Why Does the Bride’s Family Traditionally Pay For the Wedding?

Weddings have not always been the romantic fairy tales we imagine today, but instead, were the outcome of a series of intense negotiations and financial discussions. The modern marriage, in contrast, is arranged solely at the discretion of the bride and groom and is always about love-never money. But despite all of the changes the concept of marriage and weddings have undergone, the traditional rules surrounding who pays for the wedding still has its roots in the weddings of the past.

Starting in ancient times and ending sometime in the late nineteenth century, female children were considered a burden to the household. Enterprising parents married off their daughters as soon as possible so they would have one less person to feed, clothe and shelter in the household. Marriage matches were generally made as business transactions. A prospective groom was offered cash, land, livestock and other necessities to make the acceptance of the bride worthwhile. These dowries (as they were called) ranged in value depending upon the wealth of the family and the worth of the groom. Social conventions placed all of the expense on the bride’s family since the bride would now become a drain on the groom’s finances.

As social mores shifted and weddings came to be based on matches of love rather than money, the dowry faded in importance. Brides were still expected to provide a trousseau, which generally consisted of enough clothing to last her for one year, as well as all of the bedding, towels, sheets and other soft goods needed to keep house for a lifetime. Compared to the dowry, the trousseau was a much smaller burden for the bride’s family to bear, but it still was a considerable expense.

Eventually, the trousseau fell out of fashion when industrialization made the purchase of most of the trousseau items affordable and easy. Industrialization also played a part in moving the wedding out the bride’s home and into larger venues. Commercial goods and services sprung up rapidly, and wedding items frequently made or prepared by the bride’s family such as cakes, dresses, and floral arrangements were affordable and readily available to purchase. With nothing left to make the bride’s families began to pay vendors for wedding services.

Today, the bride’s family pays for most of the traditional wedding. The cost of the ceremony, reception, photographer, florist, baker, stationer and the bride’s attire, are all absorbed by the bride’s family. The groom’s family pays for the officiant, the bride’s bouquet, flowers for the groom’s family, and the rehearsal dinner.

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