Out with the old?
The ‘traditional’ wedding may be a thing of the past but many of the rituals associated with the day still endure. So, which ones can add magic to your nuptials, and what’s as outdated as beef-or-salmon? Chrissie Russell asks the experts…
With Meghan Markle set to rock the establishment by making a speech on her wedding day, and her plans for greasy finger food in the waning hours of the reception, the latest Royal-to-be is proof positive that no one has to be a slave to convention on their wedding day. But with so many brides and grooms wanting to make the day their own, just how many of the old traditions are still surviving and relevant to couples tying the knot today? We asked the wedding experts to find out.
Asking the father for the daughter’s hand in marriage
You might think that with strides in female equality and independence, the custom of asking daddy for permission to propose would have been tossed away like a bridal bouquet, but actually many polls suggest this tradition is having a revival. A survey last year in the States found that 63pc of millennials asked a parent for permission compared to 20pc of over-44s. Ultimately it comes down to the individual and the groom-to-be sussing out what his would-be fiancée and father-in-law would like to see happen. “It really is 50/50 in Ireland at the moment,” says wedding planner Olivia Buckley, from Olivia Buckley International. “In my personal opinion, there’s something very special about a promise that a man makes to a daughter’s father when asking for her hand in marriage. Some may think it’s an antiquated idea but at the very core, it’s a sincere promise to respect, love and cherish his daughter for the rest of their lives, which is so lovely.”
Brides making a speech
“I’m delighted that Meghan is giving a speech, I predicted she would!” enthuses wedding guru Peter Kelly, best known as ‘Franc’, who fronts RTÉ’s Say Yes To The Dress. “It’s time for certain traditions to be broken and that’s one of them. I always encourage my brides to give a speech or say a few words because I feel they’ve been so heavily involved in the wedding, it’s strange they wouldn’t speak on the day.”
A recent weddingsonline.ie survey revealed that 31pc of brides polled said they’d be giving a speech. Award-winning wedding planner, Bláithín O’Reilly Murphy reckons Ms Markle will give the green light for more brides to take the mic. She says: “I’ve found in the past that a bride might suggest doing a speech, but once the idea was run up the flagpole with an Irish mammy it was dismissed as not being appropriate. But once a Royal does it… then it’ll be good enough for ‘my Mary’!”
Confetti: Throw it up in the air or throw it away?
“It’s gone,” states Peter. “You’re not allowed to use confetti any more in church yards or places like that, so really it’s not popular anymore. Rice isn’t popular either because it swells up in birds’ stomachs and can kill them. Rose petals are probably the most popular thing that hasn’t gone out of fashion yet.”
Fresh options are coming to the fore says leading wedding planner Collette O’Leary from Elegant Events. “The option that is really popular now is the ‘sparkle run’ where all the guests light a sparkler and the couple runs between them in a line — it’s a beautiful photo opportunity.”
But if you feel your day just wouldn’t be complete without little bits of coloured paper, there is another way. “At one of our weddings, we created a confetti bar where guests could make up their own bags of confetti that were used throughout the dance party,” reveals Olivia. “We had everything from personalised confetti to confetti cannons and it absolutely added to the atmosphere on the dancefloor and made for some epic photographs.”
Are favours still in favour?
It used to be that no wedding table was complete without a little bag of pastel-coloured sugared almonds. The Italian-born tradition saw guests ‘favoured’ with five almonds, intended to represent fertility, longevity, wealth, health and happiness. But lately it’s a custom we’ve lost our appetite for. “The market for traditional sugared almonds, and indeed all traditional favours, has dropped significantly over the last few years,” reveals Tara O’Neill from party supplies company, Party Parlour. “If I were to estimate, I’d say there’s been at least a 95pc drop on traditional wedding favour supplies over the last six years. We no longer keep stock and only supply as a special order.” She attributes this to improved table decorating, meaning there’s no longer the need to ‘add that little something’ to the table settings. Instead, couples are shifting their attention (and budget) towards providing alternative treats for their guests. “We’ve moved from being primarily favour suppliers to supplying modern party products to meet this change,” reveals Tara. Party decorations for the day after the wedding, little bags of gifts and hangover kits for travelling guests are all popular. “But the days of finding a little fabric circle filled with five almonds are a rare sight in Ireland today.”
The toast drink
“I’ve noticed that at the stage of the speeches, most guests will only take a sip of Champagne and leave the rest,” says Collette. “As Champagne or Prosecco can be an expensive waste, my advice would be to just top up the wine.”
“I would never recommend a couple pay for a round of drinks,” agrees wedding planner Stephen Neary of Help Plan My Wedding. “The day is expensive enough as it is and the vast majority of weddings have wine and soft drinks served throughout the meal so this should be enough for the toast.”
The first dance
“I can’t wait for our first dance!” said no wedding couple ever. And yet the vast majority (87pc according to weddingwire.com) still opt to have their moment on the dancefloor. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” says Bláithín. “You’d want to be sure you’d not regret not doing one because it’s a special moment you’ll never get back. There’s no other opportunity for a ‘first dance’.”
But one option to dial down the pressure and reinvigorate your sleepy dinner-stuffed guests is to have the first dance under the stars. “I always suggest a first dance outside,” says Peter. “It gets everyone out for a bit of fresh air and you can have it in a little area rather than a big empty dancefloor. The atmosphere is usually better outside, it’s more informal and people are usually much more ready to hit the dancefloor when they go back in.” He adds: “I’d keep my money from not doing a toast drink and spend it on a shot glass of hot port, hot whiskey or mulled wine, served to guests as they’re going outside for the first dance. It’ll be more appreciated at that time. Always give them something they don’t expect — it’s always better received.”
Cut the cake or cut it out?
“There’s a quote that goes: ‘A party without cake is just a meeting!’” laughs Bláithín. “I think for a lot of people a cake cements a celebration and traditionally the act of cutting the cake is the first domestic task the bride and groom do as a married couple — that’s the symbolism of it.”
The 2017 Newlywed survey in the States showed that 84pc of couples still want their ‘cake-cutting’ moment but this side of the pond we’re keen to put a fresh twist on the tradition using doughnut walls (see panel below), cake-pops, cupcakes and wheels of cheese to represent the cake. Fruitcake, once a bastion of any frosted centrepiece, has been downgraded in favour of multi-flavour tiers. “Most couples will have the smallest tier as fruit cake,” reveals Stephen. “The thinking behind this from couples is that the grandparents and older guests will only eat fruit cake.”
Thanks to the advent of Pinterest and the revelation that there’s myriad delicious ‘cake’ options out there, many couples are opting for something that’s more about the experience than tradition. “A lot of couples now consider a dessert table which is a smaller wedding cake as the centrepiece surrounded by options like macaroons, tartlets, little candy cane apples, candy floss, toffee apples, dipped strawberries, mini cake cones and marshmallow — the options are endless!” says Collette. For those who can’t imagine their wedding album without a cake cutting photo, there’s a developing market for ‘fake cakes’. “In the last few years I know couples who do a dummy cake,” says Bláithín. “The cake is rented for the weekend and they do the cake cutting photo, but it’s Styrofoam with iced detail.” Fake cakes can be hired for as little as €70. “If you want the look and representation of cake, but don’t have the budget or the need for more food, then renting might be an option for you.”
Invite or e-vite?
Whilst wedding websites have evolved and paperless ‘save the date’ e-vites become popular, most couples still like to send their wedding invite in the post. According to Peter, more people are opting to send something different in the post that offers a sneak peak of the wedding. “So you might get a shell to tell people you’re getting married on a beach, or a beautiful piece of carved wood,” he explains. “But I don’t think the idea of a 3D invitation will ever go, an email just isn’t the same.”
Wedding day or weekend festivities?
Back in your granny’s day a wedding ‘breakfast’ might have sufficed with everyone home in time for tea. Not so today. The average spend on a wedding is around the €26,000 mark, up 7pc on last year.
“I think we’re going bigger and longer than we are shorter,” says Peter. “I speak at a lot of global wedding conferences and we’re leading the way in having three-day events — now people are copying our style of wedding and that’s great!”
Central to the rise of the wedding weekend is the fact that, particularly if the ceremony is in a country location, many guests will have to travel.
“If most of your guests are doing an overnight then it’s sort of good practice to do a brunch or a barbecue to fill people up before they head home,” says Bláithín. “I don’t think couples feel pressure to do it, but it’s a nice way of thanking people for coming.” However, it’s worth nothing that a recent poll by thevow.ie found that spending money on the day after was one of couples’ top wedding regrets.
The gift of giving
The average age for couples marrying in Ireland today is 33 for men and 31 for women, meaning that many will have been co-habiting or owned their own home in advance of tying the knot. That means that the traditional route of garnering gifts to furnish one’s home hasn’t the same desirability as in days gone by. But should you choose a gift registry, honeymoon fund or ask for cash gifts?
“Cash is king!” says Collette. “I’m constantly asked ‘How much of a cash gift is acceptable’ and my advice is cover the cost of your dinner if your budget allows that.” “Cash all the way,” agrees Stephen. “Some couples will request cash and some will be afraid to do so but give anyone the choice and they will choose cash. With the cash the couples can use it in whatever way they want. It’s very difficult to make use of four toasters and five Hoovers.”
But Peter isn’t convinced. “I just think looking for cash is a bit crude,” he explains. “I don’t like the idea that some couples are planning a wedding thinking about the return on their investment, it’s not a business.
“I think it’s much nicer to give a gift, or a ‘honeyfund’ where you contribute to a specific experience is a good halfway house.”
Waving the happy couple off on honeymoon
Gone are the days when a bride would slip off to slip into her ‘going away’ outfit before being waved off on honeymoon with her new husband, often before the reception was even winding down. According to a 2017 weddingsonline.ie survey, 59pc of couples now wait a few months before heading off on honeymoon.
“A mini-moon, soon after the wedding is a trend for sure,” says Bláithín. “The honeymoon itself has also evolved from a weekend somewhere local (like our parents might have had) to a big blow-out holiday.
“We’ve more disposable income and there’s also an element of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ — if everyone else you know is heading off on an around-the-world trip, you don’t want to say you’re going for a week somewhere mundane — but there’s also that ‘once in a lifetime’ thing again. You only get one honeymoon, so why not go all out?”
…and out with the new!
We’ve suffered a bit of a doughnut overload in Ireland over the past year, and while it was considered a unique touch to replace the wedding cake with a stack of these delightfully dusted alternatives, the doughnut seems to have had its day when it comes to weddings.
Fashion bible Vogue declared the end of the flower crown for weddings last year, but it seems brides weren’t quite ready to move on without their beautiful boho-style headdresses back then. And who could blame them looking at today’s stunning cover photo? This year, however, crowns will mostly be getting serious, with sparkling tiaras making a comeback, thanks in part to a certain royal wedding.
Pinterest may have fallen over itself for rose gold engagement rings, cutlery, candle holders and stationery over the past few years, but metallics have moved on for 2018. As in interior design, copper remains the most lusted-after gloss for an industrial chic or modern minimalist wedding, while chrome and silver are apparently set for a comeback. Watch this space.
WHAT'S GETTING A SHAKE-UP
Photo booths are almost a staple at weddings today. They’re great fun for guests and provide people with a lovely keepsake from the day, but for 2018, couples are learning from experience and making sure they use the entertainment to its fullest by putting it in a well thought-out spot and making sure it’s well run (ie no queues!) Open-air photo booths with a DIY aspect will be big for summer weddings, as will the photos doubling as the guest book.
We’ve seen it all when it comes to wedding cake trends in recent years — naked cakes, semi-naked cakes, cheese wheels, gold leaf embellishments, geode and geometric designs and hand-painted icing to name a few.
This year couples are going back to basics appearance-wise with elegant, traditional hand-piped iced wedding cakes making a comeback. Where couples are mixing things up instead is with unique and unexpected flavours — think pink Champagne, luscious lemon, peanut butter cup and — rumoured to be making an appearance on royal wedding plates due to Prince Harry’s fondness for the fruit — “anything with bananas”.