Wedding Dress History – From Purity Symbol to Luxury Goods

When many brides-to-be start looking for a wedding gown, they don’t consider the driving forces behind their experience. The decisions brides make for wedding attire is influenced by centuries of tradition and evolution–both in terms of culture and fashion.

At one time, bridal attire was a simple sign of purity. Now, it’s a luxury good that costs thousands of dollars for a one-time wear. Here’s what you need to know about the surprising history of the wedding dress.

Traditional Gowns

At one time, wedding gowns were not the white dresses that have become symbolic of matrimony today. Wedding gowns were the nicest dress that a woman had on hand, which often related directly to the socioeconomic status of her family. For many, this carried on for years past when the glamorous white dress became an icon. Women with humble means would wear their best clothing, often the garb they saved for church.

Nor were traditional gowns white and pristine. The dresses came in a variety of colors, depending on what the bride had on hand. Green was often avoided as it was thought to be bad luck while blue was preferable as it represented purity, an association now made to white gowns.

While white dresses weren’t unheard of, it wasn’t until Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 that white became the preference. Her stunning white gown adorned with live flowers sent shockwaves through the world, and was thus white dresses were deemed ideal for brides.

Why White?

While modern wedding gowns often feature various shades and blushes other than pure white (see more options here), white gowns have stood the test of time. So why this hue?

During Victoria’s day, white was a status symbol. White fabric was hard to procure and even harder to maintain, particularly when aiming for the dazzling white that so many brides have worn over the past century. Thus, white gowns became a symbol of wealth and good fortune– the more layers of fabric, the higher status the bride.

During Victoria’s time, weddings outside of a church were mostly unheard of. As white had always been a symbol of purity and innocence, closely tied in with the Virgin Mary, the lines between fashion and symbolism blurred and white dresses became associated with the bride’s virtue. While echoes of this association still resonate today, most modern individuals have left these archaic beliefs where they belong: in the past.

The Road to Luxury

Over time, the luxury-based history of the white wedding dress was lost while the symbol of purity and innocence became the focus. While that symbolism has fallen by the wayside, bridal attire remains a luxury expense, with the average dress costing $1500.

However, times continue to change and evolve. The rich are getting richer and the middle class is getting poorer. With so many life goals and responsibilities and limited resources in a modern era, more brides are taking a budget-minded approach to wedding attire.

Online shopping has created cost-saving opportunities and a global-minded world is infusing the colorful traditions of other cultures into the modern wedding ceremony.

In the future, a white dress may seem outdated or become a vintage trend in a colorful world.