Wedding traditions explained: The white dress

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To start our Wedding Traditions Explained series we’re asking: Why are wedding dresses white?

A white wedding dress symbolizes purity, virginity and innocence. It’s tradition. But it hasn’t been around for as long as you may think.

Less than 200 years ago, red wedding dresses were the most popular choice for brides to be. White was associated with mourning, and so seemed inappropriate for weddings. So when did it become popular for wedding dresses to be white?

White wedding dress hung from four poster bed at Cubley Hall Penistone Sheffield

In 1558 Mary Queen of Scots chose to break the rules and wear a white dress for her big day. A few years later her husband died, and she was accused of cursing him by wearing mourning clothes to their wedding.

It was Queen Victoria that made the white wedding gown popular. When she married Prince Albert in 1840, she had a particular liking for a piece of lace. Rather than have it dyed, she had a dress created around it.

The dress had the approval of the country, but it didn’t become mainstream until many years later. At that time clothes had to be practical and re-usable. A white dress which was easy to get dirty and much harder to clean was not a practical option. Women were much more likely to be married in something darker that they could wear again.

As fabric became more widely affordable, more and more women began to opt for the white wedding gown.

Bride and Groom at the altar of Barnsley church during the exchange of the rings

Nine years after the wedding of Victoria and Albert women’s magazine the Godey’s Lady Book stated ‘Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.’

It was this magazine that gave us the connotations of the white dress symbolizing purity!

The white wedding dress may have become popular due to a women’s magazine and a rebellious Queen, but it is a wedding fashion that has stood the test of time.

Next in our series is Wedding Traditions Explained: The Veil