Weddings in the UK vs. US. Differences between the British & the American wedding...

Day 4 of ROYAL WEDDING WEEK on the blog! If you're catching up, you might want to check out:
Monday's post on planning your wedding timeline **here** including the itinerary for the royal wedding tomorrow!
Tuesday's post on engagement pictures **here**
Wednesday's post on shot lists and family formals **here**

And today with less than 24 hours to the wedding of HRH Prince William to Kate Middleton, I thought it might be fun to talk about differences between weddings in the UK and the US. As I grew up in the UK and attended more than my fair share of weddings there and now live in the US as a wedding photographer I feel I am extremely qualified on this topic ;)

Before the wedding
The concept of the bridal shower is relatively unknown in the UK although it's just starting to take off thanks to the various US wedding shows on UK television. The US bachelorette party is called a hen do or hen party in the UK and the bachelor party is a stag do.

Who to invite...
At the royal wedding there will be huge numbers of family, friends, charity workers, politicians, dignitaries and members of the general public at the wedding ceremony, a number of these people will be invited to a reception hosted by the queen, a select 300 will then join the party hosted by Prince Charles and then there's talk of some kind of night-club set up with disco balls for the die-hard party people.

Generally for UK weddings you are invited to the "day" (A-list) or the "evening" (B-list). This sounds kind of bizarre but it's true and no one is offended. Close friends/family - usually 50-100 people - will be invited to the wedding and wedding breakfast (food at a wedding is always called the wedding breakfast even though it isn't breakfast and it's usually eaten mid afternoon) and then less close friends/family/coworkers (maybe another 50-100 people) are invited to celebrate at the party in the evening usually with a buffet and cash bar. Even more strange as I'm thinking about it - there is often a gap of an hour or two in between these two events. If you are invited in the day, you are expected to stay for the evening so you usually find yourself killing time in the bar of the hotel or country house.

At US weddings I kind of prefer the idea that you're invited or you're not and there's usually just one meal and an open bar. Of course most people have somewhat of an A-list and B-list and if enough of the A-list decline and you've timed your invitations correctly you can then invite your B-list ;)

Groomsmen don't exist in the UK
Well, at least the name is different! They're called "ushers" and help to seat your guests and generally do groomsman style duties.

Who pays?
The bride's family has historically paid for the wedding in the UK (kind of like the US) but it's becoming more common for the groom's family to contribute or perhaps pay for the evening. And some couples will pay for the wedding themselves.

In the UK it's custom for the bride to pay for the bridesmaid dresses unlike in the US where the bridesmaids usually have to pay for their own (kind of unfair if you're stuffed into a poufy yellow meringue a la 27 dresses...!)

The Banns of Marriage
Once you have a marriage license in the US you can get married. In the UK you have to worry about the "Banns". If you're getting married in a church in England or Wales then the "Banns of Marriage" have to be read at three previous church services to give people the opportunity to raise their concerns if the marriage isn't legal ;) This isn't the case in Scotland so sometimes people will elope to Gretna Green (first village over the Scottish border) so they can get married as soon as they have their marriage license.

The wedding ceremony
I've photographed weddings in all sorts of locations in the US and it's very common for couples to write their own vows. The majority of weddings in the UK will take place in a church or registry office and there are set scripts to follow. The UK marriage ceremony doesn't include the "you may now kiss the bride" but couples can request that the priest or vicar add this.

At the reception
The grand entrance isn't really as common in the UK and it's almost unheard of to announce all of the family members and bridal party members individually.

Speeches vs. toasts
At US weddings there is usually a brief toast/welcome by the father of the bride, a toast by the Maid/Matron of Honor and then a last toast by the Best Man. In my experience these are usually over in 5-20 minutes tops.

At UK weddings there are speeches. Epic long speeches! And they're all given by the men :( The father of the bride will usually talk first, mostly about his daughter and then he'll welcome his new son-in-law into the family. The groom follows and will thank both parents (there's no rehearsal dinner concept so gift/flowers might be distributed at this point) and talk about his new wife. Finally the best man will deliver his speech - he always starts by saying how lovely the bridesmaids look and toasting them, and then he'll tell some stories about the groom and finish with a toast to the happy couple. The best man speech can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes, I've seen some with slideshows even!

Here's my husband in action as best man(bottom left) at his best friend Kevin's wedding in 2009:

In the picture above you may notice the piece of paper with names and times written on it. The British are a nation of happy gamblers - there is almost always at least one betting shop in every village - and to make the speeches a little more tolerable a bowl will be passed round and you bet a pound (approx $1.5) and you guess the time for the best man's speech. The winner takes it all (although it's polite to give it to the bride and groom to spend on their honeymoon). There are usually at least three people in charge of timing, ending as the best man raises his glass for the final toast and it can get pretty exciting ;)

Parent dances aren't usual in the UK, you might of course dance with your father if you're the bride or your mother if you're the groom but it isn't usually announced as a formal event with a specific song

Dress code
At most US weddings I would describe the dress code as evening wear - guys in suits, girls in cute little dresses maybe with a wrap, shrug or jacket for the ceremony - a good percentage of weddings are black tie with tuxedos for the men and long/cocktail dresses for the ladies.

UK weddings are all about the hats, or more recently the "fascinators" which are decorative small headpieces often involving feathers that clip to your head. I remember trying to explain the concept of the fascinator to a US friend who looked puzzled and said "So grown women stick a bow on the top of their heads like a parcel?" Umm, I guess. For the day (the ceremony and wedding breakfast) ladies will usually wear suits or dresses with a coordinating hat or fascinator. It's a big no-no to wear white or black. For our wedding in Las Vegas I decided on a black and white color theme (I'm always thinking about how it'll look in pictures!) and at first both of our Mom's were a little taken aback at the thought of wearing black to our wedding (generally black is seen as kind of funereal). If you're only invited to the evening you are not expected to wear anything on your head.

It was about 4 or 5 years ago now that it felt like we were flying back and forth to the UK as all of our friends seemed to get married at once and although I religiously back up my client's pictures I am terrible at organizing my own picture files. So I've pulled these from scans and emails but you get the idea:

Top left I'm being a bridesmaid at my best friend Taanya's wedding in a purple dress with asymetric jeweled headpiece or fascinator. Top right is Paul and me with my parents at my cousin Amy's wedding to Graeme, I'm bridesmaid again this time in sparkly pink! Bottom left and middle has Paul and I at a fun British wedding, I added a black feathered fascinator to my bright pink dress. And on the right is me and my Mom (with a cream feathered fascinator) at Amy's wedding.

Oh, and how could I forget the key element of a good British wedding? The hymns! It's usual to sing at least two or three hymns at UK weddings - Jerusalem is very popular and will most likely be sung at "And did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green..." You can watch this video and learn the words so you can sing along tomorrow morning!

And that's it for today! Now you know what to expect if you ever have to attend a wedding in the UK! Or perhaps you've already been to one?

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