Left or Right? Which Side is Correct for Your Wedding?

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © 14/06/2020
| Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Traditions
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Couple's hands doing a pinky promise with
                      wedding rings on left hands Which side is "correct" in a wedding depends on what we are talking about - flowers, rings, or seating.  Having said that, let me reassure you that there are no laws, and no actual rules, though a lot of people will lead you to believe that there are! Which side, left or right, for flowers, rings, or where people sit comes down to just practice and local custom, in Australia, based on what Queen Victoria did in her wedding, or the way the English aristocracy did it in the 19th century, so you feel free to make a different decision. It is the 21st century after all.

Left or Right? Who sits on which side?

Traditionally who sits on which side of the church aligned with where the bride and groom were required to stand. Being regarded as the lesser in the marriage, the bride stood on the groom's left side, the right side being reserved as a position of honour. As they were required to stand facing the altar, they were standing with their backs to the guests in the body of the church. So the bride's family and friends were directed to sit behind her (the left side when facing the front) and the groom's family , on the right.  The architecture of churches meant, generally, that there was some distance between where the couple were standing and the front row of the pews, so no-one's view was impeded. Not that there was a great deal to see!

Contemporary ceremonies are different. There is usually much less space between the couple and the front row of chairs. The couple faces the guests and they turn to face one another for their vows. Which means that anyone sitting in the front row or two is not going to see both their faces. So I always suggest that the parents swap sides - the groom's family sitting on the bride's side and vice versa. That way they at least get to see the face of their own child during the exchange of vows.

As for everyone else. Free seating is the go. It is much more important to have the seats equally filled on both sides that to differentiate who belongs to who. It is also much better for the photos.

Left or Right? Which side do you pin the flowers?

Have you ever wondered why men's suits have a buttonhole on the left lapel? In modern off-the-peg suits they tend only to be ornamental, but in bespoke tailored suits they are still handmade and cut open, to allow the stem of a single flower to be inserted. Hence the term "buttonhole" for a flower on the lapel. So, the flower (boutonniere) goes on the left side for the groom, groomsmen, and fathers. An added benefit is that the groom's boutonniere will still be visible when he turns to face the bride.  That's the logic. When it is two grooms marrying you can stick with tradition or go mirror image, one left, one right so both boutonnieres will be in the vow photos. Personal choice.

For corsages, usually provided for the mothers and grandmothers, they go on the right shoulder.

In addition to left and right, there is up and down.  Men's flowers have the stem pointing down, a tradition inherited from the days when the stem was inserted into the buttonhole. Women's flowers have the stem pointing up. There is a practical reason for this. While the boutonniere is traditionally one flower, perhaps with a bit of foliage added, a corsage is either a very large flower or several flowers, with the addition of foliage and perhaps ribbon. So a corsage is much heavier that a boutonniere. It would flop if pinned stem down.

Left or right? Which hand do the rings go on?

And the answer is. It depends on custom and practice in your particular culture or community. In English-speaking countries we tend to say left hand. And there is some twaddle about belief in a vein that runs from the left ring finger to the heart. Trust me. The blood vessels in your hands are mirror images of one another. So anything that runs from the left ring finger to the heart has its mirror duplicate in your right hand!

But other countries and cultures regard the right hand as the correct one. But here's the thing. Rings are not a legal requirement, either for your marriage ceremony  or to designate your marital status to the world. So whether you choose to wear your ring on the left or right hand, whether you decide to wear your ring on your ring finger or a different finger, or indeed whether you even exchange rings at all, is up to you.

I've had couples who chose a different finger - middle finger, or little finger (pinky) are not uncommon choices. And quite a few couples choose to go with their cultural heritage and place the rings on their right hands. When it comes to intercultural weddings, it is not uncommon to see one right hand, one left hand.

Being practical

As with any decisions, it is important to communicate those decisions.
  • For the flowers, make the decision and then make sure that everyone who needs to know is informed well ahead of time. This starts with your florist. As foliage backing boutonnieres is often slightly angled to what will be the outside edge, and florists always assume that they will be pinned on the left lapel.
  • For the couple. While generally the bride stands on the left, if some detail of your dress or hairpiece is on your left side, so it would be hidden when you turn to face one another for your vows, of course you can swap sides with your groom. Just don't forget to tell your celebrant and your photographer!
  • For the seating, let your venue and stylist know that you are swapping the parents from the traditional side so that reserved signs can be correctly placed. While we tend no longer to hear "bride's side or groom's" side asked at the door as people enter, assuring people that they can sit anywhere is a good idea. You can use a sign, or just have a couple of helpful greeters.
  • For the rings, make the decision early and have your rings sized accordingly. And make sure you tell your celebrant about your decision to avoid whispered directions on the day being incorrect. 

Thanks for reading!

Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you can
                        have the best ceremony ever
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