Fact Check

Smock Weddings

A discussion of lore and superstition surrounding smock weddings.

Published May 24, 2000

Superstition:   The lore and symbolism surrounding smock weddings.

Origins:   One curious belief concerning liability for debts needs to be included here: the ritual of the smock wedding. According to lore, a husband would not be held liable for his wife's premarital debts if she came to the altar barefoot and clad only in her shift, or even sometimes just a


Another (possibly earlier) form of this belief stated that the same freedom from financial obligations could be achieved if the bride walked naked from her own home to that of her future husband.

The underlying rationale for this custom seems to be that a girl sheds her debts with her clothes. Thus, if she comes to her new life wearing nothing, the bills she has previously run up cannot be transferred. An old law states that a husband is only responsible for his wife's ante-nuptial debts to the extent of the fortune she has brought him. A smock wedding served as public notice that she brought nothing and therefore no claims could be made against him for her past obligations.

Barbara "shift for yourself" Mikkelson

Last updated:   27 June 2005


  Sources Sources:

    Hole, Christina.   The Encyclopedia of Superstitions.

    New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996.   ISBN 0-76070-228-4.

    Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem.   A Dictionary of Superstitions.

    Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.   ISBN 0-19-282-916-5.

    Pickering, David.   Dictionary of Superstitions.

    London: Cassell, 1995.   ISBN 0-304-345350.

    Tuleja, Tad.   Curious Customs.

    New York: Harmony Books, 1987.   ISBN 0-517-56654-0.