“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue … and a sixpence in your shoe.”
The rhyme, a mantra listing the items to be worn by a good-fortune-seeking bride on her wedding day, appears to be a mid-to-late Victorian formalisation and amalgamation of long-held British regional customs, folklore and superstitions. That is, previously unrecorded traditions and oral history finally made their way into print with the explosions of mass literacy, newspaper circulation and the publishing industry.
Its first documented reference can be found in a short story, "Marriage Superstitions, and the Miseries of a Bride Elect" that appeared in an 1871 issue of St. James Magazine. The female narrator states, "On the wedding day I must 'wear something new, something borrowed, something blue.'" The first recorded version of the rhyme as we now know it (the so-called Lancashire version) appeared in an 1876 newspaper, which reported a wedding where the bride "wore, according to ancient custom, something old and something new, something borrowed and blue”.
The goal for most of the items was to ensure healthy fertility for the bride.
The “old” item both references heritage and provides protection for the hoped baby to come. The “new” item offers optimism for the future. The item “borrowed” from another happily married couple provides good luck. The colour “blue” (the signature colour of the Virgin Mary in the Christian tradition) is a sign of purity and fidelity. And finally, the sixpence, a British silver coin worth six pennies that was minted from 1551 all the way to 1967, is a symbol of prosperity and also acts as a ward against any potential evil done by frustrated suitors … the “lucky sixpence”, also baked into Christmas puddings.
The sixpence was traditionally given to the bride by her father to be placed in her shoe. As with most of the items, it matters less today who it comes from, and some brides make the sixpence tradition extra special by finding a coin minted in the year they were born or the year they met their spouse-to-be.
And please note that, for whatever reason, the coin should be put in the bride’s left shoe to ensure the maximum accumulation of fortune.
The wearing of the five items detailed in the rhyme is still popular … at least in the English speaking countries. It’s a particular and prosaic tradition that many brides still have fun with today.
Finally, here are two examples for all of you British royalists:
In 2011, at the wedding of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall, the bride wore:
- Something Old: a pair of diamond earrings
- Something New: her wedding dress, made by designer Stewart Parvin
- Something Borrowed: a diamond tiara with Greek key pattern, often worn by her mother Princess Anne
- Something Blue: bright blue nail polish on her toenails [Ed: Way to go Zara!]
In 2018, at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the bride wore:
- Something Old: fabric from the wedding dress of Lady Diana Spencer
- Something New: Givenchy wedding gown, veil, shoes, and Cartier jewellery
- Something Borrowed: the Diamond Bandeau Tiara, loaned by the Queen for the occasion
- Something Blue: blue fabric from gingham dress worn on first date with Harry, sewn into the bridal hem
Story Idea: Tim Nicholas
1. Splash of blue on the bride's garter belt
2. Anon., “Marriage Superstitions, and the Miseries of a Bride Elect, Part I” in St James’ Magazine, Vol VII, 1871, London, Sampson Low, p.572.. Google Books link HERE.
3. Blue toenail polish for the bride. Not Zara Phillips. Credit: corphotography.com.
4. British sixpence from 1909
5. Lucky Sixpence Gifts & Wedding Favours from Tilly Online Etsy Shop
6. Blue gingham sewn into the hem of Meghan Markle's wedding gown
7. Bonus Video: The Fantastics singing "Something Old, Something New" in 1971
8. "Old New Borrowed and Blue" is also the title of a 1974 studio album by the English rock band Slade. You can listen to it on YouTube Music HERE.