Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where on earth did the idea of the white wedding dress come from?

You may not know this, but it wasn’t until the late 1940s when the white wedding gown with the full, long skirt became the standard for brides. Prior to that, wedding dresses followed the fashion of the period and dresses of any color marched down the aisle. So, where did the straight-out-of-a-fairytale Princess Diana-style wedding dress on the left come from? It originated with England’s Queen Victoria whose choice of color for her bridal gown (white) became all the rage. In those days -1840 to be precise - the sun never set on the British Empire, so it’s no surprise this new trend set by Victoria found its way around the world faster than a steam ship could travel. There was a resurgence of the Victorian look in the 1940s and the bridal gown has pretty much remained the same since.

Queen Victoria in her wedding gown

But to give history its due, it was not Victoria who first wore white for her wedding. Mary Queen of Scots (the one who lost her head because she stepped on Elizabeth I of England’s toes a little too hard) was the first royal bride to wear full white when she married the Dauphin of France in 1559. At that time, white was the color of mourning for French queens, but Mary, not being one to abide by rules, chose white. It was her favorite color. Philippa of England also wore white, though Philippa didn’t go the full hog. Her bow to the color that eventually came to be associated with virginity was a silk cloak bordered with squirrel and ermine.

Prior to the Victorian era, it was anything goes when it came to the color of the wedding dress - even black, which was popular in Scandinavia. Rich and boldly colored fabrics lined and trimmed with furs were worn by the crème de la crème of society up to that point. The marriage unions of the nobility weren’t just about two people. A marriage was also a union between families and, just as often, states. Brides of the aristocracy therefore dressed accordingly – to the nines. But no matter what her station, every bride put on her best show for her wedding, even if she was so poor she had to make do with her Sunday best. After all, the wedding, as it still often does, reflected the status of the family.

Edwardian brides took the Victorian wedding dress to the hilt with an extravagance of frills and flounces never before seen. On the right is Alexandra, bride of King Edward VII of England. However, with the outbreak of World War 1, the over-the-top wedding dress took a backseat to practicality. Styles became simpler, hems became shorter and the tightly laced corset was disposed of for once and for all. 

I’m sure it won't come as a surprise to hear it was the indomitable Coco Chanel who introduced the short wedding dress, a knee-length dress worn with a long train – everything white of course. According to From Times Past, “This cemented white as the universal color of the wedding dress.”



Sources: 
http://www.weddingblogdesigner.com










15 comments:

  1. Welcome back. So this explains why my mother wore a navy suit to her wedding in 1937. I was worried it was for some other reason:) Interesting read!

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  2. Fascinating as always, Joan. We jump to conclusions about dress color based on our current societal expectations and it wasn't always so. Now I'm looking more closely at my grandmothers' and mother's wedding dresses.

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  3. Hi PC and Carol, great to have two fellow authors visit. While I was researching this post I stumbled upon the reason white became associated with virginity. It stemmed from an article In Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1849, which claimed white "is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”

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  4. Interesting blog, Joan. Silver and white was popular with some Regency brides. Princess Charlotte of Wales wore silver lama on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin. Sounds lovely doesn't it?

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    1. Hello Maggi! Thanks so much for coming back to visit and sharing that with us. Your post on Regency menswear is still very popular. Yes, Princess Charlotte's gown must have been spectacular. I wonder if there's a wedding portrait. Is there?

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  5. I love your research on the bridal gowns. This was very informative. I've been married a few weeks shy of 20 years and I still love everything bridal. I didn't know Coco Chanel created the short wedding dress. I know they were popular in the 1950s. I just did a post (I call mine text-websodes because of my format) on short bridal gowns on my iCafe Woman Moderne cafe blog. You're right, your blog feels like a friendly next door neighbor. I just joined. Thanks for joining mine. I'll be making many visits here. Blessings!

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    1. Hi Gayle, thanks so much for dropping by. It's lovely to meet a fellow blogger. And thanks for following. Will definitely visit you. Thanks for the invite, and for connecting!

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  6. Interesting - I always assumed the white gown was all to do with connotations of purity - perhaps it's the other way round. Have you ever looked at the white bridal-style dresses girls in Latin countries wear for their 'catechism' when they are about 12 years of age? Boys still wear sailor-suits and every Latin girl's dream is a froth of white satin. One other point, is there a link in bridal fashions to the state of the economy? I read a very interesiting disseration on how hem-lines and the amount of material used in suits and dresses are an inverted response to financial trends: periods of book = mini skirts & minimal tailoring; poorer times breed the need for more elaborate fashions - curious but true it would seem. JGH

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  7. Thanks for visiting,J.G. Your assumption about purity wasn't far fetched. That myth originated with a magazine article written in the Victorian period which I stumbled upon while doing the research for this post. Regret that I didn't include it now. Bridal fashions is such a wide topic, had intended to do another post on the subject, though admit I never considered the Hispanic countries. Had my eye more on the Far East. And yes, there's been a lot of talk over the years about hemlines reflecting the state of the economy. Thanks for all your input. It's given me a few ideas for future posts. Hope you'll be be back to visit.

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  8. This was very interesting. I didn't know that. Thank you for sharing

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    1. Thanks for visiting, DorChi. Glad I was able to share something that interests you. Hope you'll come back soon.

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  9. I must say colour is far more practical than white really. I suppose practicality goes by the board for one's wedding though! My own dress was long and white but the hem much muddied after a trek through the churchyard for photographs following a shower of rain (it was November)I love the photographs ;-)

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    1. I'm seeing this picture of you trekking through the churchyard in your wedding dress (: Thanks for sharing that. Stumbled upon an article about Queen Victoria's "last love" today. Will try and find a way to message you the link - though you may have already seen the TV program.

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  10. Hi, Joan, New to your site and just followed you.

    What a great topic and something I've never thought about. Mary, Queen of Scots and 1559 - how interesting.

    I'm a fellow LN Books and Writers member. Would love if you follow me back.

    Karen
    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

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  11. Great post I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this interesting and knowledgeable article.
    Wedding Dresses

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