Wedding Customs & Everyday Folklore

I’ve been a little lax in my posting this week because, well, I’m getting married on Saturday.  I’m having more nervousness than I thought I would, considering this isn’t the first time I’ve walked down an aisle. I haven’t been particularly feeling nervous, but my uclers are having a totally different experience. I’ve been cleaning feverishly and downing stomach meds for the past two days trying to fight off an ulcer flair-up. 

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about wedding customs. Of course I did a pretty extensive web search and discovered several standard busted myths about weddings. For example, the white dress has nothing at all to do with “purity” or anything to do with religion.  In fact, it was a Victorian invention that helped signify the family’s wealth because white can only be worn once.   My grandmother Waldo often talks about girls from Bullfrog Valley, Arkansas simply wearing their best church dress for their marriages because most of them couldn’t afford to send off for fancy white fabric, much less a fancy pre-made dress.

I thought about dress color pretty seriously before we started the whole wedding business. I’m not a first time bride. I just don’t feel right wearing white, since it has come to symbolize something to do with “sexual purity” and “virginity” in our culture.  I mean, who are we kidding here? I’m a thirty-something woman in the United States in the year 2008. I’d rather dispense with the whole charade of “virginity.” 

Not picking white is easy. It’s picking the right color that is hard.  Gold? A dark creamish color? Green?  I ended up finding inspiration in NYC when I was there in January. I bought a cute little blue tea-length dress off the rack at Macy’s. It’s perfect.   I was happy. 

Until I was having one of those off-hand conversations with a couple of students one afternoon. 

“What are you doing Spring Break, Ms. B?” They asked me. 

“Getting married,” I said. 

“Ooh, congrats! What does your dress look like?”  The girsl wanted to know.

“It’s real casual. It’s a little blue party-dress type thing,” I said.

“Blue?  Who ever heard of a blue wedding dress?”  One of the boys said. 

“Well, it’s not the first time I’ve ever been married. I didn’t think white was appropriate.” 

“But brides just wear white,” he said.  “I never heard of anyone wearing blue, even the fifth time they get married.” 

Then, later, an older student (in her late 50’s or early 60’s), who had overheard our conversation, stopped me the hall and whispered in my ear.  “Ms. B, you have to wear white at your wedding. It’s bad luck not to wear white.”  

I smiled at her, “Well, not everywhere and not all the time, even in this culture.  But I’ll think about it.” 

“You should think about it. Really. I feel it is terrible luck,” then she headed on to her next class.  

For a long time, scholars have said our folk-lives in the U.S. are on the verge of vanishing, thanks to television and a generalized rise in mass media.  Anyone who has written about the Ozarks in the last 100 years has spent time bemoaning the loss of an “original culture” within the region, which they generally define as a “hillbilly pioneer culture.”  Technology, they say, has pretty much wiped out the folktales, the folk beliefs, the folk customs of the area (See  Milton Rafferty, Blevins, and Hawkins on Ozark life and culture).  This isn’t the only “local culture” being wiped out by the evil hand of mass media.

But I see things a little differently.  Folk customs and cultures morph and change, but do not vanish entirely. The bits and pieces that we pick up along the way may not represent a good picture of the whole culture in the end, but they persist. My student who was so convinced I’d bring bad luck upon my head if I chose a blue wedding dress is a perfect example.  For whatever reason, that folk belief is strong for her and she clings to it. The symbolism of the color is important, and so she wants to make sure that she passes on that information.  

Weddings are one of those venues that produce such outbursts folk wisdom.  In fact, when it comes to weddings, many people feel obligated to pass on their folk beliefs.   Any bride who has ever had a friend or mother-in-law say “Oh but you must have . . .”  knows what I mean.  Any bride who has felt compelled to have something at her ceremony or reception that is completely irrational and has no basis in tradition she can articulate knows what I mean. 

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4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Amy Jude said,

    Congrats, woman! Again. I truly wish you the very best. One of the things I have always most admired about you is your ability to keep hoping. You rock infinite. =)

  2. 2

    hillbillymfa said,

    Hey girl! Well, you can look at it two ways. Either I’m immensely stupid or I’m immensely hopeful, lol. It might be a little mixture of both. I wouldn’t be getting hitched, though, if I hadn’t stumbled across the right man at just the right time. He’s truly wonderful. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better person, honestly :).

  3. 3

    🙂

    Good read! Thank you!

  4. 4

    Tipper said,

    It is intersting- even though “things change” somethings remain. Passed along to the next generation. I hope you have a happy wedding. I like your blog.


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