A Brief History of the Wedding Dress



Have you ever wondered what a wedding dress symbolizes? Why it’s so important? Or why they’re traditionally white?

During and immediately after the Middle Ages, many weddings were a matter of politics rather than a matter of love, especially in the higher social classes. As a result, brides were expected to dress in a manner that would represent the wealth of their family in a favorable way, since the brides weren’t representing only themselves in the ceremony, but their family and status. The brides of wealthy families would dress in very bold colors with luxurious fabrics like velvet, silk and furs.

Over the centuries, brides continued to dress themselves on their wedding day in a manner befitting their own social status, and always in the height of fashion, with the richest and boldest attire that their money could buy. The poorest brides wore their best church dress for their wedding. Every detail of the wedding gown, from the number of layers to the amount of fabric needed to create it, was a reflection on the bride’s status and wealth.

Today, wedding dresses are available in all price ranges and come in hundreds of colors and a variety of lengths, which is now considered acceptable. Women can purchase ready-made gowns, wear a family heirloom, or they can have a dressmaker create one for her. Plus, nowadays many bridal shops have wedding dress samples in their stores where the bride can choose a certain dress style and order it to fit them.

Style, color, and ceremonial importance of the dress depends on culture and religion of the wedding guests and participants.

The color white for weddings and dresses didn’t become popular until after Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840. The queen wore a white dress for the special event to contain some prized lace she owned. Her wedding portrait was published widely, and many other brides chose white in accordance to Queen Victoria’s choice. After the Victorian era people began assuming that white represented purity (when traditionally blue represented purity). The white gown is, in fact, a symbolic Christening gown.

Only at the beginning of the 1920s did white wedding fashion represent the bourgeois-churchly moral: the virginity of the bride which equates purity. Most brides choose a white dress to symbolize purity of the soul.

Traditionally, wedding dresses have been based off of the popular styles of the day. For example, in the 1920s the traditional style was short in the front with a longer train in the back and a cloche-style veil; in the 1940s the traditional style was long, full-skirted designs brought back from the Victorian era; today, the dresses are usually a shade of white, such as eggshell, ecru or ivory.

Although there has always been a dress style that dominates the bridal market for a certain time and changes along with the popular fashions, a growing number of brides these days aren’t choosing to follow the trends. Times have changed, and due to non-traditional weddings, non-first-time weddings, and women who are getting married in their later life, wedding gowns are more likely to reflect a bride’s individuality and personal style.

Check out this great video from Mode.com of how wedding gown fashion has changed in the last 100 years–it’s hard to believe what brides used to wear!



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