Wedding Inspiration

The History Of the White Wedding Dress

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Queen Victory is most widely credited with 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.

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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 commons norms both recognizes centuries of this practice, as well as a way to express yourself in a wider spectrum of methods.

Digital Art enthusiast, Digital Pr expert, and lighting design Consultant.