British versus American Weddings

I am quickly approaching the making of the film “27 Dresses.” Over the course of three years I have been invited to 23 weddings, 18 of which I will/have attended. These weddings span four countries (Wales, England, Dominican Republic and the USA) and 12 cities.

I wish I could say I was a professional wedding guest, getting paid to attend these lavish affairs. But no, I simply have a boatload of friends who happen to be getting engaged at this time of my life. In fact, the majority of these friends are friends of my British boyfriend (since he is slightly older), but in the next few years, I have a feeling those tables will quickly turn with my friends hitting prime time wedding age. In fact, in the past two weeks, four of my friends have gotten engaged, so it’s coming up quickly!

With the benefit of dating a British guy comes attending weddings on both sides of the pond. I’ve become a bit of an expert on both. So, here’s my list of the best bits that both a British and American wedding have to offer.

Best Things About British Weddings

Bridesmaids don’t pay for their dresses.

Honestly, it’s kind of atrocious that Americans still ‘invite’ their best friends in the world to have the ‘honor’ of becoming a bridesmaid only to pick out the most expensive dress they can find, make their best friends pay for it, and take them on a lavish bachelorette party that they must also pay for, and give them a measly gift at the end of it all.

It’s like saying, I want to get married, have all my best friends there, wear an outfit that I picked out for them that they can never wear again, and celebrate ME, ME, ME at the mere cost of $3,000 that they must shell out. But don’t worry, I’ll thank them with a $50 gift that I got at ‘Bridesmaids Galore’ that goes with the same dress they can never wear again. Ah hem, excuse me – I mean, it’s an honor to be a bridesmaid.

No, but seriously, the British have it right. I mean, if you’re paying £15,000 on a wedding already, why not shell out an extra thousand to make your poor bridesmaids happy? After all, they didn’t choose to get married, you did.

Betting on the Speeches

Let’s face it – sometimes speeches at a wedding can be really, really hilarious and entertaining. They can be so entertaining and hilarious that you have no idea how much time has gone by, whether or not you’ve eaten, or if the dancing has even happened yet.

But, a lot of times, they can be painful and long, and somewhat boring. So, what better way to keep the crowd entertained than by going to each table & getting the guests’ bets on how long the speeches will last?

Personally, I love speeches and find it fascinating to see how each person tackles this challenge to charm a crowd of 150 people – 20 of which you probably know personally. However, knowing that I have the chance to win a pot of 200 quid makes it that much better!

The Groom’s Speech

I actually find it a travesty that American grooms aren’t made to give a speech. Perhaps it’s because a woman marrying a British man knows that this one speech might be the only time she will hear her husband tell her how gorgeous, wonderful and amazing she is, and how he is the luckiest man on the planet.

After all, British men aren’t known for being overly flattering or sentimental. I blubber like an idiot, wiping the mascara from my eyes, when I hear a doting British man, for the first (and probably only) time, open up to his friends and family about why he is truly in love with this woman.

But I’m sure most brides who marry a British man will tell you that the groom’s speech is one of the best moments of their wedding night. For me, as a guest, it beats the father’s speech and even the first dance. Perhaps the vows are the only thing that trumps it.

The Venues

I’ve attended weddings in a 9th Century castle, in a 10th Century church, in an old manor house in Sussex, on a farm in the West Country, in a hotel where Prime Ministers’ stay, and next to a marsh in West Wales. Something about a British wedding makes it that much more romantic. Of course, it’s every girl’s dream to get married in a castle, but in Great Britain, you actually can!

Best Things About American Weddings

Open Bar

The first time I truly found out about the horror that is a cash bar at a wedding, I was just invited to the evening part. You see, my boyfriend and I had been together for over a year, but since the groom had never met me, he didn’t think it important to invite (ah hem, ‘pay’) for me to come to dinner, or see the ceremony.

Apparently, it’s quite normal in England for a significant other to not be invited to the entire evening with their partner if they have never met the girlfriend. Being an American, I was already incredibly offended – especially since we had traveled an hour to be there, stayed in a really expensive hotel (the only one in the entire town), and paid for two separate £40 cab rides to the venue from the hotel (since we weren’t leaving together).

So, you can imagine my dismay when I got to the reception, and had to pay for my own drinks! I understand that not everyone can afford to have an open bar, but I most certainly prefer the American mentality that when you invite a guest, they are to be treated as such.

The Women’s Speeches

In Great Britain, traditionally, the speeches include the Father of the Bride, the Groom and the Best Man. I agree with all of these choices for speeches, but I have to admit, I did find it a teeny bit sexist that no women spoke at weddings the first time I saw it happen.

Most British women don’t mind since they would rather the attention be off of them for the night, but what happened to the Maid of Honor? Why can’t she throw in a speech?

Women bring a different take to speech land, and I definitely prefer when we’re allowed to speak.

The Venues

Where the British score points for tradition, history, elegance and romance, American weddings score points for creativity, grandiosity and variety. Obviously, America is a much bigger country with many more choices for venues, and many more options for good weather. I have been to a wedding on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, at a museum in the middle of downtown Chicago, a country club in Maryland, and by a river at a Historic house in Austin, Texas.

The possibilities are truly endless in America, and always keep you guessing. While many British weddings have been similar, it’s hard for me to say that any American wedding has resembled another. This is also probably due to the diversity of the American population and religions as well.

Meagan Adele Lopez was an expat in England for nearly two years, and now resides in Chicago. Since her return to the US, she has finished her first novel, “Three Questions” loosely based on her quarter life crisis, and how she met her British bloke. Find her on her blog.



  1. says

    Fab post and something I’ve written about many times. There are SO many differences, which is surprising coz they look the same.
    One of the reasons for the lack of creativity in UK weddings is that you really can’t just go and get married anywhere. It’s still a little restricted, although you can have the reception anywhere.
    And – for the record, way back in 1990, I gave a speech at my wedding. What – a captive audience. When have I been known to turn that down? LOL

  2. smittenbybritain says

    I can’t state enough how unfair I think it is to ask your bridesmaids to pay for their own dresses for your expensive wedding. I think it’s terribly selfish and I refused to participate in that tradition in my own wedding. I couldn’t afford to buy all the bridesmaid dresses so I simply went without bridesmaids. Easy enough!

  3. Spencer says

    There are moments when I deeply appreciate the fact that I am a lesbian, future wedding being one of them (as long as I move somewhere I can get married-but that’s beside the point) because all that sexism kinda flies out the window, and the whole traditional wedding does to.

    Now, I’m hoping I’ll be living in England in three years after I finish college, so I’ll just keep this post in mind, and provide a free bar, while also making sure bridesmaids don’t have to pay for their dresses/suits (like I never realized american weddings did that) the best of all.

    basically I need to start saving. and well… find a girl. :) absolutely love this blog.

  4. smittenbybritain says

    Cheers Spencer! Best of luck on your journey to becoming an expat, and your future wedding. :)

  5. says

    I have been dating a Brit for 12 years and he makes me feel like a princess. I will be attending my first British wedding in May 2012 and I’m so excited. I didn’t know about the bridesmaid dress thing. I just discovered “Don’t Tell the Bride” episodes on YouTube and couldn’t understand why the groom always stressed about the bridesmaid dress budget… I’m yelling at the TV.. LET THEM HAVE THE DRESS THEY WANT! THEY ARE BUYING IT ANYWAY! Guess not… LOL
    LOVED this post!

  6. Clare A says

    Great post although I think that guy only inviting you to the evening do was a bit weird and a reflection on him than a general UK rule.

    I’m sure the idea of inviting people to only the ceremony and reception or just evening do is a bit out dated now in the UK as well. All the weddings I’ve been to the UK have always laid on extra food (usually a buffet instead of another sit down meal) for the evening guests. It’s also generally more acceptable to have a cash bar for the evening do…. but at least we don’t make our bridesmaids pay for the damn ugly dress! LOL.

  7. smittenbybritain says

    Clare, another think I couldn’t afford: the open bar. So no bridesmaids dresses and no open bar at my wedding. LOL.

  8. Clare A says

    LOL I asked my bridesmaid to wear a dress she liked / owned and I paid for her make up to be done. For our US wedding we didn’t have an open bar either.. well we had beer and wine only. In our UK wedding it was at lunch time so it was free tea and coffee not booze!

  9. says

    Have to just respond to Clare A – Sometimes UK wedding invitations are broken up into two separate events. Since evening weddings still aren’t the norm, there is often a big break in the middle of the day between the wedding and sit down meal reception, and a larger evening reception/party for more friends. It’s meant to be a way of cutting costs, (hence the pay bar, which I hate) but often ends up costing more anyway.
    My point however, is if the groom is a close friend, but the girlfriend is new or not known to the couple, he might be invited to the day event and the girlfriend included int he evening “do”.
    It would certainly not be a reflection on the guy though.

  10. Meagan says

    Spencer, even the lesbians can’t run away from the traditions of weddings! My sister is a lesbian, and is getting married in July – she’s having a “cast” rather than traditional bridesmaids, and having a costume designer design the “dresses”, but ultimately – isn’t it the same thing?

    Everyone wants the nicest thing possible!
    Kimberly, that’s hilarious! Yes, it’s a great tradition!

    Clare, I’ve had both happen – the evening do is definitely outdated, but people still do it. Couldn’t believe it when I heard it.

    Toni, I keep hearing conflicting statements about the whole “can’t get married everywhere” conflict. We’ve had friends who got married on a beach in the UK, etc….I thought it was just in a church or at a civil ceremony, but seems to be changing. I’m SOOO glad you gave a speech! I think I might have to as well.

    Love this blog as well! Thanks Melissa for hosting me!

  11. Jean | Delightful Repast says

    Meagan, I can’t imagine asking bridesmaids to pay for their own dresses! I am well aware that it is the long-standing custom here, but when I got married I paid for the dresses! Having a hosted bar at weddings is NOT standard in the US, I assure you. It SHOULD be, but it most certainly is not. Many couples in the US have a cash bar at their weddings. I wish they would realize that it is no different than inviting people into your home and then charging them for drinks!

  12. Meagan says

    Toni – Yes, that is the case – I still couldn’t help but be offended. Oh well!

    Jean, I’ve never been to a US wedding where I’ve had to pay for drinks, and I’ve been to a LOT, but perhaps it’s specific to regions? Where are you from? That’s interesting!

  13. says

    One of the reasons I gave a speech was that sadly, my dad was no longer with us, and my brother (who walked me down the aisle) just couldn’t do it. We tried to do an American style speech thing whereby anyone could get up and say something. Unfortunately, the Brits didn’t bite, although many came up to me later and said that if they’d known we were going to do that, they would have prepared something. I was kicking myself because the speeches at British weddings re often the highlight of the day.

  14. smittenbybritain says

    I see Toni. Very nice idea. I think the speeches are the best part of British weddings.

  15. Mardi G says

    I’m an American married to a Brit and at our US affair we had an open bar (horrors to charge guests for their drinks… I find that terribly tacky!). It was a black tie affair, which does account for certain things. If it is a luncheon, you can get away with different rules, an evening affair, please provide the drinks! As for my bridesmaids, I told them my color scheme, showed them some ideas I liked and all the dresses I liked happened to be on sale and yes, they paid for them. I in turn told them I expected no gift from any of them and paid for all of their hair, make up, etc. Best man, Maid of Honour ans father of the groom all made speeches. Many of the ladies wore hats. It was lovely. Oh and im Jewish, so we had to find a Chuppah to be married under. It was quite an affair! LoL

  16. says

    This is my second time reading this article, I left a comment earlier too… things have changed for me since then…. I’M GETTING MARRIED!!! My British man proposed while he was here in Michigan with his daughter last July. We are getting married this July. The only major issue we had was the wedding gift list. Do they do that in the UK? It’s always done here, and it took a lot of convincing to let me make one. Our daughters are my bridesmaids so as their parents, we will be paying for the dresses. LOL Other speeches will be my daughter and my dad. I’ve been in wedding mode for weeks so this article was a perfect read today.

  17. Katy says

    The Brits typically don’t do gift registries, nor do they have wedding showers, baby showers, etc. I’m an expat living in Canada now and engaged to a Canadian, and I’m learning a lot that things which are normal to me are not accepted here, and vice versa!

    This was a great article :)

  18. Samantha says

    I have to disagree on the gift registry – I’m British and have never been to a British wedding where there hasn’t been a wedding list (gift registry) or, what seems to be becoming more common, where guests are invited to donate towards a honeymoon in lieu of a registry. Baby showers have become much more common place in the last few years and my close friends have all had showers for the children.

  19. Margaret says

    I am a Brit married to an American for 24 years! Weddings can be so expensive these days and I don’t believe in getting into debt over one’s wedding. Live within your means is my motto. I don’t think it fair for bridesmaids to pay for their dresses so if you can only afford a couple of them rather than half a dozen, then make it work. Open Bars: I feel that one takes advantage of this and only ends up getting drunk at the Bride & Grooms expense (or who ever is footing the bill). One usually buys the first drink and the rest are at your own expense that way if you want to get drunk on expensive brandy do it at your own expense not mine! A sit down meal is usually expected or a buffet where funds are limited with a further buffet for evening guests. Nothing is worse than having an expensive, lavish wedding which the Bride & Groom/or who ever is footing the bill end up paying for several months/years down the road only to find out within a couple of years that it ends in divorce!

  20. says

    Loved your article on weddings. I am an ex-pat. I’ve lived in the States for twenty years, Atlanta, Chicago and Minnesota. I always enjoy reading Americans and British impressions of differences between the two countries as I feel so blended now I sometimes forget why I do things differently. LOL
    One thing you didn’t mention about weddings is the rehearsal dinner in America. My UK wedding just had a quick run through of the the ceremony the night before and no getting together of all the guests before the special day paid for by the grooms parents. That was something new to me and also bridal showers. Great idea though :-) I have enjoyed the diversity of cultures/religions shown at American weddings but always miss wearing a hat.

  21. tess says

    I have to agree about making the bridesmaids spend all that money on a dress they won’t ever wear again. And the bride usually insists on a dress that is so ugly you don’t even want to wear it at the wedding! I don’t know if it is just a temporary brain hiccup, making the bride lose her sense of fashion, or an ulterior motive making sure SHE is in the only pretty dress!

  22. Lisa says

    OK – I’ll admit I was an American bride who made my guests pay for alcohol … we had a cash bar. My family and I are Methodist and strongly adhere to the (now slightly outdated) Methodist belief that you shouldn’t ever drink alcohol. If I honestly thought I could get away with having a “dry” wedding in this day and age, I would have. (However, I figured not offering alcohol at all would have offended people more than having to pay for their own alcohol.) Still, we tried to offer free beverages of all other sorts … water, tea, lemonade and all the free pop you could drink.

  23. says

    I agree that expecting a bridesmaid to pay for an outfit the bride chooses is just awful. I think bridal showers (and baby showers too, for that matter) are a bit of a cheek as well.
    But yes, in this day and age, a woman really should be able to make a speech without raising eyebrows. I still remember the day my Mum told me ‘Ladies don’t make speeches at their own weddings.’ Happily, the world has moved on a bit since then.

  24. says

    I’m not sure, but I suspect guests at British weddings consume a heck of a lot more alcohol than their American cousins; this may lead to the reluctance of hosts to pay for it all. There are famous stories of even the (British) bride and groom getting so legless that chaos ensues. I’m sticking my neck out here, but I don’t think the British attitude to alcohol is very moderate.

  25. says

    Adore your article! Having attended St. Anne’s College, Oxford, for Junior year abroad, and having dated a Canadian, I can say with some knowledge, British men have lovely, old world manners and are more respectful towards their women than most American men who have more of a New World view on women. As a transplant from New York, having grown up in the American South (Virginia), Southerners do not have “Sit Down Dinners.” No head tables, no speeches. 20 years ago, Southerners used to have Receiving Lines so at the very least, guests got to briefly see and speak to the Bride, but I have not seen this practice lately. The time of the wedding, as well, used to predicate what outfit one wore to the wedding, but these days, one sees everything from Bridesmaids in black dresses and female guests in black dresses, to men in White Tie and their wives in silk day dresses at a 5:00pm wedding. Brides now wear one wedding dress to the ceremony and another wedding dress to the Reception, so they may dance. Guests arrive at the Southern Wedding Reception when they get there, eat heavy h’ors d’oeuvres (the traditional 4 foods are crab dip, ham biscuits, shrimp and beef tenderloin), drink from an open bar when they want, talk to whomever they want and dance with whomever they want, whenever they want. Other than the cutting of the cake, the first dance, and the throwing of the bouquet, the Southern Wedding Reception is nothing but a grand party. Regarding the full invitation: I was in a high society wedding 25 years ago where the “Grand-Dame” grandmother (paying for everything), invited 800 people to the church ceremony and only 400 to the wedding reception, and to this day, there are still people who are mad… at the Bride!! Myself, in 1980, I was the only person invited to a friend’s Debutant Luncheon, but not invited to her formal “Coming Out” party that evening. I was further embarrassed at the luncheon when someone asked me what dress I was wearing that evening (my parents had divorced, and too boot, my family had gone bankrupt in the 1973 oil crisis, so I was not “eligible” to be a Virginia Deb with divorced parents, but still unknown to anyone, had been asked to have a Debut in New York City). Anyway, I think this friend was nicely somehow trying to include me, as we attended the same small college, but in retrospect, she should have invited me to all, or not at all. So, my advice to everyone is to invite people to all aspects of any celebration, or not at all. This way one avoids any potential embarrassments or hurt feelings. And, YES, American “High Society” is not like the popular 1980’s TV show “Dallas.” It is quietly subtle and tough!

  26. says

    I agree that going into debt for a wedding is a horrible way to start a marriage. That said, if you’re going to do it, I think you should do it right and not expect your guests to pay for something that you chose to get into. Hopefully people are sane enough to minimize the expense and keep it the minimum amount of guests.

  27. says

    Rehearsal dinners! Yes, I always forget this – and it’s one of my favorite parts about American weddings. And the brunch that often follows the next day. Honestly, I think there is a book to be written about these differences!

  28. says

    Ha! Who knows what the motives are behind a bride’s choice of bridesmaids. I’ve heard brides say they won’t pick any bridesmaid who is prettier than her, or blonder so she can stand out! A real shame.

  29. says

    Well that’s fair enough – if you have strict beliefs one way or the other, than by all means, do what you feel is best. After all, this is your day.

  30. says

    Wow!! Who knew the south truly was as dramatic as it all seemed. That sort of embarrassment is definitely hard to get over, and you’re right – I forgot about the time of the weddings making a huge difference in what you wore. Just doesn’t happen that way anymore, does it?