Brides, have you ever wondered why a bride usually stands to the left of her groom? While every culture has its preferences, in many traditional American ceremonies the bride stands to the left of her groom at the altar. Then the bride’s guests are seated on the left side of the ceremony area. Likewise, with the groom standing to the bride’s right, his guests should sit behind him on the ceremony area’s right side. No matter if the ceremony takes place in a church or on a country club lawn, the left-side bride is upheld as proper etiquette in Western tradition.

But why is that?

Duchess Kate and Duke William with sword
This isn't The Royal Wedding, but look how happy Duchess Kate looks to have a man with a sword by her side!

Brides, this tradition stems from the medieval era, when a groom had to fend off attackers even at the steps of the altar. How did grooms do this? With a sword!

A man needed his right arm free to unsheathe his sword at any moment to defend his bride from jealous suitors or even disapproving family members who accused the groom of kidnapping the bride for her dowry. (And we thought modern weddings had drama!) Naturally, it’d be best for the bride to stay clear of his sword hand. So she stood beside her groom’s left side. Now wedding lore doesn’t mention what happened with left-handed swordsmen, so we can only wonder.

Today, brides, we don’t need this kind of protection at our Las Vegas wedding ceremonies. But the tradition continues! After all, it’s symbolic of how your groom will protect and fight for your marriage, even if it is metaphorically in the modern world.

Now, brides, don’t be surprised if your groom asks permission to carry a sword at your wedding after that tale. Depending on your wedding’s theme (Renaissance, anyone?) or your groom’s station (calling all Marines with dress blues and NCO swords!), this is doable. But if the meaning behind this tradition means nothing to you, then don’t be afraid to be creative with which side you choose.

Some brides have chosen to disregard this tradition in favor of featuring their “best side” at their wedding ceremonies. For reasons ranging from a missing tooth to a better design on one side of the dress’ bodice, brides have chosen to switch sides with their grooms.

bride and groom at gazebo
This beaming bride chose to follow tradition for her ceremony!

But the “best side” trick isn’t the only reason brides deviate from the left-side bride tradition. Many brides also choose their specific sides based on their cultural and religious traditions. In Jewish tradition, brides stand to the right of their grooms to honor their religious beliefs, and the bride’s and groom’s parents will stand beside them throughout the ceremony. According to Hindu tradition, a bride may sit to her groom’s right at the ceremony’s start and be seated to his left at the ceremony’s conclusion beneath a canopy-like mandap.

Brides, while traditions encourage you to select a certain place to stand and suggest the best places for your guests to sit, keep in mind what will work best for your personal wedding. Consider your circumstances, spirituality, family’s wishes, or panache for etiquette as you and your groom decide. Whatever you choose, be happy with your decision, tell your officiant in advance, and be sure to inform the wedding party!

Author: Allyson Siwajian © 2012

Photograph credit: PA (for image of Duke William and Duchess Kate), Allyson Siwajian (for image of Las Vegas bride and groom)