History of the Wedding Dress

wedding dress manican

One of the first things that a bride thinks about when she is due to get married is what she will be wearing on the day.  The bride's dress is a major element of her perfect day and she will need to consider what colour, what fabric and what style will suit her best and, like most things, the wedding dress comes with a history!

In today's modern times it is no longer thought necessary to wear a white wedding dress which to most people signified purity and virginity.  Modern dresses are tailored to the bride in a variety of shapes and colours but the white dress is a very old tradition going back even as far as the Romans. 

Roman brides wore white to pay tribute to their god Hymen.  The Romans believed that Hymen, the god of fertility and marriage, found white to be a favourable colour.  The Egyptians also had a preference for white linen which was draped in layers around the bride's body and even the Greek adorned white for their weddings to signify joy and celebration.

Predominately Red Wedding Dresses

In Eastern culture the dresses used to be predominately red but they now include a variety of colours and some brides even wear two different dresses throughout the day.  Some Chinese brides prefer the more western style dresses rather than the sari's and in Japan brides can wear three different dresses as well as their kimono.  In other cultures, dresses were made by the groom and sometimes the men of the village that the bride resided in.  Other brides would be decorated with jewellery but would not wear a lot of clothing.

There were dresses of other colours but years ago, if you were an older bride it was not considered correct for you to wear blue so blue dresses became popular with younger brides, usually with silver.  The styles have also changed depending on the type of ceremony that you are having, be it a beach wedding, church service or a civil ceremony.

In ancient times when people got married, it was mainly the Royals who could afford to have luxurious and ornate dresses made but for almost everyone else, they would have to wear what they considered to be their Sunday best.  Having a fancy wedding dress showed members of the public how high your status was and how rich your family were and originally, white dresses were worn by the poorer families.

Royal Wedding Dresses

wedding dressEveryone loves a Royal wedding and when one has been planned there is always a lot of speculation about what the Royal bride will wear.  Thousands flock to the streets on the day of the wedding just to get a small glimpse of the bride's gown.

During the Fifteenth Century in 1499, Anne of Brittany married the King of France, Louis XII and she was wearing a white gown which is said to be officially the first white wedding dress documented.  After this, Royal brides continued to wear various colours of dresses which included red or silver and it carried on right up to the Nineteenth Century when in 1840 Queen Victoria was married to Prince Albert wearing a cream satin bodice and skirt.  Her train measured eighteen feet in length and while her dress did have orange blossoms on it, it is believed that Queen Victoria started the long time tradition of wearing a white dress for just the one day.

Other Royal Wedding Dresses

As well as the outfit that Queen Victoria wore, there have been many Royal brides with beautiful dresses including:

  • In 1761 King George III was married to Princess Charlotte who wore a silver and white, pearl encrusted dress which was lined with ermine.
  • Wallis Simpson married Edward VIII, the former King in 1937 and she was wearing a jacket and dress in a blue colour that was apparently made to match the colour of her eyes and was in fact called 'Wallis blue'.  Accessories for her outfit included a hat with blue and pink feathers.
  • Prince Charles married his bride, Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and she was wearing a gorgeous fairytale gown with an extremely long train and puff sleeves.  For the next fifteen years brides all over the world were to copy the style of her dress.

Changing Times - Changing Wedding Dress Styles

As times went by the styles of dresses changed and with certain decades came significant changes, for instance:

  • old wedding dress1840's: what we would call Cinderella gowns were popular at this time and were known as crinoline but by the 1870's they became half the size and referred to as a bustle.  They did look like one complete dress but were in fact made up of three sections, a tablier that went under the skirt section and a bodice.
  • 1920's: the first wedding dress of knee length was introduced by the designer Coco Chanel and bias cut dresses was introduced during the following decade.
  • 1950's: the dresses became more intricate and larger in design.
  • 1960's: brides wanted to look more like Grace Kelly so the dresses became more fitted and body hugging.
  • 1970's: more skin was shown in this decade and some brides even wore suits.
  • 1980's: big poufy princess style gowns became popular, especially after the Princess Diana wedding.
  • 1990's: the dresses in this decade became less garish and brides were wearing stylish and sleek designs.

Wedding Dress Traditions

Many years ago people believed that the colour of your dress was relevant to your future with your partner.  This was described in an old nursery rhyme which is meant to indicate to a bride what colour would be best for her.  According to the rhyme, each colour has its own meaning which was:

  • White: you have made the right choice and that your choice is alright.
  • Green: the bride is apparently ashamed to even be seen.
  • Grey: states that the bride will be going far away.
  • Red: indicates for some reason that if you wear red you would want to be dead.
  • Blue: this colour signifies that your love is true forever.
  • Yellow: similar to green but the shame relates to the fellow.
  • Black: a dress of this colour means that you will want to go back in time to before you were married.
  • Pink: for some reason this cute colour indicates the sinking of spirits.

There is of course the good luck rhyme that every bride will hear at some point which states that she should wear something old, new, borrowed and blue.  Each 'something' represents:

  • wedding dress 1Old: the family link over generations, particularly if the old item the bride is wearing has been handed down from mother to daughter.
  • New: a bright and happy future for the couple being married.
  • Borrowed: showing that the couple will receive support from family and friends around them not only on the day but in the future.
  • Blue: the colour was linked to loyalty and faithfulness.

There are also plenty of small traditions that some, thankfully today are not around.  One such tradition was for a guest to break a piece of the bride's dress off which they then kept for good luck, somehow I do not think that modern brides would appreciate this custom as much as they used to.  However, in Germany it is still a modern tradition for the bride's veil to be ripped apart and the guests will keep the fabric they have collected.

At present there does not seem to be any rules to say what a bride should be wearing during her walk down the aisle and the choices for any bride-to-be are vast.

They say that history does repeat itself and that is so true with regards to fashion so the styles of wedding dresses that were popular years ago will at some point come back round and become popular once more.  If you are stuck on ideas about what to wear on your wedding day, look back into the history of styles and you might see something that you consider to be individual to you and your wedding theme!