Major Differences Between Weddings in Britain and Weddings in the USA

This is another blog post where I answer a frequently asked question that I get from my clients.  I am British and the majority of my clients getting married in Central Park are British (I estimate around 60-70% of our clients are British, of those, the majority are Scottish).  I was a bride in the USA, and a bridesmaid once as a child in England and again as an adult in Las Vegas, both for British couples.  I am by no means an expert on British weddings, since my own wedding and the more than three hundred weddings I have planned with Wed in Central Park have since have taken place in the USA, but I have attended a few weddings at home in Britain.  So, for those who were wondering, here’s my summary of the major differences between British weddings and US weddings that I have noticed.

Let’s begin with the pre-celebration parties!  Bachelorette parties are called hen parties or hen dos in Britain.  The “hen” refers to the bride, while “do” is what many of us Brits call a party.  The American tradition is to have a bridal shower which isn’t really a tradition Britain, but some groups in Britain are choosing to observe the American tradition and give gifts, and I have seen that.  A bachelor party is called a stag night or stag do in Britain. 

In the USA, bridesmaids tend to be the bride’s close grown-up friends, whereas in Britain, traditionally the bride usually chooses children from the two families to be the bridesmaids and pageboys.  If the bridesmaids are adults in Britain, a British bride tends to have fewer bridesmaids than an American bride, as a rule.  In the USA they tend to call the children ring bearers and flower girls and they might have a job to do, such as some holding the rings or the bride’s train, or perhaps dropping petals down the aisle.  In both countries, brides might have a maid of honor who might be already married and acts as a kind of head bridesmaid.  I’m told that British brides pay for their bridesmaids’ dresses, but in America, most bridesmaids buy their own dresses, although the bride will of course have a big say in what they wear, if not make the choice entirely.  Also, groomsmen are traditionally called ushers in the UK, although I do find British couples referring to groomsmen for our weddings, although that may because our wedding are less formal, so no real need for anyone to do any ushering!

In Britain, the bride usually walks down the aisle first and any bridesmaids walk down behind her, perhaps holding the train of her dress.  In the USA, the bridesmaids usually walk in first, ahead of the bride.  The bride makes the final, grand entrance.  Usually, for American weddings, the bridal party remains standing during the ceremony (if there are seats, which we don’t tend to have at weddings in Central Park!).  For British weddings, the bridal party sits down in the first row during the ceremony.

I’ve found that my couples from all over will decide for themselves how they will arrive at their wedding in Central Park.  I’m not sure if this is a general trend or just what I’ve seen over the years with my weddings in Central Park.  It is my view that same-sex couples have inspired many heterosexual couples to think differently about their arrival.  Since many same-sex couples choose to arrive together to their wedding (although not all!) I think it has given heterosexual couples the idea to do the same.

Strictly speaking, it is traditional for grooms in Britain to face the altar as their bride walks down the aisle, but increasingly these days, they are turning to watch her walk down the aisle, as the American grooms do.  What we’re finding with our weddings in Central Park, with Brits and Americans alike, is that brides and grooms might meet privately with the photographer before the wedding and have the photographer capture the “first look” of the couple seeing each other for the first time in a different setting to the ceremony.  As for who walks the bride down the aisle to her partner, it seems that the Americans popularised both parents walking a bride to the ceremony rather than just her father before the Brits started doing it in significant numbers.

A major difference between British and American weddings, is that in Britain, they must take place only in licensed locations.  This restricts couples quite a lot in where they can get married, especially if they want to elope or hold a small event.  In the USA, you can get married wherever you like!  This does boggle the minds of our British clients sometimes.  This makes things much easier, especially if you want to get married in a beautiful public park!

Americans tend to have a few get-togethers around the wedding; with rehearsal dinners, a reception meal and sometimes even a morning-after brunch.  Traditionally, the Brits focus on the “wedding breakfast” – the meal straight after the wedding and the photos.  Although, the Brits are taking on some of the other meals surrounding the celebration that the Americans have traditionally enjoyed.  With our couples, since they might be bringing a small group with them to New York from their home, they can incorporate many of these group celebrations into their break as a group in New York if they wish to.  In the USA, it is generally assumed that the bar tab will be covered for the guests, but in Britain, this isn’t always the case.  As a Brit who has lived in the USA for a few years, I’d suggest that this is because the Brits tend to put away a lot more booze than the Americans so it could turn out dangerously costly!

This label of the “wedding breakfast” comes from the tradition of British weddings starting around noon, so the meal tends to take place in the mid-afternoon.  This is usually with the close friends and family and then wider acquaintances will be invited for the evening do.  So, some guests might be at this evening party but not at the ceremony, this doesn’t tend to happen in the USA – churches come in bigger sizes in the USA (just like many other things!) so everyone can fit!  In the USA, weddings traditionally happen later in the afternoon.  These timing traditions don’t necessarily hold for more conventional weddings close to home so they certainly aren’t observed for events in Central Park!  Since our weddings take place outside and the receptions often aren’t traditional at all, I usually advise to go with whatever timings work best with your other plans for the day.

The Brits, as anyone who has watched a Royal wedding will know, love to wear a hat to a wedding!  Other than that, I’d say the Americans tend to dress more formally, with most weddings being a black tie event, ie a tuxedo for the men, whereas in Britain the men tend to wear morning suits.  We Brits also like a fruitcake for the wedding cake, whereas there are no rules when it comes to wedding cake in the USA.  Traditionally, the Brits might save the top tier of the cake for the Christening of their first child so it needs to be of a type that will keep for a little while!

I may well have missed quite a few, since I haven’t planned a wedding in Britain myself, but these are the differences I have noticed.  I’d love to hear in the comments from any other differences people have spotted or from anyone who disagrees with the views I’ve expressed above!  If you would like me to help you with planning your own Central Park wedding or elopement, whether you’re from Britain, the USA or any other country – we welcome everyone – visit our website.  Keep updated with our news and see lots of beautiful photos, “like” us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram and follow us on Pinterest

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