I thought you’d enjoy this reprint of a wedding article I wrote (just published in the spring issue of Season Magazine) ... especially since we all seem to be drawn to the mysteries of bridal mythology!
...with love from Cornelia
Tokens of Abundance
Most wedding rituals today are “rooted in the potent mix of tradition and superstition,” wrote Barbara Tober, former editor-in-chief of Bride’s magazine.
Take the rhyme, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence for your shoe”—the familiar little verse that became a beloved personal ritual for generations of brides. The rhyme itself may not be that old—first appearing in print in the 19th century according to my research—but the customs it describes have been around for centuries. In cultures worldwide and for as long as we know, there was some sort of superstitious ritual for brides to tuck tokens of abundance (pieces of bread, a lump of sugar, coins, a bit of ribbon, a silver charm) into their purse, glove, or shoe; or sew the items into their bodice or dress hem. This was all done in the desire to call forth good luck, great fortune—including the birth of a male heir—or some magical promise of love forever!
Shoe historian and Scotsman Cameron Kippen declares that throughout ancient times “it was widely accounted wearing something borrowed was lucky. The something borrowed varied to something golden or something stolen. A common belief was the bride would enjoy the same luck as the previous owner if the shoes of another happy bride were worn.” And the good luck superstitions extended to the groom by wearing old boots loaned to him for his wedding.
The historian also reminds us that “a long standing bridal superstition stated no harm could befall a bride wearing blue.” Through the ages, wide-ranging references to the color blue surround it with compelling and even divine properties. The color is often associated with the Virgin Mary and is cited in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century The Canterbury Tales as a symbol of truth and faithfulness.
With such rich folkloric history, it stands to reason that somewhere along the way a sentimental poet neatly put it all together in a romantic rhyme—some think derived from an old Italian saying, others believe it’s British in origin. Proving, as with most rituals, that wedding traditions have “complicated roots”—to borrow a phrase from Carol McD. Wallace’s book, All Dressed in White. Whatever the origin of the rhyming verse, 19th century Victorians popularized it and it continues to be a treasured ritual for many modern brides; not because of any “superstition,” but because it’s a sweet way to connect with other women and, I propose, have an excuse to “play dress-up”!
The rhyme seems to be infused with a kind of fairy tale quality and delights of feminine mystique—is the mystery part of its appeal? As a bride, whether you borrow your grandmother’s handkerchief; wear a gift of birthstone earrings; use a friend’s heirloom veil; pin a blue silk ribbon to your corset; or slip a sixpence coin into your shoe or his pocket, you have put something magical into motion. And what woman doesn’t become more attractive wearing a bit of mystery? □