AKA: THE dress, wedding dress, wedding gown
How to say it: as it looks
…of the style: The wedding dress; many girls dream of it from a young age and it is often the most expensive, most elaborate, and least used garment in a woman’s wardrobe. But at the same time it is often the most precious.
Women have been getting dressed up for their wedding since forever. Even in the times of arranged marriages, when the union was more like a business deal than a coming together of two souls (i.e. the Middle Ages), the bride was expected to dress in a way that represented her family’s wealth and status; therefore brides wore the most fashionable, most luxurious dresses they could get their hands on.
For the wealthiest of women, this often meant metres and metres of rich fabrics, often woven exclusively for the bride, accented with furs and jewels. For the poorer brides, their best church going outfit was the norm, but even then, it was still the best piece of clothing they owned. One thing the rich and the poor had in common during this time was that their wedding attire was not exclusively white – blue was a popular colour as it had connections to the Virgin Mary, and wealthier brides often favoured bright, rich colours.
That’s not to say that white was never worn. Very rich brides wore white as it was the ultimate show of wealth – white was a hard colour to achieve (effective bleaching techniques had not yet been invented), and hard to maintain, (laundering was an expensive process), so the bride that could afford to wear a lavish, white gown that could be easily ruined by a simple stain was obviously very, very wealthy.
Philippa of England wore a white silk cloak at her Royal Wedding in 1406, and Mary, Queen of Scots married the Francis, Dauphin of France in 1559 in white because it was her favourite colour. But it wasn’t until 1840, when Queen Victoria married Albert in a white dress, that the ‘white wedding dress’ trend really began to take hold. As more Royals followed suit (Victoria’s daughter Victoria, and Empress Eugenie both wore white at their weddings) the trend slowly became a ‘tradition’.
The evolution of the white wedding dress tradition was helped by the changing socio-economic circumstances of the 19th that saw the rise of the Middle classes. Members of the Middle class now had expendable income for the first time ever and with this extra money they strove raise their profiles by to copying the Upper Classes in any way possible. You don’t get any more Upper class than the Royals, so when Princess Alexandra became the fourth Royal in a row to marry in white in 1863, the stage was set – if she could afford it, a bride should be married in a white dress.
However, white dresses were still expensive, and despite the increase in expendable income, many could not afford to buy a dress that would be worn only on the wedding day. Due to this, many brides continued to wear their ‘best dress’ in any colour, that could then be re-worn after the fact. This practice continued until effective bleaching techniques made white fabric more accessible to the masses (early 20th century).
Since then the wedding dress has remained primarily white, but the style of the dress has changed with the fashions of the decades. Hems rose in the 1920s and dropped back down in the 30s. Big skirts inspired by the New Look were popular in the 40s and these evolved into the circle skirts of the 50s. Mini wedding dresses were not unusual in the 60s, and sleeves were a big feature in the 70s. Big skirts and bigger sleeves haunted 80s brides, while off-the-shoulder necklines and mermaid style skirts were popular in the 90s.
In the 21st century, wedding dresses are available in thousands of styles, from short to long, simple to ornate, slimline to princess, come in all sorts of colours and with all sorts of price tags. With so many options available, the dress is often chosen because it represents the bride herself, rather than the current fashion trends. The location of the wedding is also becoming a factor in dress choice as more and more weddings move to venues outside of the traditional church-ceremony-and-ballroom reception mould. Summer camps, barns, woodland, mountains, beaches, Disneyland – a bride a can now get married where ever her heart desires, and once she has chosen the perfect spot she will often take this into account when choosing the perfect dress; a princess ballgown would be perfect for a wedding in a castle but it would look a bit out-of-place on a tropical beach!
Over the centuries the wedding dress has occurred in many different guises, but one thing has remained constant – the desire of the bride to look her absolute best on the day she becomes a wife, and this will never, ever change.
…of the name: It is called a wedding dress because it is the dress a bride wears to her wedding.
- it is often assumed that the white colour of a wedding dress is intended to represent virginity, but it was actually the colour blue that was connected with purity, piety, faithfulness and the Virgin Mary at the time.
21st Century Wedding Dresses
There are literally thousands of wedding dresses available in the modern market, with more becoming available every season. These are just a few of my favourites at the moment…
Reem Acra, Temperley London
Nicole Miller, J.Crew