The Surprising History of the White Wedding Dress

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When it comes to fashion there is nothing more coveted than the white wedding dress and the fairytale story that it inspires. Most young girls dream of the day that all eyes will be on her as she floats down the aisle and dances into the night with her forever love in a stunning white wedding dress. And while there are thousands (maybe millions) of wedding dresses to choose from today, and several different color options, most brides today still choose to wear white. Why is that, we wonder? We jumped on our favorite go-to place for facts (Google) to find out and what we learned is there is a surprising history to the white wedding dress.

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The History Of The White Wedding Dress

You may think that brides have always worn white on their wedding day but the truth is, white is not the traditional or most popular wedding dress color for Western culture. The history of the white wedding dress isn’t really that old, dating back only 180 years. Surprised? Us too!

In all actuality, the trend of wearing white on your wedding day began in Britain in 1559 (461 years ago) when Mary Queen of Scotts said “I do” to her beloved first husband Francis Dauphin of France. But the world didn’t give her credit for starting the trend. It wasn’t until 1840 (180 years ago) when Queen Victoria chose to marry Prince Albert in a stunning white court dress that the white wedding dress trend was born. Source of facts: Wikipedia

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Did Brides in Ancient Times Wear White?

Weddings have been around since the beginning of time and have certainly changed over the years but we were curious, what did brides in ancient times wear?

Medieval Times (5th – 15th centuries)

Weddings during this time were typically arranged and not really based on love. Brides had to dress in a way that represented their social standing and cast her family in a favorable light. If the family was in an elevated social standing the bride would be dressed in expensive fabrics and many times had gems sewn into her garment. They may have even layered different textures of fabrics such as velvet, silk and even fur. The brides that were of lower social standings would do their best to imitate the look of the elite class but would have to wear fabrics that were not as rich. No matter which social standing they came from, the garments would be made in rich colors. Several shades of blue were very popular but brides in medieval times were also known to wear red, yellow, green or other colors.

Renaissance Times (14th – 17th centuries)

During this era brides still dressed based on their social and financial status. Styles changed to include more elaborate details such as long trains, but the color worn was predominately burgundy.

What Did Brides Wear Before White Wedding Dresses?

Before Queen Victoria changed bridal fashion trends forever, the previous royal brides typically wore a heavily brocaded gown that was embroidered with white and silver threading. And the gown most likely would have been red, as that was extremely popular in Western Europe. Quite a dramatic difference from the bridal style Queen Victoria donned in 1840.

European and American brides had a different take on wedding day fashion. These brides had been wearing a variety of colors such as yellow, blue, black, brown and even gray. Hard to imagine the reasoning behind some of the darker colors such as brown or gray, but we imagine it could have been as simple as practicality. After all, laundering techniques in those days were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are today, and money was tight. So a bride wearing a black wedding dress could mean she didn’t have to worry about dirt or stains. Luckily, as news of Queen Victoria’s wedding spread to the Americas, a new tradition emerged and was generally reserved for the elites. Source: Wikipedia

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When Did Western Culture Brides Begin Wearing White Wedding Dresses?

While the elite Europeans and Americans took to the white wedding dress trend pretty quickly, the British and American middle class brides were not able to adapt to this wedding dress style until after World War II. In 1981 the new bridal dress trend of wearing white skyrocketed primarily due to the highly televised wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Princess Diana inspired millions of women to dream of wearing their own white wedding dress, as she strolled down the aisle in a fairytale gown featuring a 25-foot train. The wedding of the century!

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Do Brides Around the World Wear White?

Weddings around the globe have different traditions than what we see in Europe and the Americas and wearing white is not always one of them. In China and India, for example, brides choose to wear red to represent good luck. In Ghana, wedding clothes are always brightly colored and have a unique pattern that represents that family. In Japan, the bride wears a white kimono for the ceremony to symbolize purity and changes into a red one to symbolize good luck.

The Evolution of the White Wedding Dress

In modern-day times brides are predominantly still wearing white. The popular wedding company Wedding Wire compiled data from real couples that got married in 2018 and found that 82% of brides still chose to wear the traditional “white wedding dress”. While this number may be different now as we are seeing the addition of numerous shades of ivory, gold, blush, grey, and even black and floral prints. For the bride, white is still #1.

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About OnceWed.com

Once Wed was launched in March 2008 to meet a need in the marketplace for an online listing service for second-hand wedding dresses. Within a short time, the company had developed into an online wedding publication and resource to provide newly-engaged brides with inspiration and tools to plan their dream wedding.