History of Wedding Dresses

antique wedding dress

It may seem as if brides have been getting married in white forever, but this is not the case. The trend of wearing an all white wedding dress dates back to royalty of Victorian times. Before that, brides wore their best dress. The color and materials of the dress varied depending on a woman's social status.

Wedding Gowns Way Back When

Even though colors and styles have changed throughout the years, brides have always dressed in their best for the occasion. Royalty and those with a high social standing always dressed at the height of fashion, sparing no expense. Those who had limited means still treated a wedding as a special occasion and dressed as formally as their budgets allowed.

Ancient Times

In ancient times, many weddings were economic unions rather than the joining of two people in love. However, ancient brides still chose to symbolize their happiness by wearing brightly colored wedding garments. The wedding kiss was considered legally binding and represented acceptance of the contract of marriage by the bride and groom.

Medieval Times

During Medieval times, the wedding was still more than just a union between two people. It often represented a union between two families, two businesses and even two countries. Weddings were often arranged and more a matter of politics than love. A bride had to dress in a manner which cast her family in the most favorable light, since she wasn't only representing herself.

Medieval brides of an elevated social standing wore rich colors, expensive fabrics and often had gems sewn into the garment. It was common to see well-to-do brides wearing boldly colored layers of furs, velvet and silk. Those of a lower social standing wore fabrics that weren't as rich, though they copied the elegant styles as best they could.

Poorer brides wore Sunday best.
Poorer brides wore Sunday best.

As the Years Went By

Throughout the years, brides continued to dress in a manner befitting their social status; always in the height of fashion, with the richest, boldest materials money could buy. Up until Victorian times, the average bride, did not usually buy a new dress but wore the finest they owned. The poorest of brides wore their church dress on their wedding day. The amount of material a wedding dress contained was a reflection of the bride's social standing. For instance, the more sleeves flowed, the longer the train, the richer the bride's family was apt to be.

The White Wedding Dress

In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe wearing a white wedding gown. In those days white was not a symbol of purity, blue was. In fact, many women chose the color blue for their wedding dresses for specifically that reason. White, on the other hand, symbolized wealth.

Queen Victoria in White Wedding Dress
Queen Victoria

Since white wasn't generally chosen as the color in which to be married, Victoria's dress came as quite the surprise. It wasn't an unpleasant surprise, however, because soon after women of elevated social status all over Europe and America began wearing white wedding dresses as well. Some women still chose to get married in other colors, but the trend toward white was established.

Other Historical Wedding Dresses

Historical wedding dresses mirror the times and circumstances marking the bride's special day. The following images provide a glimpse into those times and dresses:

Evolution of the White Wedding Dress

By the turn of the century, the Industrial Revolution made it possible for more brides to buy a new dress for their wedding day and white was the color of choice. These dresses followed the trends and style of their day and continue to do so a century later. In fact, it's very rare for a bride in Europe or the United States to get married in a color other than white.

It was a different story during the depression when women were married in their Sunday best. During World War II, many brides felt it was inappropriate to get married in a lavish white dress, and chose church dresses or a good suit for their wedding attire.

After the war, a prosperous era dawned and wedding dresses reflected this. Formal white wedding gowns became the fashion. Shades of white, such as cream, off-white or ivory are all acceptable wedding dress colors, while bright colors such as blue, green or pink have lost favor. It's considered bad luck to get married in a black dress.

While today's tradition is the white dress, not all brides feel bound to follow the trend. Today's bride can get married in almost any style. From an ornate designer dress to a more informal beach wedding dress, it's a given she'll look beautiful in whatever style she chooses.

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