From bouquets and boutonnieres to flower girls and ring bearers, there are a lot of traditions when it comes to weddings. And in terms of military weddings, there is so much more. Although identical to traditional civilian weddings in many ways, military weddings must follow unique and distinct elements.
With traditions that date back hundreds of years, very particular dress codes, specific seating arrangements and meticulously-worded invitations, couples must follow certain etiquettes if they want to incorporate traditional aspects of a military wedding to their big day. If you’re a man or woman – whether enlisted, officer or cadet – who is serving or has served in any branch of the United States military, here are some military wedding traditions that you may want to consider.
A Military Chapel or Academy Grounds
Military weddings typically take place at military chapels or on academy grounds. All service academies offer separate chapels to accommodate different faiths, including Catholicism and Judaism. Each location may also have their own specific criteria for military weddings, so be sure to contact your chaplain’s office before booking. At the United States Military Academy, West Point, for example, the bride or groom must either be an academy graduate, on active duty stationed at West Point or a dependent of an active duty personnel member stationed there.
In addition to adding to the military ambiance, military chapels are ideal for cost-conscious couples. When you reserve the chapel, you’ll arrange a meeting with the chaplain, who will perform your ceremony. Because military chaplains are commissioned officers, there is no cost for their services. However, it’s courteous to make a donation to the chapel. If you’d like a civilian clergyperson to co-officiate your ceremony, talk to both officiants early about the possibility. It’s also customary to offer any assisting civilian clergyman an honorarium.
Rules for decorating military chapels vary, but all flowers, candelabra and other decor are arranged by the Chapel Altar Guild and are the same for all weddings. Military wedding receptions at academies or bases are often held at officers’ or enlisted clubs on the premises, but couples can also choose to have a traditional hotel or restaurant reception.
Traditional Military Attire
Active duty brides and/or grooms have the option to wear full ceremonial dress or civilian attire. The bride or groom may wear a Mess dress uniform or a Class A (Service) dress uniform. The formal Service dress uniform should be reserved for white-tie affairs, while Mess dress uniforms are appropriate for black-tie events. Depending on his branch of service, and whether or not he’s a commissioned officer, the groom may decide to wear a saber or cutlass, which must be accompanied by white gloves. Grooms should also not wear boutonnieres with their uniforms, no matter the formality. Typically, military decorations will replace the traditional flower. Brides typically choose to wear a classic wedding dress and may also hold a bridal bouquet, even if she opts to wear her uniform.
If any members of the wedding party or guests are also in the military, they should be advised as to what the bride and/or groom will be wearing because their attire should be the same level of formality.
The Arch of Sabers
Many military weddings include an arch of sabers, held by other military members, under which the bride and groom walk through. This is a symbolic act that ensures the newlywed couple safe passage into their new life together. The arch of sabers should only be performed for commissioned officers. Noncommissioned officers or enlisted personnel use a variation of the arch of sabers, which is known as the arch of rifles. The arch often ends with the final two military members lowering their sabers to prevent the couple from passing. If the bride is not in the military, she is ceremonially tapped on the behind with a saber as a way of welcoming her into her partner’s military family. After this, the couple is allowed to pass. The arch is not mandatory, but it makes for a truly memorable part of a military wedding.
Ranks or Titles on Invitations
Prefixes, such as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Miss’, should not be used to refer to any personnel on active duty. If the military personnel’s rank is captain or higher in the Army or lieutenant senior grade or higher in the Navy, their titles should appear before their names when addressing envelopes and on the invitation. An example would be ‘Captain John Smith, United States Army’. A lower rank should be listed after the personnel’s name. An example for this would be ‘John Smith, Ensign, United States Army’.
Seating for Military Members
All high-ranking officers (generals and colonels in the Army, Air Force and Marines ; admirals and captains in the Navy) must be seated in positions of honor, according to rank, at both the ceremony and reception. During the ceremony, commanding officers should sit near the front, either with or directly behind the couple’s families. If the couple’s parents are not present, it’s customary to seat their commanding officers and their spouses in front of the pew. For the reception, members of the military can be seated together at a table of their own in a place of honor near the head table and the couple’s immediate family. Alternatively, the couple can have military members choose between being seated at a table with other members or at a table with family or friends.
For couples who may not have time to research all the dos and don’ts of a formal military wedding, hiring a professional planner would be a huge help. The protocol officer and chaplain at academies can also help you make sure that your wedding choices are in-line with current military requirements.
Additionally, with years of experience providing reliable transportation for couples getting married at West Point, Majestic Transportation Services & Limo can help you put together a transportation program that perfectly suits your big day. As well as providing luxury car and wedding limo services, we can help you put together group transportation for any civilian guests. That way, your civilian guests won’t have to worry about giving their license numbers, and we can also organize a smoother process of guest IDs.
To learn more about Majestic’s military wedding limo services and group transportation services for weddings, click here or get in touch with our weddings team!