The Story Behind White Wedding Dresses

The “tradition” of white wedding gowns is actually a very modern trend. Prior to the wedding of Queen Victoria, brides would get married in a fashionable dress for the time period. Families would see the occasion as a chance to show off their wealth and status. Wealthy and noble families would dress their daughters in the finest gowns for the day with rich red brocade, furs, and jewels. Poor women would wear their nicest dress — generally the dress they wore to church.

Women may have worn white if they wished but it wasn’t seen as customary; in fact, bright reds had a tendency to be more popular throughout history. Most of the white wedding dress craze can be credited to Queen Victoria, though she wasn’t the first to wear a white gown. Mary, Queen of Scots wore a white dress when she married her first husband, the Prince (later king) of France, as it was her favorite color, but the craze didn’t catch on until much later.

Queen Victoria’s white wedding dress

The white wedding dress didn’t become customary until 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. The wedding was highly publicized, and many brides wanted to emulate the queen’s a white silk dress trimmed in lace and orange blossom flowers. White was considered a bold choice: a white wedding gown showed that the family could afford for their daughter to wear a dress that would be ruined by doing any sort of labor or stain. All that said, a 19th century bride wouldn’t treat her wedding dress as a dress to only be worn for one day; she would wear it afterward to formal occasions. It wasn’t until more modern times that a wedding gown stopped being worn for other special occasions. Even Victoria’s dress was restyled and reworn afterward.

Wartime Brides

During the World Wars, resources were limited. Brides might wear a gown made from parachute silk. When Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) married Prince Phillip in 1947 even she had to use ration coupons to purchase the materials for her white gown, designed by Norman Hartnell. Women throughout the country attempted to gift the then-princess extra coupons, which she returned to them. During this time period, many brides didn’t wear a formal gown at all but wore their Sunday best or their traveling suit on their wedding day. Even if a wedding dress was made, it would often later be altered into a dress worn frequently.

Modern Brides

In the prosperity of the modern era, brides have started treating their wedding gown as a special dress to only wear once. Many brides have their dresses professionally preserved and packed away so it can’t be worn after the wedding. Nearly all wedding dresses sold in shops are white and much more formal than most women regularly wear. They have become a new status piece- an often-expensive white gown worn only once.

That said, it’s not for everyone. Many brides are also incorporating a wider range of colors into their wedding day look — from relatively subtle blush pinks and silvers all the way to vibrant reds and even black. Some falsely think that white wedding gowns are meant to be a sign of the bride’s “purity;” however traditionally light blues were associated with purity and the Virgin Mary.  So many brides are feeling encouraged to wear a dress that suits their style, whether that is a Victorian-esque white gown, an informal party dress, or a formal red gown.

What do you think of the white wedding dress trend?

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