So why do we still follow the same traditions that originated centuries ago — particularly when many of these traditions have a sexist history?
Here are seven wedding traditions with surprisingly regressive roots that need to get with the times, pronto:
1. The garter toss
It's not exactly intuitive for men to gather around to catch the undergarment of their buddy's new wife. But if you're wondering how this risqué tradition came about, consider the mystery solved.
The tradition comes from the middle ages, when the newlywed couple would immediately leave the wedding for a separate room to consummate their marriage. Unfortunately, the consummation wasn't exactly private: In some countries, you needed a witness for it to be official. According to the Chicago Tribune, this tradition continued well into the 18th century for royal European couples, who would select guests to escort them to their chambers.
Basically, the garter toss originated when a few "witnesses" would get a little too enthusiastic about the action and grab the bride's clothes as she walked by. Eventually, as Mental Floss reports, people realized how utterly creepy this was, so instead the groom would remove an undergarment and toss it outside to prove the consummation to the witnesses.
The garter toss is essentially proof that the bride has been "deflowered" — in a very public setting. Not exactly empowering.
2. Carrying the bride over the threshold
This tradition may seem romantic (or, at the very least, evidence of the groom's strength), but its origins are all too similar to those of the garter toss. According to The Knot, the ritual began with ancient Roman grooms, who literally dragged their wives into their houses after the wedding. The lack of enthusiasm could have been a lack of consent, or simply an effort for the bride not to appear too eager for sex.
3. The best man
In the days before wedding parties, best men weren't chosen for their friendship — they were chosen for their strength. Why, exactly? So they could fight off the bride (or her family) if she decided to flee during the wedding.
That's right. According to Mental Floss, the best man is a tradition that comes from forcing women to be married — essentially, to enable kidnapping. Jen Doll, author of Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest, told Mental Floss that "In a time in which 'marriage by capture' was practiced, close friends of the groom would assist him in taking the bride from her family. They'd form a small army to fight off angry relatives so that he could escape with her."
Of course, this troubling history doesn't mean you shouldn't involve your friends in your big day. But instead of embracing traditional wedding parties, why not break the gender segregation? With modern understandings of gender identity, bridesmaids and groomsmen are far from the only options. Grooms can have "groomswomen," brides can have "bridesmen," or the couple could ignore gender altogether and unite one desegregated wedding party.
4. The white dress
As most of us know, the white wedding dress is meant to represent purity and virginity. Nowadays, that's often far from true — but the color is still considered standard for brides nonetheless.
The tradition arose with Queen Victoria, who chose a white silk-satin dress for her wedding to Prince Albert 176 years ago. According to Time, her choice was a break from the popular color for brides in her era — red.
While the Queen may not have chosen white with its modern associations in mind, it wasn't long until the color became associated with purity. Just a few years later, a monthly lady's magazine called white "the most fitting hue" for a bride, as "an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one," according to Time.
The implication? Purity and innocence were (and often still are) equated with the value of a woman as a bride — so a sexually-experienced woman was "worth" less than a virgin.
This interpretation isn't quite as common nowadays, but still exists — especially among older generations. Anecdotally, one friend recently told me a friend's enraged aunt told her she shouldn't wear white at her wedding because she wasn't a virgin — and you can see similar opinions overtaking Twitter whenever celebrities who are known for their sexual behavior tie the knot.
So what should you do? Wear whatever damn color you want.
5. The veil
If only the white dress was the lone part of the bride's wardrobe steeped in the patriarchy. Unfortunately, the veil is just as guilty.
The veil was traditionally worn by the bride until either her father or new husband lifted it. The lifting of the veil represented the groom's right to consummate the marriage, representing another thin membrane (the hymen) that will be physically penetrated on the wedding night.
The short version? Don't feel any shame if you want to rock a veil on your wedding day. But you can keep it back, not covering your face, the whole time — or lift it yourself.
6. Bachelor parties
This one may not be surprising — if you think about it, the "last night of freedom" implies that there's a lack of freedom after you tie the knot. According to Time, the tradition dates back to the 5th century B.C., when ancient Spartans celebrated the groom's last night as a single man. After all, when marriages were often arranged business deals, the idea of celebrating your last single night made sense.
Now? Marriage shouldn't mean the end of your freedom. And marrying your true partner shouldn't be something you feel the need to lash out against beforehand.
Want a wild night of fun? Go for it. But please, don't make any references to the "ball and chain" coming soon.
7. Giving away the bride
This one is too obvious not to mention. The touching tradition of a father "giving away" his daughter at the wedding has a troubling history.
This iconic wedding moment is a holdover from the days when a bride was their father's property, to "give away" as with a dowry. The most traditional enactments have the father literally placing the bride's hand in the husband's, as if the bride couldn't stand alone for a single moment.
By now, we've all recognized that a bride gives her own consent to a marriage. She is her own person to give away. So how can a bride honor her parents without giving up her independence?
Simple: She can still be walked down the aisle, but give herself away. Oh, and her mom or any other parental figure should be more than welcome on the trip down the aisle as well.
It's no secret that weddings have their problematic edges (especially when you consider the wedding-industrial complex). But that doesn't mean your special day has to be tainted. By knowing the history of wedding traditions, you can choose if you really want them in your wedding — or if you want to tweak or cut them to make the day entirely your own.