By: Cornelia Powell – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
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 nineteenth 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 ritual conjured up out of superstitious notions encouraging brides to tuck “tokens of abundance” (pieces of bread, a lump of sugar, bits of ribbon, a silver charm or coin) into their purse, glove, or shoe; or sew the item 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 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, even divine properties. The color is often associated with Mary, mother of Jesus, and Brigit, the Celtic goddess of healing and the arts; and in Ayurvedic wisdom, the color blue is linked with the throat chakra, or energy center, and inspires balance in our true self-expression. It is cited in Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth-century “The Canterbury Tales” as a symbol of truth and faithfulness and Shakespeare fondly considered the “blue of heaven’s own tinct….”
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, once again, 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, nineteenth-century Victorians popularized it and even royal brides followed its feminine directives for their wedding day.
Princess Diana’s wedding gown designers, Elizabeth and David Emanuel, shared how they custom-fit the rhyme’s legacy for their royal bride:
“The old was represented by the piece of Queen Mary lace that we used on the bodice and flounces while the new was obviously the silk dress itself. The tiara that Diana wore was a Spencer family heirloom—so something borrowed—and to complete the tradition, we hand-sewed a little blue bow into the back of the dress.”
Following the rhyme continues to be a treasured ritual for many modern brides; not because of any “superstition,” but because it has a way of bringing together generations of women in conversations and remembrances over things we hold dear. A grandmother unpacks a precious family heirloom; a great-aunt shares something from her own trousseau and recalls stories from her mother’s wedding; a sisterly friend offers love, support and deep listening.
Meghan Markle, bride of Prince Harry, extended the rhyme’s sentiment to their post-wedding-ceremony evening party. After changing into a sleek and sexy white halter-neck dress, Meghan wore designer high heels with soles painted pale blue and a fabulous ring with a large aquamarine stone once belonging to her late mother-in-law. (Was the ring a surprise from Prince Harry? Was he in on the “something blue” conversation? Or do you think he simply opened his mother’s jewelry box one day for his beloved to select something of her fancy?)
The “something old, something new” rhyme seems to be infused with a kind of fairy-tale quality and delights of feminine mystique—is the mystery part of its appeal? I call the old-fashioned rhyme the most feminine of all wedding rituals. Whether a bride borrows her grandmother’s handkerchief; wears a gift of birthstone earrings or an antique lace veil; pins a blue silk ribbon to her corset or slips a sixpence coin into her shoe or his pocket, they have put something magically mysterious into motion. And what woman doesn’t become more attractive wearing a bit of mystery? ~
[Excerpts from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, available on Amazon, with updates from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent “something wonderful” wedding celebration! www.CorneliaPowell.com]
Wedding Folklorist, Fashion Historian, Author & Guest Speaker
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