History of the Wedding Dress
While traditional wedding attire still varies greatly around the globe, the tradition of a flowing white gown has become mainstream in western society. Let's take a look at how this got started.
Ancient Roman Traditions
Many of our wedding traditions date back to ancient Rome. For example, the giving of an engagement ring was a popular custom in Roman times. With regards to wedding dresses, the Romans chose white dresses with veils for their brides. The most important part of this gown was a special "knot of Hercules" tied by the bride's mother. Only the groom could later untie the dress.
The Medieval Wedding
Beginning in the Middle Ages, a bride's gown was designed to be a reflection of her family's social status. At that time, the color blue was considered a reflection of purity. Therefore, ribbons of this color were often incorporated into gown design. In fact, the first recorded painting of a wedding dress in Europe was of England's Princess Phillippa, who wore an elegant green gown with blue sleeves for her 1406 wedding to Erik of Denmark. This idea of blue as a pure color is where modern brides get the tradition of wearing "something blue" to their wedding.
Queen Victoria's Legacy
The first recorded use of bridesmaids to carry the dress train was at the wedding of Queen Victoria in 1840. Dress trains stemmed from the tradition of using as much fabric as possible to symbolize social status and wealth. Queen Victoria's wedding also helped popularize white as the traditional color for a wedding gown. Prior to her wedding, brides would wear a variety of colors. In fact, royal dresses were meant to be colorful and embellished. However, Queen Victoria wanted to do something different. So, she had a unique dress of white silk adorned with orange blossoms.
20th Century Weddings
For many brides living before the 20th century, being married in a brand new dress was
Simply unaffordable. Instead, brides simply wore their nicest dress. This began to change with the dawn of the industrial revolution, which brought with it the development of department stores. Mass production of dresses meant costs were lower, and more brides could afford to strut the aisle in a brand new gown.
Following in the style of Queen Victoria gown, brides both in and out of Britain began to make white their color of choice as well. White dresses really took off in the United States during the Great Depression. With money tight, brides often chose white dresses for their weddings and subsequently dyed them to wear on other occasions. This was much more cost-effective than buying a single-occasion gown.
As World War II helped America out of its economic troubles, dress styles changed to fit the mood. Taking a cue from military uniforms, brides began to walk the aisle in dresses with strong shoulders and geometric forms. Additionally, wartime restrictions on fabric forced many of these dresses to remain simple and elegant without much adornment. However, once the war ended, brides were eager to add some frills to their gowns, with lace being the most popular adornment.
Today, more than 2.5 million wedding dresses are sold in the United States each year. While most reflect traditional styles, a growing number of brides are choosing unique gowns in a variety of styles and colors. For example, actress Reese Witherspoon recently chose to wear a pink gown on her big day. Additionally, other cultures around the world, particularly in Asia, still emphasize their centuries-old traditions of colorful bridal attire. Ultimately, though, a bride's gown is always a combination of personal choice, cultural traditions, and practicality.