Today’s awesome guest post, brought to us by Ginny Bartolone of Simply Eloped is a fascinating read about the history of the white wedding dress and how the tradition evolved. Enjoy!
When my husband and I tied the knot in 2014, exploring the complex, century-old wedding traditions was one of the most fascinating parts of planning our big day. The stories about why we carry flowers, wear wedding rings, and have wedding parties deeply fascinated me—and understanding their backstories enriched the whole experience of choosing which traditions were right for us. Now, as I continue to work in the wedding industry, and as I attend my friends’ celebrations, I’m beginning to see more and more non-white, unique wedding dress choices—allowing brides to more widely celebrate and express their one-of-a-kind personalities. At first, I thought this was a new trend, especially as wedding designs are slowly simplifying and returning to a more natural, DIY perspective.
See more after the cut!
But after digging around and researching the complex wedding dress evolution, it turns out that wearing your “best dress”—in other words, an often non-white, “wear-again” dress that simply makes you feel spectacular—has been around, weaving in and out of history, for some time. The story behind and history of the white wedding dress and its rise to mainstream popularity did not happen all at once, and even the meaning of the color choice itself was enriched in more history than I first expected.
Queen Victory is most widely credited for launching the lace-donned white wedding dress craze, but she wasn’t the first. Dignitaries and royalty had been documented sporting this hard-to-find fabric for several centuries, usually with the addition of silver and gold accents. Due to the lack of bleaching chemicals, wearing white was challenging and expensive, and thus a way to show off wealth and access to rare goods. Victoria’s choice was still out of place, however, especially in England at the time. Wearing such a comparatively simple dress with locally sourced fabric stood for her obligation and respect for her people and the throne. She also chose a variety of lace that supported local craftsman—which was especially important in a time when a rise in machinery was hurting the hand-sewn lace industry.
And so, her white dress choice stood as a strong social and political statement; she was even said to have repurposed her wedding dress fabrics into outfits throughout her life. Working and middle class brides, however, wore their “best dress,” perhaps altered to include lace or other flourishes.
The history of the white wedding dress tradition didn’t make the leap to America however until the 1860’s, when women began looking to England for fashion trends. And yet, white fabric was still hard to come by, and buying a dress specifically for your wedding day was a privilege reserved for the wealthy. It wasn’t until the rise of the middle class and Industrial Revolution did these white wedding garments—and the “purity”-related symbolism surrounding it today–start to gain momentum. The best-dress trend still remained at the forefront.
Then of course, there’s the color situation. How did we land on white as a Western symbol of “moral purity”? The connection of white to these traits is believed to stem from Catholic tradition, white dresses being worn in other sacraments such as christenings and first communion. But the tradition took off once more in the 19th and 20th century, often noted in etiquette books and folk writings as way to express innocence. But before this meaning was widely recognized, the white fabric actually stood for affluence and a nod to high fashion. Also, the role of white in the wedding is not common in many other parts of the world. In India and China, for example, brides wear red to symbolize wealth and prosperity.
Overall, white, wear-once wedding gowns have only become commonplace in the past hundred years in the West and choosing a dress outside the common norms both recognizes centuries of this practice, as well as a way to express yourself in a wider spectrum of methods.
Since it’s becoming more and more common for bridesmaids to purchase a dress they can wear after the wedding, I love the idea of the bride having this option as well. Clearly, this decision is not right for everyone. If the white wedding dress tradition enriches your day, then this is important to recognize and celebrate. Every couple is different. But now that you understand the history of the white wedding dress, you may be considering switching up the custom, but first, consider a few thoughts:
- Is there a color that more closely speaks to my personality?
- Am I more comfortable in certain fabrics and dress shapes that may not be represented in wedding boutiques?
- Where else would I like to wear my wedding dress after the special day?
- Do I (or my family) own a dress that already holds sentimental significance?
Though I wore a white gown in my own wedding, I now understand that calling this the “more traditional” choice only recognizes a small portion of the wedding dress story. It’s exhilarating to broaden your viewpoints when it comes to traditions, especially when it comes to the history of the white wedding dress and certain customs you feel do not speak personally to you and your fiancé. Understanding where these traditions come from is a great place in determining if it’s right for you. But at the end of the day, the choice is based on what most vibrantly enhances your wedding day experience, and you are the only one who can truly make that decision.
Ginny Bartolone is a wedding blogger for Simply Eloped, an elopement planning service based in NYC and New Orleans, and for her personal blog, MaybeThereWillBeCupcakes.com. She lives and works as an actress and writer just outside of New York City. For more information about Simply Eloped, please visit their WeddingLovely Vendor Guide profile.