My informant is a 22-year-old student, originally from the Southern New Jersey area. We recently got talking about weddings and we were discussing the American custom of the bride throwing her bouquet behind her after she has been married. This is not a common custom where I am from, and so I was intrigued to hear what she made of it, considering it is so prevalent in American film and television. She has seen this tradition in real life many times, and thinks it is a fun part of the wedding ceremony. She is signified in this conversation by the initials B.I.
A: Have you personally seen someone throw a bouquet at a wedding?
B.I.: Yes, I’ve seen it many times. It’s always the bride that throws the bouquet of flowers that she carried up the aisle with her, so usually white roses or the like.
A: And when exactly does this take place in the ceremony?
B.I.: It normally takes place after the actual marriage itself, but sometimes I’ve seen brides throw their bouquets the second they get outside the church, and other times they wait until later on in the evening when everyone is gathered, perhaps at the reception or after the dinner, and then she throws it. It’s always thrown back over her head, so she can’t see who she’s throwing it to. Oh, and also it’s really important who tries to catch it. It’s always unmarried women who try and catch it, sometimes the bridesmaids in particular. Sometimes one of the men will try and catch it for a joke. If you catch it, it means you’re the next person to get married out of the group. I don’t know how seriously people take it as a prediction of who will actually get married next, but I’ve certainly seen some exceptionally uncomfortable men around after their girlfriend catches the bouquet!
A: And why does she throw it in the first place?
B.I.: I don’t really know to be honest, is it something to do with throwing away your virginity or something? Because flowers usually represent that, right? Yeah, and that would work well with the fact that the flowers are white, because white is the traditional color you wear at a wedding to represent your virginity.
This piece was related to me in person in a conversation about American superstitions and customs including those from the natural world, such as Bigfoot, and from film and television.
This piece highlights a lot of preconceptions of the newly married woman. Firstly, that she throws a bouquet of white flowers is certainly symbolic of virginity, and the casting aside of virginal white and maidenhood to become a married and sexually active woman. This would concur with Vaz da Silva’s constructions of the ‘tricolor’ of womanhood, that white, red, and black represent the stages in a woman’s life, passing from white virginity, to red sexual activity, to black barrenness. Secondly, the act of throwing the bouquet itself is a kind of symbolic ‘deflowering,’ that the era of her girlhood has passed and she is now almost a full member of adult female society. By passing it onto another woman, she passes on the torch of her virginity, only for that woman in turn to throw her own bouquet at her wedding. This is underscored in the idea that the only women who try and catch the flowers are unmarried, as otherwise that would suggest a refusal of the classic contract of marriage in outdated terms: the person you are sanctioned to have sex with. If a married woman caught the bouquet, it would therefore suggest a critical insufficiency in their marriage. It is interesting that this tradition carries on today despite the fact that many women must have no idea behind the symbolism of what they are doing – certainly it was news to me. It reminds me of the American tradition of throwing one’s graduation cap into the air at the end of the graduation ceremony – an eschewing of one’s previous identity and entering into a new stage of one’s life.