The rhyme "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." is often slavishly followed but few people know the last line to the rhyme "and a lucky sixpence in her shoe."
The origins of the rhyme are unknown but it did appear for the first time in print during the 19th century and was ascribed to "some Lancashire friends". It is believed the practice predates the publication by at least a century. There is some historic evidence to support this.
From the seventeenth century "something old" was thought to protect a baby. Bearing in mind many brides were with child when they went to the alter, so the association is not that odd. The something old could be the bride's garter, her slippers or a handkerchief but a pair of shoes belonging to someone special in the bride's life was also common. Grooms too were known to wear something old and in Biblical times old boots were worn at the ceremony.
There are no citations for "something new" albeit brides would normally wear their best dress to the ceremony. From early Saxon days through to the 18th century the poor bride came to the wedding dressed in a plain white robe. The significance of which had little to do with virginity but instead was a public declaration that she brought nothing with her to the marriage and had no debt for her new husband to honour. By the 19th century the colour white was associated with a virgin marriage.
It was widely accepted wearing something burrowed was lucky. In times past and in many cultures brides were taken by force hence borrowing clothes was a necessity. The widely held superstition was wearing something borrowed (or stolen) was lucky and bridal shoes offered the bride the same luck as the previous owner. Even by the 19th century, shoes were still expensive items and being gifted a pair for the ceremony would be precious for most ordinary folks. This custom of borrowing shoes for weddings may account why today the bride’s shoes are often kept as a keep sake.
Wearing something blue was an expression of faithfulness and was cited in Chaucer's' Squire's Tale (1390). A long standing bridal superstition stated no harm could befall a bride wearing blue, so very often a bride selected either a heaven's blue garter or one coordinated with her bridal colours.
Carrying a coin at the wedding symbolically came to represent future wealth for the bride but the origins of a ‘sixpence under the shoe’ may relate to the ancient custom of "Jus Prima Noctis", where the king, lord, or priest of the parish could claim access to the virgin bride on her first night of marriage. This was common to many cultures including Scotland.
During the reign of Malcolm, the Third (1058-93), Queen Margaret (later Saint Margaret) demanded and secured the abolition of the law and the mark of silver was substituted as the price of redemption of the girl's chastity. This is thought to be the purpose of the silver coin under her shoe. The silver sixpence was first minted in 1551 and by 1774 it was reported in Scotland a Scottish groom used the silver coin in his shoe to ward off evil from revival suitors. By 1814 silver sixpences were commonly used as lucky talisman and the practice remains prevalent today. Traditionally the father of the bride places the sixpence in her shoe as a gesture of love and well wishes. Regional variations included: in Canada, brides wore a silver 25 cent piece in their shoes; and US brides from North Carolina carried a silver dollar in their shoes. In Sweden, the father of the bride placed a silver coin in the left shoe of the bride and the mother put a gold coin in the right shoe. This meant the bride would never lack luxuries.
The choice of precious metal i.e. silver was particularly significant since silver was considered magically neutral which neither contained nor allowed contamination from the spirit world. Occultists believed it protected against evil spirits and because it was connected to the Moon and all Lunar Goddesses it was also worn to attract love. Scottish bridegrooms were particular about their wedding footwear and equally keen not to fall at the alter which was considered a very bad omen. Grooms wore their left shoe without buckle or lacing latchets* (tippets), to prevent witches from interfering with their male prowess on the night of nuptials. In some parts grooms would loosen their laces at the church door before standing on the silver latchets (for luck) during the ceremony. No rational explanation can be found to explain these quaint customs.
*The Oxford shoe (lacing shoe) first appeared in 1640 and only became popular 100 years later.
Getting Married: Shoes and Wedding Superstitions
Getting married: Stockings, garters and avoiding the Evil Eye