Chilean weddings are happy, intimate affairs celebrating the union of lovers and often consist of two ceremonies, one civil and one religious, held on separate days. Attire for the civil ceremony is usually quite informal, while the symbolic religious ceremony is a time for the bride, groom, their friends and family to dress their best for a night filled with food, drinks and dancing.
Brides in Chile traditionally wear white dresses and, while many still opt for simple cotton gowns that may be worn at any occasion, Western influences have made elaborate white and ivory wedding gowns that are typical in American and European weddings increasingly popular among modern Chilean brides. Elements of wedding attire including veils, trains and other accessories are left completely to the bride's preferences in Chile and hold no significant cultural value.
Chilean grooms often choose to wear the traditional clothing of huasos, the cowboys of Chile, in lieu of Western suits or tuxedos, unless it is a high-society wedding. Colorful, intricately made ponchos, cowboy boots and stiff-rimmed straw hats called "chupallas" are the attire of choice for Chilean grooms, a tribute to their rustic history and lifestyle.
A traditional Chilean custom is for the newly engaged bride and groom to exchange wedding rings when the proposal takes place, rather than at the wedding ceremony. The couple will wear their wedding bands on their right hands until they exchange vows, when the rings will be placed on their left hands as husband and wife.
Dancing is a highlight of Chilean weddings and professional dance groups wearing costumes are often hired to perform traditional dances and teach guests a few steps. The national dance is called the "cueca" and this vibrant depiction of the courting behavior of the rooster towards the hen is almost always performed at Chilean weddings. Dance costumes for men consist of black pants, white dress shirt, a colorful sash and a black bolero jacket with a bright, handwoven poncho draped over the shoulders. Male dancers also wear pointed leather boots with large decorative spurs over fringed leggings and the traditional "chupalla" straw hat. A female dancers wears a white blouse, black bolero jacket and "chupalla" like her partner, as well as a straight black skirt that has one large slit to reveal several layers of frilly lace. Less formal folk outfits are worn to represent rural areas, men wearing work pants and a cotton shirt under a colorful poncho and women wearing a flowered or plaid dress with white lace showing at the collar and cuffs.
Horses are a large part of Chilean culture, included in almost every aspect of society, and their importance is not forgotten in traditional weddings. Horses often march in small parades, adorned with bright saddle blankets and beautiful bridles in celebration of the happy union. Sometimes the newly married couple even ride off from the wedding ceremony on horseback, with the steed dressed as well as the other attendants.