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Wedding Gown Styles - Middle Ages to the 20th Century

Updated on February 5, 2018
viryabo profile image

From the Middle Ages style to the present day, the history of fashion is not only intriguing, it is fascinating and inspiring to many of us.

For the most part of history, there were no wedding dresses as such. A bride rarely had a dress made specifically for her wedding; rather, she would wear her best dress for the ceremony.

There were no specific colours either. In fact, many brides wore black or dark colours with only a few exceptions . . . green, considered unlucky, and yellow – “Marry in yellow, ashamed of your fellow” (this is, of course, a myth!).


Having a special gown was expensive and only exclusive to the famous and wealthy who could afford to wear it once and never again. Other common people wore dark colours because they hid stains and imperfections, and could be worn again and again.

Later on, blue bridal gowns became the popular choice for the reason that it represented purity, piety and a connection to religion and the Virgin Mary.

Though white wedding dresses can be traced as far back as the early 1400s, it was popularised by Queen Victoria’s (of England) 1840 wedding where she wore a stunning white dress that inspired a following. It was soon evident that white was the most befitting colour for wealthy brides to wear.

Today, most wedding dresses are usually white, eggshell, ecru and ivory, not necessarily because they symbolise wealth, purity and virginity, but because the colour has become a lasting trend.

So, have wedding dress styles and colours changed all that much since the Middle Ages?

Medieval Wedding Gowns

When you first hear the phrase ‘medieval era’, what comes to mind? Castles, moats, the Middle Ages, Gothic, fiefdoms, kingdoms, and barbarian invaders! However, the period which spanned the 5th to the 15th Century also had its ‘dreamy’ side, and that was betrothals and marriages.

A number of medieval wedding traditions gave birth to today’s wedding custom and most are still followed by today's bride. This goes to show that many of our current traditions are deeply rooted in history.

Not unlike bridal ceremonies of today, rituals that rose in popularity during the medieval era are still in practice today. These include reciting vows, wearing special dresses, exchanging rings, and hosting a celebration for guests.

Medieval Style Wedding Dresses
Medieval Style Wedding Dresses | Source

The design and style of wedding dress varied and mainly depended on the social strata to which the bride, groom, and their families fall within. A handful wore white gowns, something we are more familiar with, but the large majority of medieval brides wore dresses made from fabrics with deep rich jewelled tones.

According to Wikipedia, “The first documented instance of a princess who wore a white wedding gown for a royal wedding ceremony is that of Philippa of England, who wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk bordered with grey squirrel and ermine in 1406”. And “Mary, Queen of Scots, wore a white wedding gown in 1559 when she married her first husband, Francis Dauphin of France because it was her favourite colour”.

However, the most popular choice were dresses sewn from plush fabrics with rich blue hues because the colour blue symbolised purity.

Another choice of colour by wealthier families was deep hues of red and rich tones of gold. Fabrics used were expensive luxury materials like satin, velvet, damask, fur, and silk.

Bridal garters and their association with good luck also originated from the medieval period.

For the generality of women and the common class, attempts were made to copy the styles of noble ladies using inexpensive fabrics like cotton and linen. The poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day.

Victorian Wedding Dress Styles

After Queen Victoria's wedding in 1840 where she wore a white lace wedding dress, a decade after, white became the traditional colour for bridal gowns.

The earliest Victorian wedding gown was designed with a fitted bodice, small waist, and a full skirt. Because the skirt was meant to be voluminous, it was plumped up with undergarments like petticoats and hoops (worn extensively at the time).

Popular materials used to sew these gowns include tulle, silk, organdy, linen, lace, and gauze-like fabrics. The more elaborate gowns were made from lace.

During the mid- Victorian era there was an emergence of middle-class wealth and the wealthy gladly exhibited their new riches. At this time, around the 1870s, bridal wear designed by Frederick Worth in Paris was the ultimate status symbol!

For those who could least afford it, the bustle styles were copied. Long full veils became a part of the wedding ensemble as was full court trains too.

By the late Victorian period, the bustle style disappeared; shorter trains and larger sleeves became the trend, and the veil became a standard bridal wear.

Widows who remarried didn’t wear white wedding dresses; neither did they have to wear a veil or a headpiece with a blossom of flowers. Rather, they wore pearl or lavender satin dresses trimmed with ostrich feathers.

They also wore a couple of shades from white, and colours like ivory, salmon, rose, or violet.

Edwardian Bridal Dress

The style of an Edwardian wedding gown was charming at its best.

Bridal dresses were sumptuous, elegant, soft and often pricey, with very long flounced trains, at times over seven feet in length.

With their characteristic high lace collar neck, nipped waist, big and bold leg-o-mutton sleeves, full sweeping skirt, and plenty of lace detail, these vintage wedding gowns still make great bridal dress styles that represent pure classic feminine beauty.

Remember the “Gibson Girl” look? It was the Edwardian classic style at its best and every woman wanted to look like a Gibson girl, especially on her wedding day!

Edwardian Bridal Fashion
Edwardian Bridal Fashion

Though the original wedding dress designs were mostly made from cotton batiste and soft cream-white satin, today's version of the Edwardian bridal dress can be made with light to medium weight fabrics such as satin, taffeta, voile, crepe de chine, or batiste.

It was during this era that engagement rings started to emerge as a tool for men to prove their commitment to a life-long union and as an insurance of sorts against a future as a lonely spinster.

'Roaring Twenties' Bride

The flapper vintage bridal wear of the twenties is a hot trend for wedding gown seekers of the 21st century.

The style is being embraced widely by fashionistas but with some variations in the patterns. Wearing a flapper dress design is being bold, self-confident, energetic and almost sassy.

As a vintage wedding dress, it is great for the wedding party dance as you can swing, sway and dance away as wildly as you wish. You'll be 'cutting a rug' with your swinging steps.

Defying convention and looking flirty and a little sexy, the flapper dress style, with new inspired cuts strutting down the fashion runways, is not inappropriate for today's wedding couture.

Usually cut loose, it’s a shift dress design that drops straight down. It will hint (in an intriguing way) at your shape, rather than display your curves in an open manner.

You can make it ornate by adding elaborate hand beading to your veil which is definitely in line with the flapper couture style.


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Vintage Wedding Gowns Tailored Specially for You

You may not be aware of this, but you can have your vintage wedding gowns tailored to your own design or chosen sewing pattern customised for you from scratch.

There are professional tailors and dressmakers who will create your unique gown and all you need do is provide them with your measurements, using a measurement guide which will guide you to accurately take the precise required measurements.

For information on how these professional tailors create your vintage wedding gown, visit their Custom Tailor page.

You will also find discount vintage inspired wedding apparel and gowns that are of high quality, chic and sophisticated for your most important day.

© 2009 viryabo

Your Views Are Welcome

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    • howtosewadress profile image

      howtosewadress 6 years ago

      Great hub, saw you on google and grateful I clicked. Keep up the awesome job!

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 6 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      What a lovely hub! I'm so glad I found this. I really enjoyed looking at these dresses.

    • profile image

      vintage wedding dresses 6 years ago

      very nice collection. I have been search for such great wedding gowns for so long

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 6 years ago

      Thank you camd,for visiting and for your nice comments.


    • camdjohnston12 profile image

      camdjohnston12 6 years ago

      Very interesting and good hub!Vintage wedding gowns are still popular nowadays.

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 7 years ago

      Bestforbride, thanks for the compliments and for your visit.


    • bestforbride profile image

      bestforbride 7 years ago from Toronto, ON, Canada

      Great hub with a lot of information. Creating custom vintage wedding dress should be very exciting.

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 7 years ago

      Mysisters, thanks so much. And thanks for visiting.


    • mysisters profile image

      mysisters 7 years ago

      Nice Hub. These Vintage wedding dresses are beautiful!

    • profile image

      perfectweddingdressfinder 7 years ago

      Very thorough information. Neat seeing the vintage wedding dress patterns!

    • profile image

      vintage crockery hire 7 years ago

      OMG these dresses are gorgeous. I have just started to take knitting lessons. I think that I have subscribed to the wrong course!! Though, it would probably take me many years to get anything even 1% decent because these are amaing

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 7 years ago

      Thanks Diane.

      Vintage bridal gowns are awesome pieces, but i know sewing them must be a work of art. The intricate works surpasses the wedding gown designs of today.

      Thanks for the visit Diane.


    • Diane Inside profile image

      Diane Inside 7 years ago

      Very interesting hub, Wedding gowns to me are one of the most ambitious undertakings because you want everything to be so perfect. But How beautiful when they are done. I love to sew but I haven't done anything by way of wedding dresses. Lovely photos.

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 8 years ago

      DWP, thanks for visiting. Im sure you must have an awesome collection of vintage wedding photos. WOW!


    • profile image

      Destination Wedding Photographer 8 years ago

      I love the vintage style and I love to shoot vintage weddings! Nice hub!

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 8 years ago

      Hi Tracy. Thanks for dropping in. And for your nice view.


    • profile image

      Tracy Monroy 8 years ago

      Nice history of the Buttericks and how they developed patterns for sewing. The vintage wedding dresses are so lovely.

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 8 years ago

      Thanks for the visit and comments 'learning to sew'. Will visit the site. Cheers

    • profile image

      Learning to Sew 8 years ago

      Fantastic Dress!!! I found a nice site that has a nice layout for users to find seamstresses in their area or by specialty. Happy Sewing

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 8 years ago

      Hi 2uesday,

      Thanks for your visit. I'm glad you found some inspiration here. And thanks for your nice views.


    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 8 years ago

      This is a lovely hub, lots of inspirational photographs and ideas. Thank you.