11 Surprising Differences Between British and American Weddings
Learn all about the surprising (and frankly, quite charming) British wedding traditions.
We might speak the same language, but British and American customs can vary wildly—just take a look at these British foods. The same holds true with British weddings. There are more than a few differences between the way Americans and Brits tie the knot. But some of these alternative traditions are pretty charming, and we can’t wait to see them in practice when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say “I do.”
Time of day
The traditional British wedding begins at noon, and the meal that follows the ceremony is referred to as the “wedding breakfast” (it’s referred to as “breakfast” no matter what time it takes place!). In America, the most common scenario is a 4 p.m. ceremony followed by a dinner reception, according to wedding planner, Elizabeth Clayton.
British weddings must take place in a licensed location. “We just don’t have that thing where you can get married in a garden or in a living room,” according to British-born Eve MacSweeney, Features Director at Vogue. American weddings can be anywhere from a church to a beach.
Here’s how to figure out how much food to serve at any party.
The bridesmaid’s dresses
Traditionally, British brides purchase their bridesmaids’ dresses, which tend to be similar to the bridal gown. In America, most bridesmaids shell out for their own dresses, although the bride usually does the picking, and if you recall the film, 27 Dresses, bridesmaids’ dresses tend to be nothing like the bridal gown!
British brides typically pick a group of younger girls between the ages of 10 to 12 to serve as bridesmaids—exactly what Meghan Markle is planning to do at her upcoming nuptials according to Harper’s Bazaar.
“In the US, you have bridal showers….we just don’t do that in the UK,” says Hollanda, a British etiquette board contributor. British brides do have their hen parties, however, which are referred to more commonly in the US as bachelorette parties.
Rehearsal dinners and post-wedding brunches
As with bridal showers, rehearsal dinners aren’t customary in England. When British weddings are preceded by rehearsal dinners, it’s a matter of “importing” an American tradition. The same is true for next-day brunches.
British wedding etiquette does not require alcohol to be served at a wedding, and if there is alcohol, it is commonly a cash bar. By contrast, American wedding hosts tend to splurge on the open bar, or at least a few signature drinks.
The wedding processional
British brides tend to be at the front of the wedding processional, entering ahead of the bridesmaids (and sometimes there are young male attendants who carry bridal gown’s train). American weddings save the bride for last (although she is often accompanied by one or both parents).
The wedding cake
The traditional royal wedding cake is a marzipan-covered fruitcake—though Meghan and Harry are opting to break tradition with a lemon-elderflower cake and a few bonus treats.
The wearing of hats is a long-standing tradition for female guests at British weddings. This has relaxed somewhat, but the general rule is: “the posher the wedding, the more hats.” Younger women tend to opt for the smaller hats and headpieces—think fascinator style.
A sixpence in your shoe…
Brides in Great Britain and America keep with them, “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.” But a traditional British bride will also keep a penny in her shoe (that’s actually the last line of the rhyming verse that originated in England).