BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Weddings have always been steeped in tradition, with rules and logistics that have been culturally ingrained decade after decade.
Time will tell how the increasing legality of same-sex marriages will influence the institution. But brides and grooms have already been adding wrinkles to the longstanding matrimonial blueprint, ranging from the quaint to the unusual.
The changing face of ceremonies is worth paying attention to for anyone in a business related to weddings. Each year, there are approximately 2.5 million weddings in the U.S., and more than $70 billion is spent on them.
"I think that the idea of a cookie-cutter wedding is a passe concept," says Lori Stephenson, co-founder of
, a Chicago event and wedding design firm. "Everything is about your preferences, customizing it and making it feel like your day. Every single bride I work with now is saying, 'I want it to feel like us.' There no, 'I have to throw the bouquet or do the garter or the cake cutting.' There is no 'have-to' anymore; it is all about whether you want to do something."
That has meant, for example, that once-forbidden black is starting to show up with bridesmaids dresses. The dowry-inspired tradition of the father of the bride footing the bill is becoming more of a shared responsibility among families. The fact that many, if not most, of couples live together at some point before the big day is also a catalyst for change.
"I've even had a few couples who, instead of
the bride walking down the aisle on their dad's arm and being given away to the groom, walk down the aisle together," Stephenson says. "They are coming together to the altar as equals and there is none of this old-fashioned idea of leaving your family."
Increasingly, couples are also trying to relieve the pressure of weddings by having smaller, low-key legal ceremonies ahead of time.
"We have a lot of people who are choosing friends and families to officiate their ceremonies," Stephenson says. "While it is very easy to get ordained online, sometimes people feel more comfortable doing it in advance, either with a religious person of their faith or at the courthouse. They want to know that all the legalities are managed and they can do absolutely whatever they want during the ceremony and it becomes a reflection of their personal love story, rather than something that is dictated as something that they have to do ... Everything else is just show and theater for everybody else."
The following are five new twists on wedding traditions, ranging from those creeping steadily into the mainstream to the unusual:
The engagement ring, usually defined by a diamond, has long served to metaphorically scream to the world, "I'm getting married."
That little ring may help keep men from worrying about a bride-to-be, but grooms in waiting have had no such "keep away" sign.
All that is changing.
Although cheaper and less ornate than a typical engagement ring, some brides are gifting the men in their lives "mangagement rings."
The practice may not be common, but it is a trend being fueled by celebrities and upscale jewelers alike. According to a survey by Brides.com, 45% of women surveyed said they would at least consider a mangagement ring for their fiance.
The traditional, simple, his-and-hers bands are also taking new forms.
Jewelry maker Mary-Jo Peritore, with her company
, has been making what can best be described as "edgy" wedding rings.
"It is a nice way to have something that's not so traditional," she says. "Some are still doing both
a traditional and nontraditional ring because they want a real heirloom piece
but they don't necessarily wear it. My piece of jewelry is something they are wearing every day. A lot of them say it is something that fits their personality, and some of them are very rockabilly or even goth/punk, if you will. They are definitely not for everybody."
Among her styles is a "two-finger, tattoo-style banner ring" she advertises as "customized for the very rock 'n' roll bride."
The rings are typically customized for each bride (or groom) and personalized with engravings of their choosing.
Trash the dress
Costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars, the typical wedding dress will be worn just once in public before it is boxed and stored away with other heirlooms.
More adventurous brides, however, are getting some extra mileage with some very unweddinglike activities.
The "trash the dress" phenomenon (sometimes referred to as "rock the frock") has been growing in popularity for several years. For some, it is a mere act of destruction. For most, however, it has become a photographic theme. Breaking free of the confines of the wedding ceremony, they wear the dress at a variety of settings and engage in activities that jeopardize the pristine white, at least temporarily.
, a photographer in Canandaigua, N.Y., shoots several "trash the dress" sessions a year.
"A lot of people will get scared by the term, but we are not actually trashing the dress," he says. "We are doing a shoot, separate from the wedding, where we have more time to go out and do something fun. The dress may get wet, it may get put in situations you wouldn't dare on the day of the wedding, but it is not going to ruin it. We've actually done one with chocolate syrup dumped all over the bride. Then they brought it to the dry cleaner. They gave her a crazy look, but it came out clean and can be worn again."
Chesler has done brides on horseback, trudging through the snow, under waterfalls and in swimming pools. An upcoming shoot will have a bride playing a round of golf.
"We have one bride who is really into hockey, and she has a connection with the
NHL's Buffalo Sabers," Chesler says. "What we are trying to do is get her on the ice, with the skates, in a dress. It's a long shot, but if it happens it will be awesome."
Stacy Fronckowiak is among the daring brides who have turned to Chesler for post-wedding portraits.
"After the wedding I just wanted to do something so different, because you put on the dress for one day, for a few hours, and then it hangs in the closet," she says.
Fronckowiak has thus far posed beneath a waterfall, alongside a graffiti-covered wall, eating barbecue and walking in the rain.
"My dress wasn't cheap, but I was like, 'You know what, let's do it,'" she says. "We jumped right in and got dirty."
Fronckowiak says the alternative photographs help capture the fun side of her and her husband in a way wedding portraits couldn't.
"I was a wreck on my wedding day -- 'I can't do this, I can't do that,'" she says. "The whole day flashes before your eyes, you
blink and it's over. These photos really captured the essence of who we are ... What I don't think people understand is that you are not destroying the dress, you are giving it new life. It is your wedding. It is your life. It should be fun."
Imitating reality TV
With so many American's more celebrity-obsessed (and the definition of "celebrity" being redefined by reality TV), the weddings of the rich and famous are increasingly being emulated.
The recent marriage of Kim Khardashian to basketball player Kris Humphries led Vera Wang to offer a retail version of the three dresses she designed for the ceremony. The less ornate variations sell for about $1,600 through David's Bridal.
The recent royal wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton is also being imitated by some brides.
"They pull weird things from it," Stephenson says. "With the royal wedding, I had one bride who, when she was escorted down the aisle with her father, it was very formal. The way she held his arm was very specific and formal and it was how
Middleton held her father's arm.
"It is down to little things like that, and brides are really looking at details. I have brides who have already started saying that Kim Khardashian had this monogram on her runner at the wedding and they loved the way that looked. Brides are really looking at details. They may not be able to have Kim Khardashian's wedding, but they can have a similar monogram."
Not a wedding-related ceremony as such (unless it explains the sudden need for nuptials), fathers awaiting the birth of a child can celebrate their growing family with a party some are calling either a "dadchelor party" or Daddymoon.
Unlike the traditional stag party, these get-togethers are intended to be far more sensitive and emotional.
Think gifted toys instead of strippers, diapers instead of beer, blankies instead of cigars and you'll get the picture.
There is no real way to put this one delicately.
Given the elaborate nature of many wedding dresses and the need for everything to fit perfectly, there's often no easy way to get in and out of them. Escaping from a straightjacket might be easier.
This, of course, makes a trip to the bathroom a logistical nightmare -- and given the lengthy ceremony, photos and reception, a crisis of bladder control a real possibility.
It may sound like no more than an urban legend, but some bridal shops have started discreetly offering specially designed "bridal diapers" to offer aid and comfort when nature calls in the middle of saying "I do."
By all accounts we found online (folks don't really like to admit to wearing this sort of thing to a reporter), only a small fraction of brides actually choose diapers. But at least the option is there for those who do.
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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