The wedding dress, as we know it today, has not always been around. Though there are examples of brides wearing white that can be traced back to as early as 1406, the western trend of exclusively white and lightly colored wedding dresses did not begin until Queen Victoria wore white at her wedding in 1840, inspiring thousands of commoners to follow suit. Interestingly, the trend was quite different prior to 1840.
Before the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Alpert many women wore their best dress to their weddings. A large percentage of these dresses were a variety of colors. Many brides even wore black. Green was typically avoided. Many believed that the color green was unlucky. Symbolizing purity, piety and a connection to the Virgin Mary, blue was quite popular, and worn by many brides. Like the colored dresses worn at weddings, the market for wedding dresses was also quite different than it is today.
For most of western history, brides rarely purchased dresses specifically for their weddings. Women typically wore the best dress that they owned for the occasion. At the time, wedding dresses were chosen to present the bride’s family in the best light. This was done to portray wealth and status. For a variety of occasions, the dresses worn at weddings were intended to be worn more than once. Thus, dresses worn at weddings were purchased from vendors, with the specific intent of being added to a woman’s active wardrobe. After Queen Victoria wore white to her wedding this trend changed significantly.
From then on, brides wore white to show off their wealth and social rank. Because the color white was hard to obtain and preserve, only wealthier women could afford such dresses. The color, however, was far from eggshell. At the time, bleach was not yet used to whiten the fabric. The dresses also began to change in style.
Wedding dresses began to be manufactured with excessive amounts of fabric. The excessive fabric became a symbol of status and wealth. This trend of white wedding dresses began to grow scarce with the onset of the great depression in the 1930’s, before picking back up again. The trend remains extremely prevalent in western culture today.
Today, white and lightly colored dresses remain most popular. However, the choice of color no longer symbolizes wealth and status. Instead, the white or lightly colored dress symbolizes purity and virtue.