8 differences between English & American weddings

Jul 13, 2022

It’s been a while, but I am beyond excited to be back writing for you! I thought it would be rather fun to highlight differences between English and American Weddings in today’s post. So here we go….

I am so lucky to work with the nicest UK destination couples who live across the pond in the States. They tend to be dreaming of a quintessential English countryside wedding. Think Bridgerton and Jane Austen inspired occasions, which, by the way, I am totally here for! I love to use my knowledge of English culture from the landscape and locations, history, literature, venues, vendors and traditions to help my couples plan a beautiful, heartfelt celebration full of joy. I actually feel that many American wedding traditions have slowly entered British society. Quite frankly, they actually enhance the overall experience, in my opinion.

Grittleton House American Destination Wedding | Photographer: Kristin Sauttter | Planner: Host Weddings & Events Planner
All images by Kristin Sautter. Venue: Grittleton House

There are undoubtedly subtle differences that my American clients can expect from hosting their wedding over here in the UK. I get asked a lot about hat wearing, catering and guest lists – so here we are with this piece. Some of the differences are pretty generalised. Every couple’s wedding is unique and may include a plethora of different elements and traditions from both countries.

There is one caveat. This is your wedding, so you must always choose options that suit you, not because outdated etiquette books say you should. Your wedding should be a marriage (pardon the pun!) of your personalities and tell your unique love story. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to your wedding day, this piece serves as a little bit of fun which you may well be relatable.

Rehearsal dinners aren’t common place

This is a staple at many American weddings and a standard feature. In fact, the rehearsal dinner is regarded as one of the most important parts of the celebration in the US. In the UK, the couple might part ways and stay in alternative accommodation ready for preparations the next morning. However, many English weddings are following a ‘weekend wedding’ or multiple day celebration. This includes a beautiful gathering for a smaller number of guests. Namely close friends and family/bridal party to really kick things off in good old British fashion. One of my American couples enjoyed a ladies afternoon tea and dressed up with fascinators (a little nod to British hat wearing), hot footed it to the ceremony rehearsal and then enjoyed an intimate dinner for 30 with toasts. It worked so well and I actually love the concept of extending time spent with loved ones.

There’s two separate guest lists

It’s fairly common in the UK to have an ‘all day’ guest list and then a separate evening list. This may well be due to venue capacities, cost and logistics. In America, every guest attends the full day. Increasingly, over here, I see couple’s choosing venues that can accommodate all their guests rather than segregating.

Smaller bridal party

Generally speaking, the bridal party is smaller in the UK. They sit during the ceremony (generally on the first row). The groomsmen are called Ushers and the maid of honour may be referred to as chief/head bridesmaid. The bridesmaids and the groomsmen don’t tend to walk arm in arm down the aisle but generally link up during the recessional at the end of the ceremony.

Grittleton House American Destination Wedding | Photographer: Kristin Sauttter | Planner: Host Weddings & Events Planner

The bride walks down the aisle first

Just take a look at the royal weddings and you’ll note that the bride walks in ahead of her bridal party. In America it’s common place to have the bridal party walk in first with the bride entering last. This actually happens commonly in the UK and is an American tradition that’s here to stay. It means the bride totally has her moment! If you’re a same sex couple, choose who you’d like to have this moment or alternatively walk in hand in hand and enjoy it together – the choice really is yours on this one.

What cocktail hour?

Brits have a drinks reception sandwiched between the ceremony and the wedding breakfast and this may typically include served Champagne, bottled beer, iced Pimms (I mean, this is exceedingly British!) and elderflower presse for non drinkers. It usually lasts around 1.5 – 2 hours. One of my American clients produced a signature bride and groom cocktail for this portion of the day, one American, a ‘sazerac’ and one English ‘elderflower fizz’ which was a perfect way to honour both countries.

The reception dinner is termed the “Wedding Breakfast”

No this does not mean you’ll be served a typical full english breakfast including poached eggs and bacon – don’t panic! This merely means the first meal enjoyed after marriage, the wedding breakfast as opposed to the reception dinner which American’s may use.

Grittleton House American Destination Wedding | Photographer: Kristin Sauttter | Planner: Host Weddings & Events Planner

Much loved millinery

When you think of British weddings you think hats, hats and more hats, right? Well, hats really do provide a sense of style, elegance and sophistication and can form part of your wedding dress code. It’s not a necessity at all though, at some British weddings there may not be even a small fascinator in sight – again, it’s the guests choice entirely and shouldn’t be enforced.

Morning suits and top hats for the gents

Again this is a huge generalisation. Many of the gents at American weddings will opt for a tuxedo. Whereas a traditional British wedding a morning suit (think the British high society events) is a popular choice. However, many gents opt for a bespoke tailored lounge suit, so again, the morning suits are not indicative of a British wedding, just traditional. Also, top hats are quite niche but fill your boots if you fancy giving high society a go (think Royal Ascot!).

I hope you found my musings interesting regarding this subject. What traditions do you think you’ll adopt? In short, yes, there are some minor differences but you should celebrate how you see fit. Your day, your way!

If you’re dreaming of an English Countryside Wedding, then I would absolutely love to hear from you and learn more about your love story and your UK destination wedding plans.

Olivia x