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Unveiling Chicago Wedding Traditions: 7 Must-Know Insights

Tales from a Chicagoland wedding and event planner.

My passion for weddings started as a child. My parents were older, so all of my family members and neighbors were of the marrying age when I was young. I can remember so many awesome traditions that have now disappeared.

In my planning experience, I have planned events with very traditional wedding details and modern Chicago weddings with little to no traditions. Read on to learn about wedding traditions you may want to incorporate or bring back for your wedding event!

Bridal Veils

Traditionally, a bride wore a wedding veil as it symbolized virginity. But, by the 1980s, the veil had been replaced with a hat with a tulle train. As we approached the new millennium, many brides decided to forgo the veil detail entirely. In my experience as a luxury wedding planner, I see about half of my brides choose a veil and half opt for a modern accessory. The brides that opt out of a veil will typically wear a piece of hair jewelry. Some brides keep the tradition and wear the veil for the ceremony and then take it off for the reception.

Early ceremonies

Wedding ceremonies, like my parents, were held first thing in the morning. If the reception was not a wedding breakfast or a luncheon, it was not an all-day affair. Many times, the bride’s parents would host a pre-reception at their home prior to the evening wedding reception and dinner. There would also be a separate wedding breakfast or lunch just for the wedding party at a restaurant or a private club. The recent trend is for wedding ceremonies to be in the late afternoon or early evening with a very small window of time between the ceremony and the start of the reception. The wedding industry, in general, has seen a small shift back to early afternoon weddings, but event planners in Chicago would agree that afternoon/evening ceremonies are here to stay.

The receiving line

This tradition was always done when you entered a wedding reception. The newly married couple, their parents, and sometimes the entire wedding party would line up at the door to greet their guests and thank them for coming to their wedding. Believe it or not, there is etiquette surrounding who stands next to who! This is still done at Greek weddings, but at the church, as guests are filing out. It is very common and traditional to that religion. As a Chicagoland wedding planner, I have not had a wedding couple request or execute a receiving line in many years.

Bouquet and garter toss

Toward the later hours of the wedding reception, a bride would throw her bouquet to all of the single girls. Then, the groom would remove a garter from the brides’ legs and toss that to one of the single gentlemen. By catching this, you were then to be the next person to be married. This tradition has faded out of popularity, especially for big city brides and grooms! As couples are getting married later in life, there are fewer unmarried people in the room. Additionally, single people may not like the attention or spotlight and opt-out of these traditions.

The Sweetheart circle

Near the end of the reception, the bride and groom would be seated in chairs next to and facing each other. The bride’s mother removes the bride's veil and place a white apron on her, usually adorned with plastic babies. Then a plastic ball and chain, (and sometimes not plastic!) would be placed on the groom’s leg. Then guests then form a circle around a dancing bride and groom to the song “Let me call you sweetheart”. This tradition truly signified the at-home husband and housewife. Since so many couples do not have this type of relationship anymore, this tradition has truly faded.

The Wedding Cake

I have had many mothers of the bride exclaim, “What do you mean they’re not having a wedding cake? Every wedding has a wedding cake! “. Not anymore! Many couples are foregoing the wedding cake entirely for a fanciful plated dessert or bountiful dessert station. Through the tradition of a large wedding cake elaborately decorated with plastic figurines of the bride and groom -and sometimes the entire wedding party- posed on staircases that connect to smaller cakes are a thing of wedding event lore. While these elaborate setups are still done in some cultures, wedding events in Chicago typically don't have elaborate setups and favor a more modern style.

I also remember, that growing up, the cake was never served to the guests at the reception. It was cut up by the servers and wrapped in wax paper or cake boxes for the guests to take home. Now, the cucake is served as a plated dessert.

Fun Story Time!

In the 70s, there used to be working fountains in the cakes! I have done this exactly twice in my entire career. Once, a catering manager at the banquet facility told the couple “It adds motion to the cake. “ Before that moment, it never occurred to me that a cake was meant to have motion. As a wedding planner, cakes in motion are a thing to be feared!
The second time wasn't that many years ago. The bride had wanted one ever since she was a little girl. As the wedding coordinator, I, of course, made it happen. Keep in mind that fountains require pumps that require power. Typically, they are plugged in so they would be pushed up against a wall or were not plugged in when they were wheeled into the room. Wedding cakes are meant to be a centerpiece of the room, so it was up to the wedding planner (me), to make this bride's dream come true. I had a custom table built and made it happen.


It was very popular back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s for the bridal party to be transported in their parents' personal cars. Limousines were not used that much and were typically only at very high-end luxury weddings. The groomsmen would decorate the cars before they left for the church, and pick the bridesmaids up, or they would have someone do this while the ceremony was actually going on. The cars were decorated in crêpe paper streamers and little flowers that were made out of either toilet paper or Kleenex.

The parents of the bride usually drove the bride to the church in their own car. Back then most people all had four-door cars. If not, they found someone who had a larger four-door car to help. After the ceremony, the wedding party would load into the cars and ould drive around honking their horns. Thankfully, this loud, obnoxious tradition didn’t last long and made its exit in the 80's.

My mother was known for musing that, “It always comes back.” I did not believe her till I saw platform shoes make a return! It will be interesting to see which of these traditions may make a comeback as well. As a wedding planner in Chicago, I have planned and designed many luxury events that featured many of the traditions above. From highly recommended traditions to planning and designing your wedding day, my attention to detail makes planning your wedding or event design an event to remember.


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