Published by Claire Gould on

Smashing the patriarchy is a joyful task for all of us: it certainly shouldn’t be left to women, and I love to think that everyone else can join! Weddings NEED to evolve. Any leftover traditions such as tossing the bouquet or being ‘given away’ by a man should be tongue in cheek, and driven by choice, and by love, rather than tradition.

But there are still a handful of wedding suppliers (and rather a lot of venues) where the patriarchy needs a good stomping over. Never do anything because “that’s how it’s always been done”. It’s often the case that “a man said so” the first time… and the rest of us can shake things up! If you’d love to be a part of the evolution in weddings, keep reading!

We’ve dotted this post with some glorious images by super London wedding photographer Jordanna Marston, whose fun, vibrant, alternative wedding photography style fits this theme beautifully.

18 ways to smash the patriarchy on your wedding day!

1. You’re BOTH the centre of attention

It’s sure as hell not just about the bride. Not every wedding has one; some have two. But I like a wedding to be two people – equally dressed up, equally excited, equally loved. Plan together from the start; make sure you’re in this as a team and keep the focus firmly on your union – it’s where it should be.

2. Equally engaged

Did you propose? Did she? Even from the start, proposals are full of tradition – but there’s a lot of pressure on the proposer and ring-buyer (and expense!) and a weird focus on girls wearing rings. It doesn’t have to be this way – you could both wear a ring, but neither of you have to. Challenge this tradition in any way you like: mark your engagement with a pair of festival-style wristbands (available as save the dates etc from Wedfest), engagement tattoos or a new instagram profile pic instead!

3. No permission needed!

THE most patriarchal tradition of all is asking dad’s permission (and declaring your honourable intentions). Depending on your relationship with dad, it could be all kinds of cringe, or it could be really sweetly appreciated and a special moment to treasure. Either way, it’s not obligatory, because you’re not five. And it’s kind of nice if the two of you are the first to know… telling families after is always going to be a really special moment.

4. Team wedding (planning)

Traditionally the man proposes, and the woman squeals and runs off to plan the wedding. Or at least, that’s what bridal mags would have you believe. But doesn’t that all feel a little bit 1980s? I’ve heard too many stories of wedding planning stress, with brides feeling the pressure to take it all on their shoulders. Plan together instead: focus on your shared priorities and ditch any unnecessary fluff!

We’ve got an interesting feature in the pipelines, all about wedding planning responsibilities – follow us on the English Wedding instagram for a heads up when it’s published!

5. Outfits

Wear what you like: if that’s a white dress and top hat, fine! But beware preconceptions that girls have to have multiple appointments in boutiques to be fitted up and fussed over like prize Barbie dolls while guys are quickly measured up for hired suits. It’s not about doing everything differently for the sake of it, more about having the outfits and experience YOU both want. So spend whatever feels right for you both; definitely give suits as much priority as dresses if that’s what you want – and feel free to avoid boutiques, shop on the high street and wear rainbow sequin jumpsuits if they’re more your thing than big white skirts!

6. Sten parties

Ever had a stag or hen invite and dreaded going? The best pre-wedding celebrations are for everyone: boys & girls and friendship groups without segregation based on anatomy. So hire a country pad for all your mates and have a wild weekend, or take everyone you know (mums & dads included) to a local festival. Just avoid the cliches of penis straws, sashes, strippers and gimp costumes* in big city mega-bars and you’ll be fine.

*True story. We met the loveliest groom-to-be at Brewdog in Edinburgh, rocking skintight black pvc with buckles and belts… his best man had sent him in to get a drink and make friends with randoms while they waited for their mates on his stag do. Not every groom gets this particular dressing-up challenge, but he wore it well.

7. Roles on the day

Not since school have we dressed identically in groups of girls and guys. Hey, if your besties want to wear matching dresses and suits it’s fine – but there are plenty of alternatives to traditional bridal parties. If your best mate’s a guy, have him by your side instead of a troop of bridesmaids. We’ve had the conversation many times that my man’s sister would make the best ‘best man’ bar none!

All the roles, from flower girls to toastmasters, via ushers and (especially) bridesmaids date back to patriarchal times, so feel free to shake them up and create new roles for your favourite people on your wedding day.

8. Giving freely

“Who gives this woman?” … oooochie – that sounds so wrong! This woman damn well chooses to be united with the love of her life, so skip this patriarchal wording however you can! (Ask your registrar for ways to avoid it, or go with a celebrant to rewrite the whole ceremony wording – see below)

9. Aisles

There’s something about having the groom waiting patiently for the bride to walk to him – or is it just me? Perhaps the thought of the walk down the aisle is just daunting: and if you’re uncomfortable with this fairly rigid ‘layout’ of weddings, change it! Walk together; walk with all your friends; walk into a woodland clearing with EVERYONE to switch up the aisle tradition (which stems from churches, and from brides and grooms having families on separate ‘sides’ – like football teams or wars).

10. First looks

I secretly love this; but I love to see it done equally – with both of you making your entrance at the same time! The waiting groom and approaching bride is just too reflective of how it’s done in church – so switch up your first look so you BOTH get a stunning surprise!

11. Superstition

So… superstition isn’t real. You probably know that. Which makes it fine to see each other the night before, and the morning of, and to have breakfast together and get dressed together and everything on the morning of your wedding. “Unlucky to see the bride before the wedding“? What why though?!!!

12. Miss

When a woman gets married, you’re led to believe she has to change her title so everyone knows. (Unless she’s a Dr or a Prof.) But a man doesn’t. Choose how you see this tradition: it’s either romantic, or it’s outdated. It’s either you, or it’s not. You don’t have to change your title – stay a Miss or a Ms if you like! I have to admit, I didn’t know this was even an option until I researched this article. Mumsnet is a fabulous source of information! (Although the same debate on Hitched got my hackles up!)

13. Keeping the bouquet

More than likely, you paid quite a lot of money for your biggest ever bunch of peonies, so hold on to it! Some florists will suggest a second (cheaper, more lightweight) bouquet especially for ‘the toss’ – but if you go with that tradition, make sure all the single humans are allowed in the scrum to catch it.

14. Ours & ours

The wonderful irrelevance of ‘his’ and ‘his’ chair signs at a same sex wedding tickles me, as much as the cheesiness of ‘his’ and ‘hers’ or ‘mr’ and ‘mrs’ raises a wry smile at straight weddings. Signage can be cute and tongue in cheek, but it’s the implied difference between the sexes that’s not required! I’ve seen his & hers cocktails, where the girls get pink gin and the guys get whiskey (my fave), or tables of cigars for the guys alongside baskets of flip-flops for the girls… time to even it out, maybe?

15. Speeches

Ladies, grab the mic and say your piece! It’s way too old to choose speakers based on whether they’re only the father of the bride, groom and best man. Let the naturally talented orators in your group entertain the crowd, and those happier as listeners just enjoy the funny stories. I particularly love a double-act where the newlyweds speak together, or the couple’s two best mates combine childhood stories for a hilarious parallel ‘growing up’ tale.

16. Humanist ceremonies

Hiring a humanist celebrant solves EVERYTHING. You get to say your own vows, the ceremony wording can be completely bespoke; the timing of the day can be flipped on its head… and any patriarchal wedding traditions are guaranteed to be firmly stomped into the ground. Go meet a humanist celebrant. Have a chat. They’re the best.

17. Elopements (microweddings)

This was a trend before it became a sign of the times. Much of the patriarchal nature of weddings comes from traditional (large) venues and from inviting older relatives (who, much as we love them, might cherish wedding traditions from their day)!

If the pressure gets too much, if you’d rather not navigate ‘issues’ of wedding traditions with your nearest and dearest, or if you simply want to be married with as little hassle as possible, make it a really personal thing and elope or have a microwedding. (If the term is new for you, it’s basically a tiny wedding with five or six people. And it’s lovely.)

18. Keeping your name

Thirty years ago, we’d all have taken our husband’s surname – and completely lost our identities on envelopes (who wants to be Mrs Dave Brown?) Happily, things have changed and you can do whatever you like with your names – both of you! One couple on the English Wedding Blog tossed a coin on the day, to joyful celebrations as the groom took the bride’s surname! There are so many options: combine your surnames (if it works! No Smones or Jiths please) or double barrel them, or make an entire new one!


Smashing the patriarchy on your wedding day is about both of you. It’s about picking and choosing the traditions you’ll keep, and switching everything up to turn the more misogynistic rituals on their heads.

However you choose to see wedding traditions, the important thing is to let your feminist sides be a part of the day. Don’t bow to the pressure of patriarchal tradition, but question it, and take the opportunity to create something new for just the two of you. Do it your way!

Opinions come from all sides: families, the more traditional suppliers, the wedding press (you know, the pink magazines which are all about brides?) – and they’re steeped in tradition. Weddings have so much patriarchal baggage it’s a journey in itself to tackle the preconceptions head on and come up with a day that’s just right for you both – in equal measures!

Traditions can be cute, and lovely, and they can make the day special. But there’s flexibility in weddings now, and to make your wedding unique you can adapt traditions, personalise them, make them new and most of all make them YOU!

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