It is perhaps the most iconic scene from any wedding day, the white wedding gown adorning the beaming bride. But why are wedding gowns white? There is a huge number reasons, not in the least the fact that white is the brightest of colours, further enhancing the bride’s visibility on her big day, but it’s a tradition that has evolved over hundreds of years for a variety of reasons.
Why are wedding gowns white?
To be perfectly pedantic, the traditional colour of a modern wedding gown isn’t actually white, it’s more “Candlelight,” “Ivory,” “Ecru” or “Frost” when putting my graphic designer hat on.. But to the common layman, they all look pretty white, right? Anyway, the answer to the question of why are wedding gowns white all has to do with the popularity of some people who happened to wear white on their wedding day, and as a species who like to copy our idols, the fashion caught on and became tradition.
Queen Victoria of England who reigned from 1837-1901 was the first to make white wedding gowns fashionable by wearing a pale gown trimmed in orange blossoms for her 1840 wedding to her first cousin, Prince Albert. Naturally, because she was the queen and the center of all things high society at the time, whatever she wore, everyone tried to copy. Kind of like how it is now with everything Kate Middleton, or any red carpet celebrity wears being reported on. As a bit of a side note here, Anne of Brittany also made white wedding gowns popular all the way back in 1499, believing that white was a symbol of virginity – despite being married once before.
Before modern wedding gowns were made to be white by Queen Victoria, it was quite common for wedding gowns to be any colour. In biblical times, blue (not white) represented purity, and the bride and groom would wear a blue band around the bottom of their wedding attire, contributing to the poem of ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something BLUE’.
Generally though, before Queen Victoria made it a tradition to wear a white wedding gown as a bride, the most common item of clothing a bride would wear was simply what her favourite, or best garment she had available to her and could be any color, even black. To convince her groom that she came from a wealthy family, brides would also pile on layers of fur, silk and velvet. This was partly due to the fact that the more layers of clothing one wore meant the less body odor people were able to smell, being that bathing was not something people did often in those days.
Today though, the answer to the question of ‘why are wedding gowns white?’ seems to be primarily because in modern society the colour symbolises innocence, purity and certainly makes the bride stand out in a crowd, like the princess she’s made out to be on her wedding day. It may also be just ‘because’, as that’s what everyone else does right? It’s tradition! 🙂
Everything on a wedding day has some sort of roots in tradition, some going back thousands of years – others being quite a modern occurance. The fact is that the answer to the question ‘why are wedding gowns white?’ is simply because people today associate this with brides and this hasn’t changed since 1840. Perhaps in another 200 years, wedding dresses may be purple? Who knows?