The white wedding gown is a relatively modern fashion. Wearing a white gown is really a post-World War II phenomenon. Before that, most girls would invest in a gorgeous dress or their “best” dress they could wear again. In pioneer America, that often meant black, brightened up with some white lace or artificial orange blossoms; during World War II, brides often wore a pretty suit with a corsage.
Try not to get hung up on the symbolic value of white. I’ve seen lots of virgin brides wear colored gowns and women with children wear white gowns. If you feel fabulous in purple then rock it! Even gown designers are on board with it! Big names like Amsale and Elie Saab have been sending bolder and brighter hues down the runway in recent years, so don’t be surprised if you see more brides coming over to color in the future.
The white wedding dress comes to us straight from the Victorian era—in fact, from Queen Victoria herself, who was married to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. It was Queen Victoria herself that introduced a new era of bridal standards. During the Victorian era, many wealthy women emulated the Queen by wearing white dresses. Their dresses were made of fine fabrics including silks and lace.When she chose white silk-satin for her wedding, the choice was almost as iconoclastic as it would have been for Kate Middleton to walk down the aisle in scarlet.
Reds, pale greens, browns and even black were in fact very popular colors for brides in Victoria’s day, but the young queen broke with the status quo and insisted on a lacy white gown. Members of the court thought it much too restrained in color, and were mystified that she eschewed ermine and even a crown, opting instead for a simple orange blossom wreath.
White dresses, although sought-after by the wealthy, were not available to everyone, and the fashion did not become widespread until decades later after Queen Victoria, to a local woman living in Monroe County in the 19th century, white dresses were also impractical. Owning a dress that was going to be worn once was not only unrealistic, but wasteful.
Wealthy brides who lived in the Edwardian era continued the fancy traditions of the Victorians, and some brides’ dresses became even more ornate. Corsets were in full use, and bustles with long veils were popular. Such fashions continued until World War I, when wedding dresses began to change to much simpler designs. Corsets were no longer used, and slim-fitting drop-waist dresses became popular in the early 1920s. Noted fashion designer CoCo Chanel introduced a simple, white, knee-length dress in that decade.
From this: 1800’s Victorian To this: 1920’s
The infamous dress by Coco Chanel
As World War II broke out, brides found themselves marrying quickly before their husbands went overseas. Opulent weddings became less of a priority for many brides. While some women were able to wear the typical white dress, more ladies opted for a skirted suit. Rationing had limited cloth and borrowing a dress or suit was commonplace. Immediately following WW II, some brides made their wedding dress from parachutes their future husband’s used during the War.
Wedding dresses of the 1950s through the 1970s continued with the traditional styling. Dresses during these years were characterized with long sleeves and high necks.
1950’s wedding gowns
1970’s wedding gowns
Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles re-introduced the “fairytale” look of the wedding dress. Wedding dresses of the 1980s had full skirts, leg o’ mutton sleeves and long trains.
Today, wedding dresses come in a variety of styles, and brides have a larger selection than ever from which to choose their gowns. While there continue to be trends in dress design, there is no one single type of dress that completely defines the style of the 21st century. Modern day brides can choose from short simple dresses to lavish ballgowns and everything in between and still be considered fashionable on their wedding day.
Although Queen Victoria wore a white gown, back then that was stepping outside of tradition so wearing a colored gown would actually be the traditional way to go. Be bold! Queen Victoria was!
Enjoy these beautiful colored gowns!