The dowry tradition and how it relates to today's bride

Guestpost by acbombshell on Dec. 2nd
Wedding footware shoes picture

Photo by Emma Hutchinson

Weddings (and the institution of marriage) have almost always been wrapped in tradition, so much so that people often become upset when a couple wants to deviate from those usual wedding customs. The fact though is that many people would probably be appalled if they knew the roots of some of these traditions. Even if they are aware where these traditions come from, maybe they choose to forget it come wedding time. However, as an offbeat bride, I think it is especally important to muse on old wedding customs. At least when you tell people why you've made these decisions, you can explain the historical significance.

For example, the responsibility of a bride's parents to pay for a wedding. I've never been especially fond of this tradition, because I think in some circumstances all it does is foster an attitude of entitlement in those brides who would condemn their parents for choosing not to finance their extravagant tastes. That, or parents end up killing themselves (figuratively!) trying to earn the money for their child's wedding out of a sense of obligation, whether it's practical or not.

In the end, why?…

Because hundreds of years ago, women were considered chattel and the bride's family used to have to pay off the groom's family in the form of a dowry to take their daughters off their hands. After dowries went out of style, there was still the trousseau (the bride's dress and accouterments for the wedding, in addition to stuff like cake, etc.), usually hand prepared by the bride's family. Now that we have wedding vendors to make cakes and dresses for us, the trousseau has also gone out of style for the most part, and instead the bride's family just ponies up the cash.

I don't know about you, but the idea of my parents bribing someone to marry me makes me feel kind of sick. The idea of them bankrupting themselves for one day is also kind of disheartening. I'd say it's wonderful we've moved past those times, but obviously we haven't if the expectation still stands that a couple's parents are responsible for paying for their wedding, especially the parents of the bride.

We no longer live in the times where marriage was essentially a way to ensure that women were taken care of. Love wasn't always a factor (and still isn't, in some cultures). Teenage brides weren't uncommon, because people just didn't live as long. Girls who were practically still children themselves got married and started having children right away, because culture and religion dictated it be so. The dowry and trousseau were a necessity of those times, because they ensured that a groom would have the things he needed to support his new wife and their children to come. This is no longer the case, for the most part, as most couples who get married had acquired quite a lot of crap of their own-they don't need the "starter kits" that couples used to need.

It's one thing to accept offers of financial help from family. It's another thing entirely to guilt them into it or solicit donations, or expect them to go over their own budget to satisfy your desires for the opulent.

My general feeling is that if you want to get married, you ought to be adult enough to do so without expecting your family to foot the bill. I'm not saying that it's abhorrent to allow your family to pay for your wedding — if they really want to do it, let them. What I am saying though is not all brides should expect their parents to foot the bill for your champagne tastes when you really ought to be working on a beer budget. If your dad works sixty hours a week just to pay their bills and you expect him to buy your wedding dress, maybe you need to shop at David's Bridal instead of Kleinfeld's.

It's one thing to accept offers of financial help from family. It's another thing entirely to guilt them into it or solicit donations, or expect them to go over their own budget to satisfy your desires for the opulent. If you want that crazy chocolate fondue fountain, start saving your pennies!

You aren't entitled to a fancy, extravagant wedding. You may be entitled to get married, but no one owes you a TLC fancy schmancy wedding if you can't afford to do it without exploiting your loved ones. Yeah, it's nice if your family wants to help, but it's not exactly reasonable to expect them to pay for your life choice (read: getting married).

If cost is such an issue, get thee to a courthouse and a justice of the peace, friend. Otherwise, learn to budget what you can actually afford. Sometimes, that might mean selecting an in season flower instead of the exotic orange blossoms you wanted, or getting married on a Friday night instead of a Saturday afternoon. This kind of sacrifice is really an important lesson, one that will serve you well as you enter into married life.

In the end though, if you're marrying your true love, it won't matter if you spent $1,000 or $100,000 on your wedding because either way, you're committing to the person you cherish the most and that is priceless.

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About acbombshell

Acbombshell is a graduate student, wrapping up my Master's in philosophy. She's a strong atheist, passionate about J.P. Sartre, the Smiths, reproductive rights, body acceptance, tattoos, punk/goth music and reading. She and her fiance have been together for just over seven years and are getting married in a Tim Burtonesque wedding on the Ocean City New Jersey boardwalk.