The History of The Wedding Dress

History of The Wedding Dress

Wedding dresses have been and continue to be the main attraction at weddings. It easily takes over the importance of the ceremony. Some brides have even gone as far wanting to postpone their big day when the perfect dress has yet to be found.

Brides around the world wear white wedding dresses almost by default. This is not to say every culture swears by white weddings. In fact, the tradition of wearing white dresses was limited to the western world. It mostly applied to the rich and famous, because they were the only ones who could afford it.

Weddings were considered to be more of a business deal between the bride and groom’s families. The dresses were therefore chosen to show the bride’s family in the best light concerning wealth and social standing. The dress was a status symbol, so it wasn’t just worn on the wedding day.  Brides would choose the best dress in their wardrobe if they didn’t have the funds to buy a new one.

If the dress was in a dark colour, even better. Dark colours were perfect for camouflaging stains and mishaps, making them easier to re-use on other important occasions. Green was avoided as it symbolised bad luck, while blue was preferred because it was associated with purity and piety. It was the ‘bridal white’ of that era. Black was an especially popular colour in Scandinavia.

Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert marked the beginning of the white wedding trend. From then on, a bride who wanted to display their wealth would choose a voluminous white dress. The dress would contain as much fabric as possible so that it would have ruffles, lace, and intricate detail.

It helped that the industrial revolution offered sewing innovations and faster garment production.  Unfortunately, the process of leaching fabric was quite expensive, so ‘white’ wedding dresses were closer to ivory and egg-shell in hue. The Great Depression put a dent in this trend for a while, and brides went back to using their favourite dress for the occasion.

After the economic boom of the 20th century, the white dress became popular once more. This was especially influenced by the marriage of iconic women like Grace Kelly and Princess Diana. Their gorgeous white wedding gowns made brides (and mothers) everywhere dream of their own white wedding experience.

White wedding dresses weren’t just popularised by the women wearing them. Another influential factor was the rise of photography and wedding portraiture. In photos, white dresses easily stood out against dark backgrounds. The contrast worked well in sepia-toned photography, which had just been introduced. Black-and-white photography is believed to be the best technique for a woman’s complexion, so these photos enhanced the beauty of the bride.

The style of the wedding dress has always been influenced by popular fashion. Whatever was big on the runway – so to speak – would find its way down the aisle. There may not have been fashion weeks in the 1800s and 1900s, but there were still trends among society women and aristocrats. These trends deeply influenced wedding fashion.

The 1920’s marked the short-front-long-train design, which is still popular with brides today. Long dresses were re-introduced in the 1940s. Their designs were influenced by the Victorian era, and long dresses are bridal favourites to date. It’s still a common choice for designers such as Pronovias and Sottero & Midgley.

Nowadays, brides often forego popular trends. They prefer to go with a dress that makes them feel beautiful, both on the outside and inside. On many bridal shows – and in bridal shops all over the world, the bride goes with her gut. She knows it’s ‘her dress’ when she looks in the mirror and experiences that tear-inducing moment of recognising her beauty.

As delightful as that experience is, you shouldn’t have to break the bank for it. Always go for what flatters your body, what brings out your personality, but above all, what you can afford.


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