The Meaning and Tradition Behind Wearing White on Your Wedding Day
The royals have always been trendsetters.
Most young girls dreaming about their wedding day envision walking down the aisle in a white gown. After all, white is traditional and many Southern brides love a traditional wedding with all the long-held customs on display, from something borrowed to something blue. Those who are truly historically minded, though, should know that brides didn’t always wear white down the aisle.
Back in the 1700s and 1800s, white was associated with mourning, according to The Washington Post, and no brides wanted to be reminded of grief on their wedding day. While some daring brides, like Mary Queen of Scots in 1558, made bold fashion statements by wearing white, it was certainly not the color most brides preferred. Instead, in early church weddings, brides were more likely to wear—brace yourself—red when they tied the knot, according to TIME. Wealthy brides (mostly from the aristocracy) would have jewel-toned dresses edged in fur and embroidered in gold and silver to make a splash as they formed their unions. CNN tells a story dating to 1468: When Margaret of York tried to walk into the church in her wedding dress, it was so laden with heirloom jewels that she had to be carried into the sanctuary. Dresses were displays of wealth, brilliantly colored and decorated to the extreme. (We're pretty sure that covering your dress in so many jewels that you have to be carried down the aisle counts as extreme.)
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That all changed with Queen Victoria. Yes, the same royal who made Christmas trees popular also set a new standard in bridal fashion. When Victoria was getting married to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840, she was just 20 years old. She reportedly wanted her subjects to know that she took the job of queen seriously and would be prudent and sensible. She decided that the best way to convey that message was through a sensible and prudent wedding gown.
All eyes were on her when she stepped out of the carriage at St. James’s Palace and stunned the world by wearing a simple white gown. It was made of white spun silk and satin with Honiton lace accents, and her head was topped with a wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle instead of a crown or tiara. According to CNN, she had good reasons for her choices. She wore only British-made materials (Kate Middleton followed this tradition) and wanted to give attention to the lace industry in the town of Beer, Devon, which had been on the decline. She thought white would best highlight the delicate lacework. The other reason was less pragmatic and more romantic: She wanted to marry Prince Albert not as a queen, but as a woman who loved the man she was about to marry, and the dress did that by reflecting her purity, innocence, and good sense.
The dress was charming and conservative and quickly became the standard for stylish brides everywhere. As The Washington Post reports, in 1849, Godey's Lady's Book (reportedly “the Vogue of the Victorian world”) decreed "that white is the most fitting hue” for brides to wear, noting that it is an “emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one." Thanks to Queen Victoria and Godey’s Lady’s Book, white has become the go-to choice for brides on their wedding day.