Traditions surrounding wedding shoes go back generations. Behind the various shoe customs there is some confusion and it’s often difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction. This article aims to unlace the background surrounding wedding footwear and explain some of the reasoning behind the many rituals.
Shoes at a wedding bring good luck. True or false?
There was a time when it was said that if a pair of new shoes was brought into a house and put on a table, then members of that household would suffer in some way. Opinions varied about the level of discomfort and ranged from quarrelling, to predictions about never marrying, and at the worse that there would be a death in the family. And yet it was also said that newly weds would live happily ever after if a replica of a shoe was put on top of their wedding cake. So why was a table top unlucky, but the top of a wedding cake the exact opposite?
The expected bad luck surrounding putting new shoes on a table was taken seriously and, when one of the Duke of Wellington’s servants did just that, he was instantly dismissed. Perhaps this was understandable because soldiers were always wary of anything which might speed their end. Could it be that by putting a shoe on top of a wedding cake you were sending or receiving a subtle message that marriage could be a lifetime’s battleground?
Certainly determining who would be the dominant partner in a marriage was considered to be very important and it was held that whoever was first to put their left foot over the doorstep of the marital home would rule the roost. And that’s probably the reason why a bridegroom picked up his bride and carried her into the house, thereby ensuring that her feet couldn’t touch the floor before his. Mind you, there were ways that a woman could regain the upper hand (or should that be foot?) and once again, it was shoes which gave her the opportunity. If she took off her husband’s shoes on their wedding night then she would be the dominant partner.
But we’re getting off the point of putting a replica shoe on the wedding cake. Now, until the day she was married, a daughter was her father’s responsibility. To symbolise that he had passed over this role to his new son-in-law, the bride’s father threw a shoe to the groom. There are passages in the Bible which say that throwing a shoe was a recognised way of surrendering a right of ownership. However, there’s no written evidence of this happening at weddings before the 1830s, so why did shoe throwing suddenly begin? It’s possible that it was confused with throwing shoes after those who were setting off on a journey in order to give them good luck and there is stacks of written evidence from the sixteenth century onwards about this. Horseshoes are often tied to the car which takes the married couple away from their wedding reception and this is a direct link with throwing shoes at those beginning a new venture.
Overall, it would seem that the wedding cake shoe is a remnant of a number of customs and superstitions which have become muddled over the years. But does it matter where the idea came from when its overriding purpose is to wish good luck to the newly-weds. So, whether your wedding cake is a traditional, tiered and iced fruit cake, a cupcake confection or even a contemporary cake made from rounds of cheese, remember to give pride of place to a replica shoe just as generations of brides and grooms before you have done.