questioned, because you hardly ever see a wedding that strays from this black and white picture.

Has our collective notion of what defines a wedding gone this far off the rails?

The wedding ceremony and the following reception seem to be the last social events in our country to change even in the slightest. If you dare to ask what the big deal is about a white dress, people will ask you why you'd want to look like a harlot. If you suggest having canolis for dessert and skipping the cake-cutting ceremony, people will balk as if you've just asked your guests to eat their own toenails. You don't want a bridal party either? Well apparently you have no friends and no respect for tradition. It's clear that when you deviate from the preordained structure of a “classic” wedding, you're a rebel, a renegade, an outlaw.

I didn't wear a white wedding dress and people begged to know why. What did I have against white? Did I have to make a statement at my wedding? Was my husband OK with this? Well, he married me with my obsessive compulsive tendencies, my micromanaging money habits, my complete inability to shut a cupboard door, and yet somehow there's this notion that the color of a dress I'd wear for a few hours would overshadow all of that. That it would make him run for the hills, or at least the nearest David's Bridal, where surely he could find something more appropriate. Well, my husband was at first taken aback. But that isn't surprising because he'd never been to a wedding that featured any other option. Now that you've seen the picture that accompanies this story, you know he must've made peace with my blue dress.

If you want to serve Hot Pockets, does that mean your union is doomed? Of course not. I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.

A pirate outfit. Vows said while dangling from a tree branch. A bridal party wearing kilts. There are so many ways to customize the event. If your mother-in-law is pressuring you to have a white, three-tiered wedding cake, well, it's your wedding. However, if you want to serve Hot Pockets, does that mean your union is doomed, your love isn't genuine, and your future is bleak? Of course not. I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.

If you really want the engagement photo shoot with the vintage luggage because you're into time period pictorials, go for it. If you want to twirl a baton because you met at band camp while your man straps on his large tuba, do it with smiles! Really big smiles that say, “I love who I am and my partner too, but I hope that tuba doesn't come into bed with us!” Don't be anything else but yourself.

Marriage is going to be hard. It's going to require the strength to know yourself and your values. It's not going to be decided by the number of guests at your wedding, the color of someone's shoes, or the flavor of a cake. If you can both be yourself on that one day and proudly boast about your puppy coming down the aisle, you're on the path to self-acceptance.

Eventually those streamers will be in the garbage, and your new dishes will be put away, and many of the wedding details will fade. You'll find yourself late for an event because your husband was in the bathroom for two hours with the sports section. At that moment you'll discover what your marriage really looks like.

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Comments on Let’s re-write our notions about what defines a wedding!

  1. Horay!! I completely agree, Me and my FH have been talking about just this sort of thing. He keeps asking “but can we do that?” And I keep replying. “um, yeah, its our wedding!” I’m forwarding this to him now! Thank you for this post!

  2. My fiance challenges me to rethink the wedding assumptions. And then he pops out with a very traditional idea on something else. We’re making this one our own choosing the traditions we like/have become attached to (white dress, public ceremony, cake…maybe even with icky fondant b/c it’s PRETTY) and then choosing our own (unique outdoor location, no religion, small guest list, phone invites, etc.)

    We’re growing in this together and it’s awesome.

  3. I totally agree, and I am always driven nuts when people behave like deviation from a full dinner reception is totally against tradition. I mean up until maybe 30 years ago cake and punch receptions were the norm. Only the rich served dinner. Although, I also admit that this isn’t even the point. Even if cake and punch receptions weren’t ever tradition the truth is is that what you do at your wedding won’t define the marriage. A traditional wedding doesn’t equal a happy marriage. Either you just love tradition (which is totally cool) or are being bullied into a wedding because everyone else does it

  4. This should be required reading for everyone who’s even thinking about planning a wedding!

  5. “I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.”

    This? Is so true. Thank you for this post. My same-sex, no bridal party, jeans-wearing-father-in-attendance is in the works – and includes a white dress (two, actually), a cake, and some pretty centerpieces. It’s allll good. All of it.

  6. Funny think about the white dress: I was asked, “You’re not wearing white, are you? Wouldn’t that be kind of hypocritical, since you’ve been married before?”


    • my friend didn’t think she should wear white for her second marriage, but her mom staunchly disagreed, “her first marriage didn’t really count.” gotta love mom…

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m taking an event planning course, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person there who reads Offbeat Bride. During the first class, I brought up online invitations and you would have thought that I told them to kill their aunt and eat her. The only thing that a wedding requires is that two people end up married. Everything else is optional. I’m going to print this and bring it to my class next week.

  8. Thank you for such a great article. Your dress is amazing! I go back and forth on the white dress. It will be my second marriage, but I didn’t have “traditional” one the first time around. But then I’m not really sure I’m a white dress kind of person and I find myself thinking that all wedding dresses look exactly the same. Your article has inspired me to look in a different direction.

  9. YES! It drives me insane that our society has this expectation that you do “traditional” things just because they are “traditional.” If a particular tradition means nothing to my fiance and me, then why do it?

  10. wonderful post – many points well worth remembering.
    I have often told people that all that matters is that they end up married at the end of the day – how that happens and how that is celebrated is up to those being married.
    The white wedding dress is a modern expectation – not a traditional one. For millennia, a bride would be dressed in the finest garments available – whatever they were – and adorned with jewelry, cosmetics, henna, whatever was available in their own family or geographic region. The wearing of white is meant to denote joy because it is the opposite of black and mourning (the way priests wear white vestments on Easter)not virginity.
    Now a tux is considered to be the “ultimate” for men and a white wedding dress for women and people are appalled to think you wouldn’t want to look your best and go all out for your wedding!
    The problem is, we don’t all look good in white, and tuxes often look like something borrowed from a friend who isn’t quite the right size. Won’t people feel happier and look better in garments that suit them, inside and out?
    I do not understand people who think cutting cake (originally sprinkled over the heads of the bride and groom for fertility) will make a difference in your marriage!
    And as for wearing white for a second marriage, perfectly acceptable – according to etiquette, you should not cover your face, but wearing a veil is perfectly proper.

    As Dr. Seuss said “Be who you are and do what you feel because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”

  11. When I told my dad my dress wasn’t exactly white (its a shade between white and ivory) he replied with a smile: “yeah well we’re not all white nowadays anyways…” I laughed out loud and it made me feel loads better. I was really stressed when getting the dress cause my parents were buying and I didn’t want to make em broke lol and went with my mom and no dad (daddy’s girl here). So that statement made me relieved. Oh and mom loves my blue and green shoes :-). Nice to know that my parents are accepting of my.choices so far. Didn’t even question my no church ceremony. I loved this article. It brings to home what’s most important about weddings. You’re celebrating your new life together. For us, I’m the last of my friends to get married as well as the “baby” of my generation of cousins to get married as well. So I’d like to celebrate who we are as a couple in many subtle ways in our wedding. From the soundtrack music, to video game, Asian and science references and our secular nuptials with humor and lightheartedness.

  12. This is such a wonderful and rational article. I have somewhat struggled with the thought of bucking tradition. However, I want our wedding to be what WE want it to be and most of all, for it to be fun and memorable.

    If other people don’t like it, they are going to get a copy of this article. If they continue to complain, then I suppose that they don’t really need to attend.

    Thank you!

  13. I get this 150%. I told a good friend that I was going to wear a blue dress, and she replied with “I’m sure you could find a great white dress! Don’t give up!” and I replied “I haven’t given up, I never even considered a white dress. Have you ever even seen me WEAR white? It’s because I hate it.” She didn’t really have much of a reply after that, haha

    • That’s hilarious! I’m wearing a gold dress and red and black accessories for the same reason. I wear dark cloths 99% of the time so being decked out from head to toe in white would just feel really weird.

  14. Tradition: Because hundreds of thousands of dead people can’t be wrong.

    Historically speaking, blue is a more traditional color for a wedding gown in western cultures. Many women wore it because it’s identified with the Virgin Mary. And white to a lot of cultures is assciated with mourning. Trufax.

    • Exactly. Blue is also associated with true-heartedness, steadfastness, constancy, loyalty, sincerity, calmness, happiness (blue skies!), communication, faithfulness and remembrance (forget-me-nots are blue).

  15. Great post, I think this is something every bride needs to hear once in a while, that their offbeat choices don’t make them less sincere.
    However, I also feel like the other side gets underrepresented here sometimes. If you want a white dress (I’m having one!) and a three tiered cake and a plated dinner and all of that (or any of that), that doesn’t make you less sincere EITHER. I’ve gotten the feeling sometimes that choosing NOT to break ‘traditions’ and choosing not to customize every tiny detail makes one somehow less authentic and sincere than having a brightly colored dress and writing the ceremony from scratch and DIYing everything.
    Both sides of this coin are equally valid though and I think the overall point is “no matter what you want, you choices and your wedding are valid and wonderful and sincere. Do what makes you happy”

    • Definitely this! I am considering an all inclusive disney world wedding package, that comes with flowers, gazebo, organ and violinist, and tiered cake. Want to know why? It’s DISNEY!! And, it includes everything! And it’s CHEAP! And no stress! I guess it’s not offbeat, but it might be the way I go…and it doesn’t make me any less …bridal (for lack of a better word) than anybody else.

      • miranda look on fb for a group called disneyland brides. (not sure if thre is a similar disneyworld group). some of the ladies over there are addinglittle diy accents to make it their ‘own’ while still keeping the disney touch. you may want to check them out just to ask them all a million questions about the service they received and whatnot.

    • I totally agree. The ‘outline’ of our day is traditional – I nearly wrote ‘typical’, which surmises everything, really – but this is just the “framework” we are putting twists where we can and creating surprises for the guests. Were not trying to please our mothers, impress or show how ‘alt’ we are, we just want to create something different to the ‘typical’ and expected wedding: 3 tier ivory cake (on the outside, on the inside – screaming red velvet), ivory dress (no veil, glasses and black shoes), three course dinner with floral centre-pieces (followed by a rock/punk/ska band). And a bouncy castle outside. Oh, and walking down the aisle to the theme from Back to the Future.

      Ultimately, a wedding sees two people joined, but the ideal of the wedding day is about sharing the day with friends and family, and having a special, not-the-ordinary day and that means doing something flamboyant, that takes it from any-old sunday dinner or bbq, to a day/weekend that will stick out in the minds of the people you choose to share the experience with! Traditional doesn’t mean boring or dull; you can always make it special, make it unusual and make it personal!

  16. I come from this at a diffrent angle or I come from a family of weridos (you decided) but my Gran set the tradtion for wearing a dress that was her favorite colour (blue) in 1960. So every family wedding afterwards has been to for the bride to wear her favorite coloured dress. I’m wearing green. My fiancee’s Mum is horrified that I’m going agaist tradtion by not wearing white. Yet I’m being traditional by not wearing white!

    Make of that what you will….

  17. I’m not doing a white dress just because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m doing it because I like white wedding dresses. White is a color I rarely work with, my fabric bags are mostly full of black and blues with bits of hot pink and red. White is a challenging new frontier for me, one I look forward to conquering. There will of course be plenty of sparkle, my mom doesn’t call me “sparkle-plenty” for nothing, and the dresses will undoubtedly bear my usual design hallmarks, the pallet will just be different. I’m used to relying on healthy use of CMYK, straight white will force me to use more structural ideas, tailoring vs. drape. I want to learn from my dresses, not just play with what I normally do.

  18. Things I need: me, him.
    Things I want: a ring, friends & family, a dress that makes me feel amazing, dinner at somewhere great afterwards. Everything else is superfluous (but also potentially awesome!)

  19. Thank you for this! As a bride getting married on Saturday to the tune of no wedding party, cupcakes instead of cake, no planned dancing, no bouquet or garter throws, no toasts, coins exchanged instead of rings, and a black-and-white dress, I represent these remarks.

    We’ve got a little bit of a rebel streak, I guess, but what’s most important to us is personal authenticity. If a tradition means something to you personally then by all means incorporate it! If it doesn’t… don’t. When my future mother-in-law brought up a few traditions that she had to explain to me because I hadn’t even known they were traditional, we had to break it to her that they’d be absent from our wedding. Being true to yourselves trumps tradition for the sake of tradition any day.

    (And as an aside, the pictured dress is so gorgeous!)

  20. I’m really surprised at how upset people get when you walk off the beaten path (aisle). My mom surprised me the most. She is a very open person and there were several times I found her saying “Thats just not how its done”. I’m going to have delicious raspberry tiramisu cupcakes at the reception so what if their vegan. We wrote our own ceremony that did not included me being given away or referring to one specific power. I’m not going to torture my two single by friends by hurling a bouquet at them and letting them brawl for it. Hurray for doing what you want on your special day!

  21. My philosphy is – anything that people say you “have” to have at your wedding, I am looking at and saying, “but why do we have to do it that way?” Bouquets – why spend money on something that will DIE? Why spend hundreds of dollars on a white dress when a. I LOATHE white b. I already have two beautiful saris to wear that cost less than $100? My co-workers asked the other day what my last name will be. I was shocked about their indignant reactions when I said I wouldn’t be changing my name. One person asked, “Geez, what does he get out of it??” One thought she understood – I didn’t want to take my fiance’s Arabic last name – um, no not the reason at all! People suggested I just take my last name as my middle name or at least just hyphenate. I couldn’t believe that it was so difficult to grasp that I wanted my name because it’s MY NAME! FOR almost 30 YEARS!! Why should I change it?

    • I completely agree. I don’t want to change my name either. Partly because with a name like Leander, I just can’t see myself being Mrs Smith! but also, like you said, its been my name for all these years, why should I have to let it go?

      • I’m taking his last name because I currently have my ex-husband’s last name. My maiden name will still be my middle name.

        • I know this is old, but- you could take the opportunity to take your own name back- the choice isn’t between your current (ex-husband’s) last name and the new husband’s last name. It’s between all 3 names, or whatever other name or configuration makes you happy (your new husband could take your original name, even)! Sorry to pick, but this just reads like you never even considered your own original name as a possibility- just “keep ex’s name or take new husband’s name”. If your current choice is actually what you want, go for it, but don’t forget you have as many choices as you have imagination!

    • @Linsay – YES!! Thank you for articulating that so well. “What does he get out of it?” Are you kidding me?

  22. The only tradition I’m following is “something borrowed, blue, new, old. My dress is ivory. I’m wearing a fascinator. My son is giving me away even though my dad and I have a great relationship. The funniest part, my 15 year old son is the person that keeps saying, “It’s a wedding, Momma. You can’t do that!” Is he reading about wedding traditions on-line between playing Minecraft and watching Call of Duty videos on Youtube?

  23. At the moment we’re struggling because instead of being happy for us, most people are completely perplexed that I (female) asked him (male), and also that we don’t plan to ever sign the legal documentation unless circumstances (adopting children) force us to. We still want the party- we still want to share our commitment with the people who matter to us- but somehow doing it our own way has led to dismay rather than the joy we were expecting. Marriage I think is one of those off limits things in a lot of ways, when it comes to going against the grain… too bad, because we’re doing it our way anyway!

  24. For our wedding, we kept the traditions that were meaningful to US, and said to hell with the rest. This meant a bridal party, an Anglican ceremony, speeches, etc. I originally wanted to wear a pink dress, but the whole white dress ended up being important to my husband, so I bought a simple gown from a consignment shop and wore accessories that made it feel like ME (purple sandals, a ribbon sash, my favourite jewelry, etc). We ditched the whole dinner/dance reception in favour of a brunch, because it felt so much more like us. Most of the details were handmade. I had a princess lasertron bouquet, and our centerpieces were teacups with posies. We didn’t do a receiving line or bouquet/garter toss. Some people bitched about our decisions, but we stood our ground on what was important. We had an authentic wedding, and at the end of the day I think people really respected us for it, even if it wasn’t what they expected or would consider for themselves.

  25. Thanks to you, I feel as though the words I’ve wanted to say for a long time are finally out there for me to even show my conservative, Lutheran parents. As much as I try to formulate my wedding and even tweak things, I feel like I have to fight tooth and nail for what I’m visualizing for my big day. I don’t want to seem selfish and say, “This party is about me, so I’m making it the way I want to,” but I don’t want to have my parents take over completely and wear a white dress I’m not comfortable in or take away aspects that I feel are important to me. I feel confident now in going to them and asking them to read the words you have put here and say, “This is how I feel about my wedding and the way people might look at it.” I want the wedding my and Travis’ way, but with all the love and support that my parents have been giving me as well. Maybe this can help bridge the gap we’ve been having on these issues and even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean my parents and I won’t resolve our issues at all. We can still work things out and learn to communicate what we see and how we plan things. In the meantime, I can’t wait to order my Midnight Blue wedding dress and have it ready in a few more months for the big day!

  26. I agree with you 1000%. My husband and I had a rock and roll themed wedding that involved the use of lightsabres. We’re lucky in the sense that our guests knew us well enough not to expect a traditional wedding, and on most aspects of the wedding, people were totally supportive of our offbeatness, though there were a couple of battles. We also tried not to tell certain people stuff because we thought they might voice their disapproval, and when the people in question actually experienced the unique things we did (ie our lightsabre duel), they REALLY loved it! I think that many people who have strong opinions about weddings would probably really enjoy an offbeat wedding more than they might have previously thought once they actually are there to experience it.

    I have nothing against traditional weddings either. Couples should do what THEY want.

    And I think you, your husband, and you dog look gorgeous!

  27. People are indoctrinated so early, too! My 5-year-old niece just asked me why I didn’t get married ‘properly’ because I wore a grey vintage dress and oxford shoes, rather than white. She will be getting a deprogramming talk from me when she’s old enough…

    Because most wedding traditions make no sense to me, we ignored them. Particularly the ones that seem sexist. My husband and I walked into the ceremony together, and all our guests joined in the first dance; there was no cake-cutting, just a lot of cake-eating; we took each other’s surnames as our middle names; no colour scheme, but a riot of colour with home-made patchwork tablecloths and flowers from the garden.

    Despite this shunning of tradition, our marriage seems to be holding up fine so far.

  28. Thank your for all of your supportive comments. I am reading them off to my husband getting all teary-eyed. It’s times like this when I am reminded of what a powerful and affirmative tool the Internet can be. Maybe this supportive community of other off-beaters (ha! can we say that?) didn’t geographically live close to me but it’s nice to know you’re out there. There were many posts on this site that I also read to my husband in our wedding planning days. If I can make some others feel better from my experience, well then I’ve done something decent! To all those who want to send electronic invites, do it! Thank you for all the love. My smile is beaming off the sides of my face!

  29. Alexandra Haller is awesome, an individualist and a role model. I love the dress you chose and the new “traditions” you set for your children. Keep it going sister!!

  30. Nailed It, Alex! It still amazes me that people spend tons of money on traditions that don’t particularly mean anything to them. I wish you would have written this before I had gotten married! I would have felt much stronger about many of our untraditional choices. Thanks again!

  31. Great article, and even better comments. I’m in the early stages of planning for our wedding (now 8 months away) and am finding pressure of varying weight in varying places. We’re having a laid-back outdoor ceremony and party in my parents’ front and backyard, so my fiance and I can’t fathom certain expenditures like renting linen napkins or plates. BUT, since this is happening on Long Island, New York, I have some friends telling me that guests will have certain expectations and that things like plastic cups and a non-wedding cake will be received poorly. On the flip side, my fiance is all about just having a party and would just order pizza and a supermarket cake if it was up to him. There’s a tricky middle ground that I’m trying to find in identifying what our guests NEED and what just feels silly. This site is helping out quite a bit!

  32. Ceremoniously typing this with my ring finger – which is adorned by my —
    NON-diamond engagement ring…
    Right on, sistah!

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