For most of Western history, it seems, brides rarely bought a new dress specially for their big day. And they rarely wore white. So what did they wear?
It was blue, not white, that originally represented purity, piety and chastity. And it was blue that signified marriage to be the symbolic union of holy matrimony. Of true love.
The enduring trend for white dates to Victorian times and England’s Queen Victoria herself, who married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 10 February 1840. (It was she who proposed to him, in accordance with protocol).
Dressed in heavy white silk satin trimmed with Honiton lace that historical day, her choice was as iconoclastic as if the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, had walked down the aisle in scarlet. White was a symbol of wealth – because it could only be worn once before needing to be cleaned.
Soon – and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries – the ‘It’ women of Europe and America who could afford it copied Her Royal Highness’ fashion sense. And the trend for white weddings was established.
In ancient times – as indeed in places they still are – most weddings were strategic, economic unions rather than the joining of two people in love. The wedding kiss was considered legally binding and confirmed acceptance of the contract of marriage.
In Medieval times marriage often represented a union between two families, two businesses and even two kingdoms. Weddings were typically arranged, and rooted in politics more than romantic love. A select few were destined for an even higher purpose. All brides, it seems, dressed in a manner that cast their family in the most favourable light, which often meant having gems sewn into their outfit.
World War II
By the second World War, fashion had to adjust itself to keep up with the times. Brides took a more understated approach, they borrowed or hired dress, wore their service uniform and some even made dresses out of curtain fabric or even parachutes.When war ended and the pendulum swing of history moved towards prosperity, formal white wedding gowns came back into fashion, where they remain quintessentially and beautifully bridal.