The White Dress That Changed Wedding History Forever
By Sarah Begley Feb. 10, 2015
175 years ago, Queen Victoria introduced a new era of bridal standards
Wedding traditions may have relaxed in recent decades, but one thing stays the same: the bride wears white. Sure, there are plenty of options out there for the iconoclasts among us. But as of last year, colored gowns accounted for only 4 to 5%of sales at popular retailer David’s Bridal.
Like any number of traditions, the white wedding dress comes to us straight from the Victorian era—in fact, from Queen Victoria herself, who was married to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on this day, Feb. 10, 175 years ago. Yet when she chose white silk-satin for her wedding, the choice was almost as iconoclastic as it would have been for Catherine Middleton to walk down the aisle in scarlet.
Red was in fact a very popular color for brides in Victoria’s day, but the young queen broke with the status quo and insisted on a lacy white gown. Members of the court thought it much too restrained in color, and were mystified that she eschewed ermine and even a crown, opting instead for a simple orange blossom wreath.
Victoria was not the first royal to choose white for her nuptials—several others, including Mary Queen of Scots in 1558, preceded her—but she is the one widely credited with changing the norm. Just a few years after her wedding, a popular lady’s monthly called white “the most fitting hue” for a bride, “an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”
Today’s brides may not share this thriftiness, but they do take after Victoria in style. With its fitted bodice and full, floor-length skirt, the typical contemporary wedding gown looks a lot more like Victoria’s dress than it does like anything else in the bride’s wardrobe.