10 Ways British and American Weddings Differ

published May 18, 2018
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Royal weddings have always fascinated people around the world, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s upcoming wedding has been no different. Wedding experts, historians, “sources close to the palace,” and Instagram sleuths alike have been speculating on the details of the nuptials since the engagement was announced last November.

This particular royal wedding is extra special, considering the British-American union. Not only are there royal wedding traditions to observe, but also two sets of cultural wedding customs to incorporate. We’ll have to wait to see — or hear — what American traditions Meghan and Harry include, but until then, brush up on some of the key differences between British and American weddings.

1. Pre-wedding festivities

The lead-up to a wedding in the U.S. is jam-packed with celebrations, including bridal showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and rehearsal dinners. In the U.K., pre-wedding festivities are limited to bachelor and bachelorette parties, known as stag dos and hen parties.

2. Bridal parties

Bridal parties tend to be smaller in the U.K. The maid of honor is known as chief bridesmaid, and groomsmen are called ushers. Being a bridesmaid in the U.S. can typically be a big commitment, with the expectation that you will pay for your dress and your share of pre-wedding activities. In the U.K., the bride usually covers the cost of dresses and there aren’t as many event obligations for the wedding party!

3. Guest list

In the U.S., if you’re invited to the wedding, you’re invited to the whole shebang. This is not necessarily the case in the U.K. Often, there is an A list and B list of sorts, with close family and friends invited to the ceremony and wedding breakfast (a sit-down meal served directly after the service) and the B list guests only included in the evening reception.

4. Wedding attire

In both countries, brides wear white traditionally, but often in the U.K. bridesmaids will also don white dresses (this is usually avoided in the U.S.). The most noticeable difference is in guest attire — women wear hats and fascinators to British weddings. Wearing a hat is even specified on the invitation for the “Harkle” nuptials, as seen on the official Kensington Palace Instagram account.

5. Processional

In the U.S., the bride follows her bridesmaids, but on the other side of the Atlantic, the bride goes first, with her bridesmaids quickly following. During the processional, the groom faces away from the bride in a British wedding.

6. Speeches

One of the biggest differences in British and American weddings is who makes a speech, and how long they speak. Traditionally, in the U.K., the father of the bride, best man, and the groom speak, and for much longer than their American counterparts. The best man’s speech is seen as a roast of the groom, and sometimes telegrams, or cards, from people who cannot attend are read aloud to the newly married couple.

7. Wedding cake

The traditional wedding cake in the U.K. is fruitcake with marzipan and fondant icing. In the U.S., wedding cakes are typically lighter sponge cake with buttercream frosting. Of course, there are variants of flavors in both countries these days, and a popular “cake” option in the U.K. isn’t cake at all — instead wheels of cheese are stacked in a tier and served with all the cheeseboard accoutrements.

8. Groom’s cake

Although the tradition of a Groom’s Cake originated in Victorian England, it is much more common in the U.S., particularly in the South. (Remember the scene of the “bleeding” red velvet armadillo cake in Steel Magnolias?) The cakes are often themed based on the groom’s interests, hobbies, and tastes, and served as another dessert option at the wedding, or sometimes at the rehearsal dinner. This tradition hasn’t quite made a comeback with the general public in the U.K., even though two cakes are served at royal weddings. (Prince William made headlines with his request for a chocolate biscuit cake as his Groom’s Cake back in 2011.)

9. Open bar

Open bars at wedding receptions are much more common in the U.S., whereas cash bars are the norm in the U.K. A rising trend in the U.K. is a combination of the two — for example, a Champagne toast or a few drink tickets provided by the couple, in addition to a full bar at the venue for all other libations to be paid for by wedding guests.

10. Timeline

Even though American wedding weekends typically have more events on the itinerary, the actual ceremony and reception are over in five hours. British weddings tend to go all day and late into the night. This may explain why open bars aren’t as popular over there!