White is the most popular color for wedding dresses in the West today. It is estimated that over 80% of brides in the United States are wearing white. This color trend for wedding dresses began primarily in Europe and was adopted in North and South America.
In the East, white is often considered unlucky. In Asian countries like China, Pakistan, India and Vietnam, red is worn more. And in all the countries of Africa brides prefer multi-colored bright hues for their wedding attire.
Wedding Gowns through the Years
Until the early 19th century, wearing white was not a tradition. Most brides didn’t favor a particular color. White was not very practical.And it wasn’t worn much.
Brides from the lower classes wore a variety of materials in different colors. Bridal gowns were usually just the brides fanciest dress. A new dress was not always purchased for the wedding. Day-to-day dresses were often brown or black.
On the other hand, brides from the upper classes wore gowns in expensive fabrics, often embroidered with gold or silver and fur. But even the upper class dresses would often be worn again.
The first examples of brides wearing white, date back to the 1400’s and were prominent in weddings of European royal families.
White wedding dresses came more into fashion in the mid-1800’s and became a traditional wedding wear by the mid-1900’s.
Queen Victoria Trendsetter?
In the 1840 marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert, in England her dress was celebrated throughout Europe and America.
Queen Victoria wore an elegant white dress draped in orange blossoms. This inspired many of her subjects. The tradition of a white wedding dress began.
After the Queen’s wedding, well-to-do brides began having grand white gowns, made for their weddings. And even lower class women would sometimes wear simple white wedding dresses.
Ten years after the wedding, photographs of the wedding appeared in “Godey’s Lady’s Book”. This was one of the first magazines for women in America. In Godley’s, white was recommended as the perfect color for a wedding gown. And the trend took off.
White A Symbol of Purity
There is a concept that a white wedding dress is a symbol of purity, virginity and innocence.This ideal was not really borne out by history.
White was originally the color of royalty and wealth. White cloth or silk was the color of the rich. It did not represent virginity until much later.
Wedding Dresses in the Great Depression
During the Great Depression through the end of World War II, there were shortages on many fabrics. Times were tough and most people couldn’t afford a dress that was only going to be worn once. Many brides favored more simple suits in earthtones. Brides returned to the practice of wearing their best outfit.
World War II to the 1980’s
White wedding dresses didn’t hit mass popularity again until the economic boom after World War II. White became a popular as the economy improved. Popular culture has often led the wedding industry.
In 1959, the American actress, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. Her white silk wedding dress inspired brides everywhere. Wedding gowns became high fashion. Long lace gowns were the style. And in 1981, Princess Diana walked down the aisle wearing an ivory silk taffeta and lace dress. White is still overwhelmingly chosen by brides in the West.