British Royalty

Saying "I Do" in England versus America

The U.S. and England share many wedding traditions making their differences all the more interesting.

by Jennie Wood

Prince William and Kate Middleton official engagement photo

Prince William and Kate Middleton's official engagement photograph by Mario Testino ©2010

The Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

The Official Royal Wedding 2011 Site

How Prince Charles and Diana's 1981 Royal Wedding Compares

The Victorian Era in Literature

How To Get Your Own Royal Title

Royal Family Official Site

Chelsea Clinton's wedding may have cost $3 million and brought Rhinebeck, New York to a standstill on July 31, 2010, but it was a small affair compared to Prince William and Kate Middleton's upcoming nuptials. Royalty aside, wedding trends and traditions in the two countries are strikingly similar. As of 2011, both countries are seeing a decline in marriages. When couples do get married, they tend to be much older. The average age in the U.S. for a first-time bride is 26, while in the U.K. it is 29. For men, 28 is the average age for Americans, and in the U.K., early 30s is the current norm. The average length of a couple's engagement is also similar, with American couples averaging 19 months and 18 months for British couples. Even the average cost is close to the same. In the U.S., the tab for a wedding is generally around $30,000 or £19,000. It's just a little more in the U.K., around £22,000 or $33,000.

Trends Cross the Pond—Both Ways
Americans are still so enthralled with the wedding of Charles and Diana that her wedding gown has been touring the U.S. as part of the traveling exhibition "Diana, A Celebration." Americans are inspiring the British, too. The rehearsal dinner's popularity has spread from the U.S. to England in recent years.

Although many wedding traditions and trends are shared between the two countries, there are a number of differences. In the U.S., the bride traditionally walks down the aisle last, after the bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girl, and ring bearer. In England, the bride is the first down the aisle to emphasize her importance. Another key difference in the wedding precession is in America, the groomsmen walk arm-in-arm with the bridesmaids. British bridesmaids, however, follow the bride without escort, while the groomsmen, known in England as ushers, stand in the front.

Younger Bridesmaids
British bridesmaids usually cover a wider age range than those in the U.S. Each wedding party in England typically has bridesmaids around the same age as the bride and groom, but also younger bridesmaids, from ages 10-12. In the U.S., the bridesmaids are usually close friends or family of the bride or groom and are around the same age. The younger British bridesmaids do not replace the flower girl. In fact, there may be more than one flower girl at British royal weddings, or at Victorian-themed weddings, especially if the bride has several young relatives to honor.

Let Them Wear Hats
Wearing an enormous hat to a wedding in the U.S. might cause people to stare—or snicker; however, British women traditionally wear hats—big ones—to weddings. At a Christian ceremony in the U.S., the bride is usually the only person with something on her head.

Wedding Breakfast
Generally in the England, weddings take place in the afternoon. After the ceremony, the guests attend a wedding breakfast. At the wedding breakfast, a morning meal is typically not served. It is just another term for wedding reception. There are a couple of theories about the origin of the term wedding breakfast. One theory is that the name comes from the tradition of the bride and groom fasting before the wedding, therefore, the reception would be when they would break their fast. Another is that the wedding breakfast is the first meal of the couple's married life, just as breakfast is the first meal of the day. In the U.S., weddings often take place in the afternoon with a reception immediately following, where dinner is typically served. The reception is not referred to by any other name.

The Ex Factor
Much has been made of Prince William and Kate Middleton's guest list for their 2011 royal nuptials, which includes their exes. Four ex-girlfriends of Prince William's are invited: Rose Farguhar, Olivia Hunt, Arabella Musgrave, and Jecca Craig. Kate Middleton has invited Rupert Finch, who was her first boyfriend at the University of St. Andrews. Prince Charles also had exes present at his 1981 nuptials to Diana, including Camilla Parker Bowles, who would later become his second wife. Years later, when Prince Charles and Camilla married, Andrew Parker Bowles, her ex-husband, was in attendance. This may be royal etiquette or royal excess and not typical of all British guest lists. In the U.S., one ex may make the guest list, but multiple ex-girlfriends at a wedding are far from common.

Other Differences
Pre-wedding bashes are called bachelor and bachelorette parties in the U.S., while in the U.K. they are referred to as stag night or stag weekend for the men and hen night for the women. Britain has more legal restrictions about weddings than America. For example, in England and Wales, couples cannot legally get married outdoors unless the location has been approved by local authority. In the U.S., wedding cakes—both the main cake and, in some cases, a groom's cake—are a major part of the reception. In Britain, the dessert is traditionally a fruit cake. The top-tier of the fruit cake is saved for the christening of the couples' first child. The top-tier in the U.S. is saved for the couple's first anniversary. Another difference is the American tradition of the bride changing out of her wedding dress after the ceremony, something rarely done in the England. There has already been much speculation on which wedding traditions Kate Middleton and Prince William will follow and which ones they will break on their big day. Will Kate choose a traditional or modern wedding dress? Will she wear a tiara or flowers in her hair? Will she change before or after the reception? One thing is for certain—the world will be watching.

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