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Why Brides Wear White

Updated on October 27, 2014
1871 American Wedding ensemble. Gift of Mrs. Sheldon M. Monroe, 1956
1871 American Wedding ensemble. Gift of Mrs. Sheldon M. Monroe, 1956 | Source

Origins of a rarely questioned tradition

It may come as a surprise to some that the tradition of wearing white wedding dresses in Western culture isn't all that old of a tradition. For hundreds of years, white was one of the least worn colors for a bride's dress. Women with wealth would opt for a wide variety of colors, while women with lesser means would go with practical colors like gray and black.

You see, up until the industrial revolution, which brought us mass manufactured dyes, dying fabric was a costly process. If you wanted, say... a vivid purple satin gown, you'd have to pay a pretty penny for it. So, as you can imagine, the more richly colored your dress, the more you could display your wealth. I liken it to what the red soles of Louboutin shoes do for women today.

You may wonder why white would become the status quo for wedding dresses if colors were the high fashion choice for so long. Well, we have the incestuous wedding between English Queen Alexandrina Victoria and her cousin Prince Albert in 1840 to thank for the onset of this tradition. While she wasn't the first person of royal standing to do this, it was shortly after she wore white that it became a long standing practice amongst brides.

"Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert" by Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock [Public domain],
"Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert" by Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock [Public domain], | Source

Why did she wear white? There tend to be varying answers for this. I've come across some saying it was because with her gown being white, the dress could only be worn once, thus, showing off her wealth. However, white could obviously be worn more than once --even during that time. And think about it... how many times is a wedding dress expected to be worn? That one doesn't make much sense, in my opinion. Then, I've seen others say it was just so she could wear a particular lace on her gown, or because she wanted her dress to resemble a christening robe. These two... I don't really buy either.

The most interesting reason I've come across was she wore white to show her people that she was one with them by being practical with her wedding ensemble. This one I feel the strongest about being closest to the true reason. Reason being, and as mentioned above, to dye your clothing colors was to pay generously. But, white was very affordable and could be copied by even a woman with very meager means. And, copy they did.

Since photography was a newly introduced invention at the time, Queen Victoria's wedding picture was the first of any wedding photographs to be seen by millions of people. Just think of when the First Lady wore a dress from H&M in an interview on the "Today" show and what came thereafter. A woman that is known for having great style, and an unattainable wardrobe by many, suddenly wore something that was very attainable. The dress sold out in H&M within a short amount of time. That's similar to what happened when the queen's picture appeared in newspapers after her wedding; many women saw they could duplicate the Queen's look and started doing so in droves for their own weddings. Which brings us to current day.

By The Wedding Store LA (originally posted to Flickr as Bridal Mannequin) [CC-BY-2.0]
By The Wedding Store LA (originally posted to Flickr as Bridal Mannequin) [CC-BY-2.0] | Source

Now, when you're set on wearing white for your wedding because you want to stay within tradition, you'll know the tradition you're following essentially originates from fans copying a popular public figure. So, it's OK if you're secretly wanting a wedding dress just like Kate Middleton's. After all, it is tradition.

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