Photograph by Kristen Wynn
While wedding dress trends change from season to season (Sleeves! Fairytale vibes! Wildflowers!), One thing has remained relatively constant: white is easily the most commonly used color for wedding dresses. girlfriend. In looking at white wedding dress history, you might be surprised to learn that white has not always been the color of choice for wedding dresses in Western culture, nor is it necessarily the symbol of commonly thought of purity. In fact, white wedding dresses only became fashionable in the mid-19th century and became common in the mid-20th century. Today, 82 percent of American brides wear white, according to the WeddingWire Newlywed Report – but how did this color become so popular?
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Learn more about the history of the white wedding dress, and be inspired to buy your own dress in white or whatever shade you choose!
The first brides wore wedding dresses of all colors.
From biblical times to the early 19th century, brides did not traditionally wear white. Not only was a white dress seen as impractical, it was not financially wise for brides to buy a dress to wear only once. Therefore, most of the brides simply wore their most elegant gown on their wedding day. For lower-class brides, that often meant wearing a black dress. More resourceful brides wore more striking dresses in lush fabrics, embroidered in gold and silver, as well as fur. But these dresses could and would be worn again.
Queen Victoria started the white wedding dress trend.
In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in one of the first highly photographed royal weddings of the time. She chose to wear a white lace dress from Honiton to help the factory where the fabric was created. She donned a white dress with a flower crown instead of a tiara to show that she would be a more realistic monarch. Because this was one of the first “celebrity weddings”, the photos were shared all over the world. Brides took note of Queen Victoria’s white dress, and thus began the story of the white wedding dress as we know it.
A white wedding dress became a status symbol.
After Queen Victoria’s wedding, the richest brides started wearing big white dresses, because they could afford to have their white outfit professionally clean (brides still wore their wedding dress long after the big day!). Some books of the time pointed out that white wedding dresses were ideal because they represented purity and innocence, but according to the history of the white wedding dress, that was not the case. White was seen as a color for the rich, more to show their wealth than their virginity.
White wedding dresses did not reach mass popularity until after World War II.
During the Great Depression and World War II, fancy fabrics were even harder to come by, so luxurious white wedding dresses were replaced by plain gowns in non-white tones. Some wedding dresses of the time were even made from repurposed silk parachutes. After the war, white wedding dresses became more available, with Audrey Hepburn-inspired tea tailored looks considered the most fashionable. Long dresses were soon in style, and once Princess Diana walked down the aisle in her grand ivory silk taffeta and lace gown in 1981, the place of the white wedding dress in history solidified.
Brides in Eastern cultures do not wear white.
When we talk about the history of the white wedding dress, we are mainly referring to Western cultures in the Americas and Europe. Many Eastern cultures regard white as a tinge of bad luck, which is why brides wear outfits of other colors. Red is actually the most popular color for brides in India, China, Pakistan, and Vietnam, among other countries. African brides often infuse bright colors into their wedding day looks, too.
Non-white wedding dresses are also in fashion.
Although most Western brides wear white, those are not the only options available today. In recent years, we’ve seen wedding dresses in shades of pink, blue, gold, gray, and even black hit the runways, ideal for brides looking for something a little different. Many celebrities, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Reese Witherspoon, and Jessica Biel, have avoided white wedding dresses for a more unique look. Our advice: Find a wedding dress that suits your personality and style, whether it’s white or another color. Yes, white wedding dresses have a historical history, but so do wedding dresses of all colors.