From walking down the aisle with your shoes untied in order to ease your future childbirth pains to wearing Chinese lotus shoes adorned with instructions on how to consummate the nuptials, wedding shoes have historically played a superstitious role in marriage ceremonies throughout the world.
"Shoes, in particular, have a rich history of being the focus of many auspicious practices," notes online authority All About Shoes. "From customs that encourage good fortune to playful traditions, these first steps of a newlywed couple are seen as setting them in the direction of a happy, fruitful and successful union."
Choosing a Bride
Selecting a bride by her shoe does not only belong to the realm of fairy tales. Just as Prince Charming unearthed his princess, the fair maiden Cinderella, by slipping the perfect glass slipper onto her dainty foot, men in imperial China chose their brides by examining handcrafted shoes. Since the embroidered designs contained important clues about the eligible bride's wealth, education and social class, a matchmaker paraded the shoes among the potential suitors. Once a match was made, the wedding arrangements would commence.
Shoes as Wedding Gifts
In several ancient societies, the groom was responsible for making his betrothed a symbolic pair of shoes for the wedding day to prove his devotion and ability to take care of her. In Marken, a small island in the Netherlands, grooms would carve wooden clogs that included intricate scrollwork designs and Gothic script. Zuni Native American men were responsible for making their brides' leather marriage boots.
In India, one of the most anticipated gifts a bride receives is a pair of ornate silver slippers from her groom's younger brother, which is presented during the marriage ceremony under a Hindu wedding mandap (canopy). But beautiful footwear is not just for the bride in India. The groom dons elaborately embroidered wedding shoes, which he takes off for the marriage ceremony. It is the bridesmaids' job to capture the shoes from the protective groomsmen and good-naturedly demand a costly ransom. Armenian wedding parties play a similar prank.
A Lucky Coin in the Shoe
Perhaps the tradition most brides are familiar with is, "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue -- and a silver sixpence in the shoe." Around the world, brides march down the aisle with coins tucked into their wedding shoes to ensure a prosperous marriage. As part of their dowry gift, Victorian brides carried the sixpence in the left shoe.
Although the coin has not been produced since 1967, renewed interest in the ancient tradition has inspired wedding vendors, such as SixpencePress.com, to create replicas and sweet keepsakes, although many modern brides simply use a penny instead.
The lucky coin is often transformed into keepsake jewelry after the ceremony, whether it becomes a bracelet charm, a dangling pendant or part of a ring setting. In several European cultures, the sixpence is saved and passed down from mother to daughter before the marriage ceremony begins.
There are numerous variations on this tradition, including Nordic brides who wear a silver coin from their fathers in the left shoe and a gold coin from their mothers in the right shoe to ensure she never goes without the things she needs for a happy life.
For a modern twist on this classic marriage rhyme, some wedding shoe designers now line the inside of the shoe in blue or imprint "I Do" on the outside sole.
Traditional American bridal shoes are white satin or silk, which usually complements the wedding dress material, and are embellished with sparkling crystals. Although white symbolizes death in Japanese culture, brides typically wear white shoes with accents of color to represent their hopes for a bright future.
To bless the couple's union with longevity and fertility, in the Longquan region of China's Zhejiang Province, the bride dons vivacious orange or pink slippers that are hand constructed by a grandmother who has living family from at least three generations. A pair of phoenixes picking peony flowers is embroidered on the upper front, and the inside is lined with an embroidered white cloth with the Chinese characters for double happiness.