Something Old, Something New

Superstitious belief underlies many of the traditions observed with a bride’s apparel. Well-known is the old English verse dealing with the bride’s ensemble: 

Something old, something new,

Something borrowed, something blue,

And a sixpence in the shoe.

This saying dates to Victorian times, and many brides have in the past thus arranged their wedding attire. In modern times, this tradition is largely forgotten, although partially observed by some, with brides perhaps including something borrowed or a blue garter. According to superstitious belief, everything the bride wears has to be very carefully chosen to have the most beneficial possible influence on her future. To symbolise her new status in life, every item the bride wears should be new, except for something old, something borrowed, and something blue. 

The ‘old’ represents the bride’s link with the past, her family, and friends. It also refers to something previously worn or belonging to a happily married woman, thereby transferring happiness to the new bride. Formerly, the belief prevailed that any item brought into close contact with the body was charged with a significant and lasting power. Therefore, to ensure her lasting happiness, the bride held fast to something old, an item that a happy bride had already worn. It was believed that something worn during a deeply emotional, blissfully happy experience absorbed its radiation and could transmit this to the new bride. In days gone by it was customary for the handkerchief or the shoes to be old, hence the saying, ‘Lucky the bride who marries in old shoes’.

The ‘something new’ in the rhyme represents good fortune for the new life the bride is starting – a new beginning. The ‘new’ refers to the wedding gown or any other apparel the bride wears on her special day. As is so often the case with superstitious beliefs, something new was also paradoxically considered a harbinger of good luck – as was something old – as humans have always believed in the potency of novelty. It was therefore considered lucky to carry a new penny, as the newness made it the source of good fortune. So the bride’s new outfit, not having been seen by anyone but her attendants, is in keeping with the festive occasion, symbolic of her new status as a wife, and a powerful portent of happiness. 

‘Something borrowed’ from someone happily married for many years, of course, will magically transfer that happiness to the wearer. Often, the veil worn by the bride’s mother on her wedding day would be among the most coveted items to be borrowed. However, to borrow an object of gold guaranteed wealth and prosperity for the future. Additional good luck was believed to come to the bride wearing her mother’s wedding dress. Anything borrowed was generally considered lucky, whereas to lend meant loss. An old German rhyme intones: ‘He who lends money at play [card play] will lose; he that borrows for play will win’. Something borrowed was also to remind the bride that in times of hardship and strife, family and friends were there to help when needed. 

The ‘something blue’ symbolises true love, loyalty, and faithfulness. Blue, usually the shade of sky blue, might be present in the bouquet or the garter. Throughout the ages, blue has been regarded as a symbol of truth. Through a chain of associations – God lives in heaven, heaven is in the sky, the sky is blue – blue was considered a divine colour, symbolic of purity and protective against evil forces. As is applicable on all major occasions during a lifetime, i.e. birth, christening, marriage, and death, the bride was thought to be especially exposed and, therefore, very vulnerable, to evil influences on her wedding day. Blue was hence included in her ensemble as a shield to ward off any misfortune. In the Middle East, North Africa, and certain European countries, blue is still used in averting the evil eye, this colour being considered the most powerful protector from evil. 

The silver sixpence in England or the new dime in America, worn in the heel of the left shoe ensured wealth and prosperity for the couple, as these coins were considered harbingers of good fortune.


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