Rules / Etiquette

5 Military Wedding Traditions That Will Make Your Celebration Unforgettable

When I married my Marine, I never attended another service member’s wedding. But he had already been in the military for seven years, so he heard a lot about military wedding traditions. He was very proud of his uniform, his service, and his country, so his only requests for the wedding planning were that we incorporate some military traditions.

To be honest, I kind of love his dress blues uniform. Knowing that he wanted to wear it and that his fellow Marine guests would wear theirs too built in a rich layer of finesse to the celebration.

I already chose blue (my favorite color) to be a central part of the wedding theme.

Military groom with his bride in white wedding dress posing near a lake.

A military wedding tradition that was meant-to-be.

Nearly all our families and guests were civilians. They were thrilled by the fun military traditions we added. Looking back, I can’t tell you how many guests shared how much they loved the unique photo opportunities with Marines.

If you are marrying a service member (or you are a service member getting married!) then here are some classic military wedding traditions you may want to include in your special day.

Related: How to Plan a Wedding in the Military When the Date Keeps Changing

1. Uniforms.

A service member has the option to wear a dress uniform to their own wedding. Some people love their uniforms and are proud to wear it.

Others, however, find them uncomfortable and want to wear something else on their wedding day. The service member can choose to wear a civilian tuxedo or wedding dress. It is not an official military event, so a uniform is optional.

Just remember that the dry cleaning and preparing all those medals can be just as costly as renting a tuxedo! Military guests have the option to come in uniform or appropriate civilian clothes. If the service member getting married wants the military guests in uniform, they should tell them the uniform of the day. There are several varieties of military dress uniforms, so it is the service member’s option to choose how formal they want the event to be.

Related: What Are the Military Marriage Laws and Rules?

2. The Arch of Swords or Arch of Sabers.

This tradition is more common at officer weddings, where the service members used to earn their swords or sabers. However, enlisted service members may also use this tradition and borrow swords from a training school. Remember to have the service member choose their sword detail in advance because they will want to practice together and drill to get the timing right.

After the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom will exit the chapel, then walk through two rows of service members in uniform. These fellow veterans will each hold a ceremonial sword raised over the couple to form an arch. As the newlyweds near the end, the last two swords are lowered to block the path.

A service member will call out to the bride, “Give this man a kiss!” When she does, the swords will be raised. Then someone will call out, “Welcome to the (branch name)!”

In the Marine Corps, the final swordsman will lightly tap his sword on the bride’s behind and call out “Welcome to the Marine Corps, ma’am!” It’s a rite of passage for military brides, and a moment I will always remember!

Related: What You Need to Know About Marrying Into the Military

3. Cutting the cake with a sword.

What’s a wedding without cake? When it’s a military wedding, you can cut the cake in style—with a ceremonial sword or sabre!

The bride and groom use the sword to cut the first slice of cake together and serve it to each other.

If the service member doesn’t own one (military swords cost about $700) then they can ask to sign one out from the supply office of their unit.

4. Military Chapels.

You can choose to have your wedding at any venue or location you like, but a service member is allowed to use base chapels for their ceremony. Some bases have much nicer chapels than others, particularly at the service academies, so during popular wedding seasons there is a waiting list.

Military bride and groom walking in parking lot with groom holding the train.

The base chapel may be an affordable option, but make sure you consider the logistics of getting base access for any of your civilian guests.

5. Branch colors and emblems.

Depending on you and your fiancé’s tastes, you may want to incorporate the colors or symbols of the military branch into your wedding. This is completely optional, but can add a patriotic touch to invitations, place settings, and even the cake!

Talk to your photographer about any custom military touches you have added, and be sure to plan out lots of photos capturing the military elements of your special day.

A military wedding can be as casual or as formal as you wish! If you are marrying a service member, or you’re a service member planning your own wedding, then consider adding any or all of these unique military wedding traditions to your wedding day.

Bride and groom. Text: \"Military wedding traditions that will make your celebration unforgettable.\"

Frequently Asked Questions about Military Weddings

Do you have to wear your military uniform at your wedding?

Service members can wear their dress uniform or traditional civilian wedding tuxedo, suit or whatever the heart desires. It’s their choice.

Does the military pay for the wedding?

Basically, no. But you can get a 10% military discount off of the base rental fee if the bride or groom is active duty, reserve, or a veteran of the US Armed Forces.

What do your guests wear to a military wedding?

If service members are attending your wedding, they can wear their dress uniform if desired. They can also dress in civillian attire. If you’d like service members to wear military uniforms, let them know ahead of time so they can prepare medals, ribbons and get any tailoring needed.

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